Andretti Autosport’s drivers garnered the major headlines after taking the win and three of the top six finishing positions at Long Beach, and their performances followed strong runs at the earlier rounds in Phoenix and St. Petersburg.
As a unit, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Zach Veach, and Marco Andretti are off to an impressive start in 2018, and if fans are looking for the reason, look no further than the mechanics, engineers, and managers behind the scenes that have pushed Andretti Autosport ahead of Team Penske in the early championship pecking order.
Andretti’s secret has been holding firm with its staff. Growth and optimization using the same talented group can be credited for Rossi’s position atop the drivers’ standings, not to mention the raw speed shown by Hunter-Reay and the promise of Veach and Andretti.
One specific area where the Andretti team appears to hold an advantage is on the chassis setup side, as Long Beach demonstrated, with its damper program.
The ability by all of the team’s Honda-powered drivers to rocket out of the corners was noted by many of the drivers who chased the quartet on Sunday, and with the strong performances by Rossi in St. Pete, and again on the one-mile Phoenix oval with Rossi and Hunter-Reay, its cars have been the class of the field through three races.
“All the same people are here,” said Andretti technical director Eric Bretzman, who joined the team in 2017. “There’s a couple of us new guys added to the mix, but the damper program is the same. Same personnel. It’s really just floating some new ideas in and putting that in place last year at some tests. I would say, even from the start of last year at St. Pete to Sonoma, it was [seeing] some pretty big changes
“We had all winter to fine tune a little bit. We’ve added myself and [Rossi’s engineer] Jeremy [Milless, pictured top, with Rossi] along the way. We started out analyzing what was here. This team’s been successful in the past [and] it has a good long history to it. There certainly isn’t any reason to come in and start throwing things out and start over. It was a little process for us to relearn [everything] together, try some new ideas along the way, and by the end of last year, things were already looking up.”
Andretti COO Rob Edwards has had a direct hand in shaping the team since it fell short of expectations in 2015 and ’16. Like Bretzman, he looks out onto its four IndyCar entries and sees everything they need to mount a championship run.
“It’s continuity and building on what we did by adding Eric and Jeremy on the engineering front, and we’re seeing the things we put in place in 2017 where we re-organized on the engineering front starting to show. It doesn’t happen overnight,” he said.
“It’s changing the culture and methodology, changing the things you see need changing internally and pushing harder on the things that are working. And everyone’s bought into that process. Everyone is fully invested in what we’re doing and pulling harder in the same direction. We have a highly talented group of engineers, mechanics, support staff, and all have jumped onboard with where we’re going.”
And that takes the team to its first natural road course this weekend in Barber. Will the overall engineering gains and rise in its damping game continue outside of street courses and short ovals? Can Andretti keep Penske – the team credited with the best damping program in recent years – behind Rossi and company? If the Andretti cars are up front again at the end of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, their rivals could be in store for a world of hurt as the defending Indy 500 winners roll into the month of May.