Andretti Autosport confident of 2023 IndyCar rebound

Phillip Abbott/Motorsport Images

Andretti Autosport confident of 2023 IndyCar rebound


Andretti Autosport confident of 2023 IndyCar rebound


Michael Andretti’s NTT IndyCar Series program has found itself in an uncomfortable place over the last two seasons. For a team that’s accustomed to having a firm hold on a coveted spot within IndyCar’s “Big 3” teams alongside Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing, Andretti Autosport’s been displaced by the emerging Arrow McLaren operation.

In 2021, it was Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward streaking to third in the drivers’ championship as Andretti’s best with Colton Herta in fifth was well clear of teammate Alexander Rossi in 10th. The story continued in 2022 as both Arrow McLaren drivers — O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist — finished ahead of Andretti’s four-car team, but Andretti lost even more ground to the Big 3 as Rossi was Andretti’s top championship representative in ninth.

For those who know Andretti, he bristles at the idea of spending a third consecutive year trailing the Penskes, Ganassis, and McLarens, and that’s why Andretti Autosport has taken an unflinching approach to improving itself ahead of the new season. Can the proud team reclaim its place at the sharp end of the field?

We’ll get a glimpse in a few days when IndyCar’s two-day open test at the Thermal Club near Palm Springs shows how much progress Andretti Autosport — and all their rivals who’ve been just as busy improving themselves — demonstrates on the stop watch.

“I am beyond excited,” Andretti told RACER. “We’ve had a great offseason  — we’ve really analyzed ourselves and all our weaknesses. Pit stops for one; we’ve been tackling that big time and we feel like it’s gonna be much better. But then there’s a lot of other things we found that we feel that are going to be really big for us, technically. Both on the ovals and also on the road courses. So we can’t wait to get this first test to see how it and some of that stuff works.”

Colton Herta is expected to be the leader of the band, at Andretti Autosport this year, while former Foyt racer Kyle Kirkwood joins him as a new teammate. Phillip Abbott/Motorsport Images

Andretti Autosport’s well-documented year-to-year changes entering 2023 will add a new layer of difficulty as it seeks to earn its way back into the Big 3. Rossi, its lone Indianapolis 500 winner, has joined Arrow McLaren, and in his place 2021 Indy Lights champion Kyle Kirkwood backfills his seat with a need to prove his rough rookie season with the A.J. Foyt Racing team was an anomaly. Fellow IndyCar sophomore Devlin DeFrancesco showed increasing promise in the latter half of 2022, but there’s a lot of learning to be done before he’s a steady thread for top results.

And Romain Grosjean, Andretti’s greatest oddity from last season, enters his third year in IndyCar with a need to deliver on ovals and to help Herta deliver victories for the team. With three out of its four drivers having something to prove or improve, Andretti Autosport is in for an adventure as most of its closest competitors are entering the championship run coming from a place of strength and consistency.

There’s an expectation for Herta to continue his winning ways and hope for DeFrancesco and Grosjean to become bigger contributors to the team’s fortunes, which leaves Kirkwood as the main new element to assist in Andretti’s turnaround. Paired with Rossi’s former race engineer Jeremy Milless, there’s great potential for success with the young Floridian.

“We watched that and monitored that,” Andretti said of Kirkwood’s sub-optimal rookie campaign. “If you watched him on a race weekend, he was he was normally in the top 10 (at some point) and with a team that was struggling in some ways, so I thought that wasn’t bad. He maybe forced himself into some mistakes, trying to carry a car that probably shouldn’t have been in that position. I think for us, it was actually pretty good. He made a lot of rookie mistakes with somebody else’s car.

“And hopefully that’s going to pay for his experience this year, I can say that. Jeremy, who’s going to work with him, has been over the moon with him with all the (simulation) work they’ve been doing. They’ve really hit it off. They think they’re gonna be real strong.”