IndyCar’s biggest team is also facing the biggest workload to get its 2021 roster signed and numerous entries funded.
The five-car Andretti Autosport program has weathered a rough season so far, and with pressure mounting to earn its first NTT IndyCar Series win of 2020, the team is also busy sorting driver contracts and pursuing new and continuing sponsorships to keep the current Honda-powered effort intact.
Among its five full-time drivers, Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta are the fortunate two who have deals that extend beyond the current season, leaving Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, and Zach Veach needing to come to terms on extensions. For Hunter-Reay, the 2012 IndyCar Series champion and 2014 Indy 500 winner, a new deal has been in the works for a while, and it’s believed the same talks are ongoing with longstanding team sponsor DHL, which he carries on the No. 28 Honda.
With 2020 Indy 500 polesitter Andretti, a return to the family-run outfit, where he’s a co-owner of the No. 98 Honda he drives, is anticipated, but not guaranteed. For Veach, whose three-year contract with Andretti and sponsor Gainbridge is set to conclude, a frustrating season in the No. 26 Honda has not eased the renewal process. And while Herta is secure on the driving front, his No. 88 Honda has relied on a rotating cast of sponsors to get through the year, and identifying a primary backer for 2021 and beyond is another priority for the team.
Altogether, three of Andretti’s five regulars will move through the closing races of the season with more than driving on their minds, and within the team’s business hierarchy, those in charge of partner development will be tasked with achieving wins of their own on the commercial front to meet the team owner’s expectations.
“The goal is to be the same number of cars. On drivers, I don’t know yet,” Michael Andretti told RACER. “We’ll have to see if we’re going to have any changes. At the moment, I don’t see any changes, but it’s possible. And (Hunter-Reay and Veach) are both in contract years, and Marco is as well. It’s a hard time right now getting this all done, but probably in a month or two, we’ll have more answers.”
The impact of COVID-19 on the economy has also complicated matters for many teams on the commercial front.
“Some sponsors are different than others on what they want and so, it’s been a challenge, but I’m sure everybody’s got their challenges in these times and we’re no different, but we’ll get through it,” Andretti said. “Having said that, that’s why everything’s late in getting deals completed. That’s why I think you’re going to see driver announcements come late and all that stuff, because for the moment, owners are just trying to get through to the end of the year and then see what happens from there. It’s been very, very strange, just like it’s been that way for everybody in all aspects of life this year.
“Signing the drivers, it’s the easier part. It’s raising the money to run them that’s the hard part. Some businesses are thriving in this environment, and others aren’t, and so we have that in our portfolio to work through. But like I said, our goal is to keep everybody we have, and maybe even add more. We’ll see.”
With the cancellation of the 2020 Indy Lights season, Andretti’s championship-winning Road To Indy program turned its attention to the Road To Indy’s middle tier with Indy Pro 2000, where Canada’s Devlin DeFrancesco currently sits second in the points. Having stated his interest in making the leap to IndyCar, DeFrancesco’s budding talent and strong commercial support would suggest a move to the big series is on the cards in the next year or two.
“Personally, I would like to him do Indy Lights before he goes (to IndyCar), and Roger Penske told me Lights is coming back,” Andretti said. “I think he’s done a great job, especially coming back from Europe and coming over here, but I think he still can use at least a year of Indy Lights because it’s such a great training ground. The kid’s young, and it’s one of those deals where you don’t rush it if you don’t have to, because it can only go bad. There’s not really a plus to it.
“So, we want to get him as much experience as we can, so when he gets in an IndyCar, he’ll be just like a (Rinus) VeeKay or a Pato (O’Ward) or Colton, one of those. So, my goal is to keep him there. And who knows? If he’s doing well in Indy Lights, maybe he’ll do a race at the end of the year.”