Past Teammates On Andretti Drivers’ Minds

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, March 8 2012

James Hinchcliffe will take Danica Patrick's seat at Andretti Autosport in the upcoming season. (Michael L. Levitt photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

The revamped Andretti Autosport team assembled in St. Petersburg, Fla. this week to take part in Wednesday’s pre-season media day. The way it sounded, one former teammate will not be missed all that much this season while another will never be forgotten; ever.

The former is Danica Patrick, who has decided to move to stock cars and race in the NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup series full-time this year.

Naturally, many of the questions asked at the media session concerned Patrick – whose lone major-series victory came with the Andretti team – and the effect the hugely popular driver’s departure would have on both Andretti Autosport and the  IZOD IndyCar Series.

New Andretti driver James Hinchcliffe was asked how the team and series replaces a driver who some had viewed as being key to the sport’s growth.

“I don’t think we need to replace Danica,” Hinchcliffe, who will be in Patrick’s old seat, said. “I think what is important is to let fans know that there is more than just one face of this sport. There are a lot of cool characters in this series. A lot of cool personalities and I think the pressure is on us to let those people get out there a bit more and let the fans know that there is more people to cheer for than just Danica. I think she did great things for our sport and brought a lot of attention at a very good time for us. But, I think going forward it is important that we branch out and let people know that it is more than just one driver.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay is a proven winner. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Gregg Ellman)

Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was a teammate of Patrick’s last season at Andretti, said much the same thing. He said the series is strong enough and features enough interesting people and storylines – especially this year with the move to new cars and expanded engine-maker participation – that it will survive quite nicely in the post-Danica series/world order.

“I don’t really think there really is a replacement,” he said. “Or that we have to replace her. With the new car coming up and the engine competition the manufacturer competition coming and the talent in the series the greatest part I think about our current situation is that we have probably the most road racing talent in the world in one spot. IndyCar gives you a platform where even if you are not in a Penske or Ganassi car or an Andretti car you have a shot at winning, where that is not the case in Formula 1 and it’s not the case in NASCAR.”

Hinchcliffe is being sponsored by Patrick’s sponsor, GoDaddy.com, this year. He was asked about that aspect of the job, and appearing in the company’s commercials.

“I know I will be fully dressed in them,” he said. “That is probably a good start for everybody.”

The former Andretti driver who will not be forgotten, who will be on everybody’s minds this season, is Dan Wheldon.

The popular British driver and 2011 Indianapolis 500-winner was killed in a wreck during the season-ending event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last year.

He drove for Andretti, which was then Andretti Green Racing, from 2003-05. He was close to signing a deal to return to Andretti for the 2012 season at the time of his death.

Andretti Autosport driver Marco Andretti said it will be a tough weekend for him in St. Petersburg, and probably for a lot of others in the sport.

“Every time I come to St. Pete I think of Dan,” Andretti said. “It’s going to be tough, but like I said, Dan was a competitor and that’s our job. I’d want the same. Life goes on. You just keep working and try to stay busy and try to win St. Pete for him. I know he was very proud of this city and this race. Definitely be driving with a heavy heart.”

Michael and Marco Andretti will be going with a revamped driver lineup this season.

Hunter-Reay says it will be good for drivers to get back onto race tracks. That, more than anything else, will help ease the pain of the loss of Wheldon.

“You know we ended unfortunately with Dan’s tragedy and I think everybody is still wearing that scar a little bit,” he said. “We are opening up in his hometown so no better way to celebrate then to have a huge event, great event, a competitive one. I think the series is getting ready to go on a roll here, momentum wise, I really do. I think that like I said with the manufacturers in it and the level of competition we have this first race, they are saying we may have 26-27 cars and more to come, the numbers are back up and everybody is certainly working to take that next step. I think it will be good, I think it will be really good.”

Several teams have been mentioned as having the right stuff to join Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske on the top shelf of the series.

Andretti Autosports is one of those teams. If it is to take that step up, it will have to do so with the new driver combo of Andretti, Hinchcliffe and Hunter-Reay.

They were asked about team chemistry and cohesiveness on Wednesday.

“We have sort of nicknamed ourselves the Three Stooges,” Hinchcliffe said, “because we just walked right in and it’s like we have been working together for years. The driver dynamic there I think was the strongest element when we first got there.”

Hunter-Reay likes the Three Stooges nickname. Says it’s kind of appropriate.

“We give each other a hard time all the time,” he said. “The atmosphere in the team is great amongst us. We love it. But, we have only done two tests together so we will see.”

Time will tell if this version of the Three Stooges can withstand the loss of Curly.

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, March 8 2012
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Texas-Toast says:

    Humor is one of the quickest ways to get the audience on your side. Humor can be a powerful tool in self-deprecating the workplace and it can increase productivity, enhance creativity, reduce stress, and improve relationships. But when it comes to humor, one man’s treasure may be another man’s trash–not everyone shares the same sense of humor. What seems hilarious to one person may seem offensive to another.

    Now that there is a Formula-one open wheel star on the horizon and a serious need for rubber poles on the fence line, most people are concerned about the racing.

    “The three stooges” in light of the current tragedy along with dr. evil’s new “5-MILIION dollar” driver is not that funny. Maybe a change of clothes would be more appropriate. Since this is too ironic to be funny in this situation – please just be quiet and drive. Stop-daddy might be more appropriate.

    Mercedes is also now offering cars with 24 hours access to the Internet. Unfortunately the service provider is AOL, so every few feet the car shuts down and asks politely if you really want to keep driving.