One of the more interesting IndyCar storylines for this season will be whether or not Andretti Autosport can rebound from a disastrous performance in 2022.
Despite having two of the best young drivers on the grid in Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi, and a Formula 1 veteran in Romain Grosjean, Andretti only had two wins and a single pole to show for the season. They also combined for just six podiums, with Rossi and Herta scoring just 381 points apiece to finish ninth and 10th, respectively, in the season standings – well back of series champion Will Power’s 560.
Grosjean didn’t have a top-five finish after Road America and ended up 13th in points, while rookie Devlin DeFrancesco was never a factor and finished 23rd in the final standings.
It made for a long off-season, but the team took advantage of the time, crunching the data and figuring out what happened and what needs to be done to improve.
“It’s no secret that last year was not a good one for us,” Herta said Wednesday while addressing the media ahead of the Thermal Club test.
“We need to do better on all fronts. That’s what the main part of the off-season has been. It’s been looking at everything and just trying to improve everything. We just need mistake-free weekends, and that’s the goal, one by one.”
Mistakes by both drivers and crew led to a lot of problems for Andretti. Between on-track incidents and lapses in pit work, a lot of the team’s problems were of the self-inflicted variety.
Along with that, they were uncharacteristically unable to improve on race weekends when the cars were slow rolling off of the truck. While they could find a little improvement, it matched the same improvement other teams were having, which left them pretty much in the same place.
“We definitely needed to figure out why and what we could do better from our side of things,” Herta said.
“(There was) a lot of intensiveness of going through each race and seeing what was the problem on that race week and why could we not figure it out in the time frame that we had and how are we going to do it differently when we come back.”
With Rossi leaving for Arrow McLaren and Kyle Kirkwood moving into his spot from A.J. Foyt Racing, Herta, at just 22, is now the longest-tenured driver in the stable as he moves into his fourth season there.
With his time with the team and a new contract that reportedly makes him the highest-paid driver in the series, many expect Herta to become the face of the team, as well as its leader. While Herta admits that he will take on some more responsibilities in terms of feedback and other duties, the laid-back Californian said he won’t change his approach, and will prefer to show leadership on the track as opposed to becoming more vocal.
“It’s just (going to be) business as usual,” he said.
Grosjean looks for Andretti Autosport to come back in a huge way, as he feels more comfortable now as he enters his second season with the team. He feels like they will “tidy” up a few things, and that Herta will return to form.
“We know what Colton is capable of,” Grosjean said.
“Last year wasn’t the year that we wanted. Everyone has been working really hard and I’m excited. We feel like we’ve done some good steps.”
Kirkwood comes in motivated as well. A winner at every level he’s raced on, the 24-year-old Floridian suffered through a brutal season with Foyt, posting just one top 10 at Long Beach and finishing 24th in the standings out of 25 full-time drivers. He’s already a little familiar with the team, having tested with them in 2021.
He admits to probably trying too hard at times last year to do too much with an under-performing car, but also feels like he grew as a driver, and that’s what he plans on bringing to the team.
“At the end of the day, when you’re 20th and you feel stuck, naturally you’re not going to just give up, you’re going to push to the absolute limits,” Kirkwood said.
“In a sense that’s what we did. We overachieved some places and we underachieved by trying to overachieve at some other places. It’s unfortunate events, but I learned so much and I can’t wait to take what I learned into this season.”
Andretti Autosport hasn’t won a championship since 2012 nor the Indianapolis 500 since 2017. While the team has more than held its own over that span, the numbers say it has fallen from the “elite” class of IndyCar teams over the last several years.
But fortunately for Andretti, what needs to be fixed can be fixed, and those were certainly addressed. The pieces are in place for what could be a huge 2023, it’s just a matter of whether they will be able to execute on race weekends.
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