Andretti Putting Moves On Big Two

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, June 18 2010

Marco Andretti drove to a podium finish at the Indianapolis 500 this year. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

The 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season was supposed to be all about the teams of Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi. In terms both of winning races and the championship.

That is, this was supposed to be a business-as-usual year for North America’s top open-wheel series.

And that’s kind of the way the season did start as Penske drivers won the first three races and Ganassi or Penske drivers have won six of the seven 2010 races.

But over the last four races, an interloper has begun to stick its nose into the Penske vs. Ganassi tussle and the result has been podium finishes.

The interloper is Andretti Autosport, which has apparently pulled things together enough to at least produce a little forehead sweat on those who drive for IndyCar’s Big Two teams.

No secret about why, AA driver Marco Andretti said.

“The reason we have been getting it right, is just that we have been getting it right,” Andretti said. “No magic.”

The lone non-Big Two race winner this year was Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay. He got that victory at the Long Beach street race. After that race, the series moved to oval tracks and it has been there that Andretti teams and drivers have been moving to top-five finishes en masse.

Andretti has been the hottest of the team’s drivers. He is heading to this weekend’s Iowa Corn 250 in Newton after consecutive third-place finishes at Indianapolis and Texas.

“Yeah, confidence is good,” he said during a phone call this week. “With the team, some good stuff’s been happening. We’ve been getting some good results. And we’re doing nothing different, really. I know as a driver, I have been doing nothing different. We’ve just been doing it right the last couple weekends. Making a couple sensible changes during race weekend. And, I’ve had good cars underneath me the last couple of races and that’s been a lot of fun.”

Andretti Autosport had a lot of people wondering what would happen with the team when the season started. Team owner Michael Andretti bought out his two partners and did some restructuring.

One big change was the hiring of veteran Tom Anderson to come in as senior vice president of racing operations.

Marco said to credit that hire for some of the better results.

“He’s a guy with just a good feel. He knows how to manage a team,” Marco Andretti said. “He’s a very personable person who is good at talking to people and settling problems within the team and that creates a lot of camaraderie. He has a good feel for, like, crew member placement and just has a good feel for things.”

Gone from Andretti Autosport under Anderson, Marco said, are “crazy setups”. Setups, he said, which in the past have put the cars on such a thin edge that, “I didn’t even know how to drive those cars.”

So it has been back to the basics this year and the result has been progress on the track. Like at Indy.

Andretti said that May at Indy started with problems in the area of team confidence. There was very little, he said.

“Everybody’s outlook throughout the whole month wasn’t very optimistic,” he said of Andretti Autosport. “Me, I kind of knew what I was driving and that I had a good shot. I think going into that race, I was the only one who felt that on the whole team. For me, it was really nice to back that up.”

In addition to Marco’s third-place finish at Indy, teammates Danica Patrick and Tony Kanaan finished sixth and 11th respectively. Kanaan’s drive up through field from his last-place starting spot was one of the big stories of the race.

“What we learned from it,” Marco said of Indy, “is like what I was trying to tell some of my teammates during the month – we can win this race. I don’t care if they qualify seven miles per hour faster than us, we can’t go into the race thinking we can’t win or there is no way we are going to. These guys (Penske and Ganassi) are human. We beat them before, let’s do it again. We wound up in top 10 and that should be an eye-opener. We can beat these guys, you know?”

Andretti says he feels good about continued improvement this weekend in Iowa.

“So far, so good,” he said of his success at Iowa. “Got a couple podiums there in the three years. It’s kind of a unique circuit. We kind of approach it as a superspeedway even though it’s a short oval. That’s because of the banking of the track and the radius of the track, it’s wide open.”

Not so wide open was Andretti’s last race. That was at Le Mans last weekend.

Andretti made his Le Mans debut, driving a Lola for Rebellion Racing in the top prototype class.

Despite retiring on lap 175 with a broken car, Andretti was still smiling about driving in the most important endurance race in the world as he prepared to head to Iowa this week.

“I’m in love with that race,” he said. “Unbelievable event. And driving that type of car on that circuit? There’s nothing better.”

Asked if he would like to go back, Andretti said, “Absolutely. My phone’s on so tell people to call me.”

But not until he’s taken care of business in Newton, Iowa.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, June 18 2010
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