IndyCar season review: Marco Andretti

IndyCar season review: Marco Andretti

IndyCar

IndyCar season review: Marco Andretti

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A year of frequently fantastic on-track action ended with 10 different winners from 19 races, a worthy champion, a heart-warming result in the Indy 500 and?yes, some troubling incidents, too ” mainly, but not exclusively, off-track.

The fact that the ?500? winner finished outside the top 10 in the championship compelled us to extend our more in-depth assessment, and 11 seemed such a weird number?so we went for the top 12 finishers in the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series. In the coming days, Marshall Pruett will do a mop-up of the almost-made-its, which include winners such as Takuma Sato and Mike Conway, as well as drivers who grabbed runner-up places, such as Graham Rahal, James Jakes, Simona de Silvestro and Josef Newgarden. For now though, Robin Miller, David Malsher and Marshall Pruett are counting down the dirty dozen. Today, it’s?

5th ” MARCO ANDRETTI
Andretti Autosport Dallara-Chevrolet
Best finish ” 3rd, St Petersburg, Sao Paulo
Best qualifying ” 1st, Milwaukee, Pocono
 

David Malsher writes?

Marco Andretti remains an enigma wrapped in a firesuit inside a Dallara, as Sir Winston Churchill might (or might not) have said. Despite neither driver previously being known for their consistency, Andretti and Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves were the only strands of continuity running through the first half of the IndyCar season so that, after eight rounds, they lay first and second in the championship. But while Helio continued on in similar vein to year’s end, Marco’s season fell apart just when, in terms of his pace, it should have been picking up.

There had been little he could do about finishing fourth at Indy; that’s the way the cards were stacked when the final yellow came out with Tony Kanaan on top. But Marco had proven all day that he, too, would have been a worthy winner. No one was going to beat the Penske No. 3 of Castroneves at Texas, but Andretti could have been second if not for a slow pit stop. In Milwaukee, he was probably the only driver to have anything to offer teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, but an electrical gremlin halted his car, even more decisively than a faulty damper ruined his hopes at Iowa (another possible victory).

And finally at Pocono, just as Andretti seemed destined to achieve his first win of the year, it became clear that the Honda drivers had superior fuel consumption. The No. 25 car had not only been charging, it had also run at the front for most of the race, worsening its fuel mileage further, and in order simply to make it to the finish without a splash and dash, Andretti dropped dispiritedly off the pace and down the field. Understandably, he was virtually speechless with frustration afterward.

As usual, he showed promise on the natural road courses, qualifying fourth at Mid-Ohio and finishing fourth at Sonoma. But his street course performances were typically up and down. In qualifying, Andretti was regularly a quarter second off Hinchcliffe and a half second from Hunter-Reay; Firestone had changed its street course compounds which tended to emphasize the DW12’s natural understeer trait, but unfortunately for Marco, it didn’t simultaneously provide the more stable feeling at the rear which he looks for when pushing to the limit on a flying lap.

He was rescued from his quali wobbles by his ability to race hard but fair with anyone; like Kanaan, Andretti has a great understanding of the limit on race day, how much space to leave a rival, and when he can or can’t take chances. And so it was no surprise to see him on the podium at St. Pete (having nursed and used his tires to perfection, incidentally) and Sao Paulo, nor in seeing top-six finishes at Detroit and Toronto.

A peculiar and frustrating year for Andretti therefore, but one in which he made gains in consistency. However, the progress must continue and finding outright pace on street courses needs to be his top priority or he will struggle in vain to be a title contender in this series.Robin Miller writes?

Sometimes statistics can be misleading. For instance, Marco Andretti went winless in 2013 but that doesn’t begin to tell the story of how truly competitive the third generation racer was this season.Only three drivers led more laps than Andretti, whose 259 included 88 at Pocono, 61 at Milwaukee, 57 at Texas and 31 at Indianapolis. If not for a couple of questionable (OK, bad) strategy calls, Marco could have had at least two victories.

But while he did excel on ovals it was his improvement on road racing/street course circuits that enabled him to take a big step forward in his career and fifth in the final point standings. After spending the winter working on changing his road course driving style (being less aggressive charging into corners), the 26-year-old opened the year by qualifying seventh at St. Pete and Barber ” finishing third in the opener. He charged from 25th to seventh at Long Beach and 10th to another podium (third) at Brazil. He also qualified fourth at Mid-Ohio.

?I knew I had to change and I’m still not where I want to be but it was definitely an improvement,? he reasoned. ?I’m gaining.?

It’s not a stretch to say that two of the Triple Crown races looked like his to lose and that’s exactly what happened. Starting on the outside of Row 1 at Indy, he was in the lead pack all day and was sitting fourth and stalking Tony Kanaan when the race finished under caution.

However, that was nothing compared to Pocono, where he easily won the pole position and literally was on another track as he dominated the first half of IndyCar’s return to the tricky tri-oval. But, by the time his team figured out he was going to have to start saving fuel, it was too late and he faded to a mortifying 10th. Andretti was also that strong at Texas but, again, a puzzling pit stop (he came in early instead of running the full fuel load) call buried him in the pack and he rallied to take fifth. And his lone mechanical DNF of the year came at Milwaukee, where he paced a third of the race from the pole before breaking down.

Woulda, coulda and shoulda don’t do much for a driver’s résumé but Andretti drove a lot better than the results showed in 2013.

Marshall Pruett writes?

As far as IndyCar Series championships go, 2013 should be remembered as the year of half-season. Scott Dixon waged an epic run during the second half of the season after muddling through a rather forgettable opening frame. Will Power did the same, rocketing his way to fourth in the standings after a brutal, prolonged kick to the crotch from St. Pete to Toronto. With Marco Andretti, top man in the championship among the three contenders from Andretti Autosport, you have the driver who epitomized the inverse ” the exact opposite of what any driver would hope for.

Andretti’s season was pear-shaped, highlighted by an incredible, transformational opening four-month span from St. Pete to Iowa. As many of us chronicled at the time, his pre-season efforts with driver coach Rob Wilson paid huge dividends. He was less abusive to his front tires, turned his blood down from a boil to simmer, and used those newfound skills to take two podiums and two sevenths from the first four races ” the best championship opening of his career.

Qualifying on the outside of the front row at Indy and a smart drive to fourth was another indicator Andretti had turned a page. He added a sixth at Detroit 2, a fifth at Texas and a ninth at Iowa. His teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe won on the two short ovals, but Andretti rebounded by claiming pole at Pocono and leading more than half of the race. Andretti Autosport was the star team of the first half-season, claiming five wins from the first 10 rounds, but once they left Iowa, the site of Hinch’s third and final victory, that edge was beginning to dull. That decline, no matter how slight it was, coincided with a strange separation between how Marco, RHR and Hinch waged their second-half campaigns.

Statistically, Andretti was much stronger than RHR and Hinch from Pocono to Fontana, but other than his pole and long stint in the lead on the Tricky Triangle, do you recall Marco’s other finishes over the final eight races? Or his No. 25 RC Cola Chevy being in the mix among the leaders on a regular basis?

He recorded six top-10s across those eight races, including fourths at Toronto 1 and Sonoma, and was especially consistent, but his close to the championship was far from memorable. During the first half of the 2013 season, Andretti let you know he was in the race and fighting every step of the way. That’s not to say he wasn’t trying as hard in the second half, but his results certainly went from great to good as the season drew to a close.

With the second-half slide in mind, Andretti still managed to place fifth in the standings. If there’s a sense of disappointment in how Marco ended the year, it stems from how much optimism was held from March through June. He didn’t exactly disappear after Pocono, but as Dixon, Power, RHR, Pagenaud and Wilson shifted into hyperdrive, Andretti looked like he lacked that extra gear to match their pace.

He and engineer Blair Perschbacher made huge strides in 2013, and some of the hit-or-miss finishes by the No. 25 can be put down to the two learning each other’s working style over a full season. They had previous experience working together, but the two jelled while figuring out the Dallara DW12.

Andretti’s assignment heading into 2014 is possibly bigger than anything he learned from Rob Wilson last year. He has plenty of speed, but not the fear-Marco-at-every-round kind of speed needed to win championships. Yet more than outright pace, Andretti needs to acquire the tools to apply for an entire season the skills Wilson taught him, because from a base of consistency, more speed can be manufactured.

Marco took fifth in the standings ” a massive jump from 16th in 2012 ” so imagine what he could do by maintaining that first-half form through Fontana. At just 26 years old, his best days are ahead of him, and if he’s motivated, he’ll use 2013 as a springboard to come back stronger next season.

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