In 2012 at Fontana, California’s Auto Club Speedway, Andretti Autosport won their fourth IndyCar championship within the last ten years.
It was the last Astor Cup they won to date.
This season has shown some promise for the long-time IndyCar team, with strong runs at the first race at St. Petersburg and Texas. However, the results were lacking as accidents and issues took all but one entry – Colton Herta at Texas – out before the finish. With Kyle Kirkwood’s win at Long Beach Sunday (April 16) and teammate Romain Grosjean finishing second, the team has finally put a whole weekend together. Will that put them back on a trajectory to compete for another title, and match the legacy established a decade earlier?
In 2003, the former Team Kool Green moved from CART into IndyCar, competing as Andretti-Green Racing (AGR), bringing drivers Dario Franchitti and team namesake Michael Andretti with them. They also signed Tony Kanaan to join young rookie Dan Wheldon, who took over Andretti’s car after his first retirement following that year’s Indy 500, and later Bryan Herta, who filled-in for an injured Franchitti after the fourth race.
From 2004 to 2007, after Herta was added full-time, that quartet formed the nucleus of a constant and cohesive championship caliber squad, blessed with the best car combination then available in Honda engines and Dallara chassis. They won 29 races, three championships and two Indianapolis 500s, giving owner Andretti a Borg-Warner that he never achieved as a driver. Furthermore, in 12 of the 29 wins, an AGR car also finished second, and they swept the podium twice.
It was a dominating performance, more admirable by the fact that the team fielded four cars that were consistently competitive. AGR’s full-time cars placed no lower than 11th in the season standings in that stretch. When ranking the best teams in IndyCar, AGR legitimately made a case to be in the same tier with Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing.
After 2007, the driver line-ups changed, and the cohesiveness seemed to wane. Coupled with the series moving to only one chassis and engine combination, the team’s performance dipped. Wheldon left for Chip Ganassi Racing after winning both the Indy 500 and championship in 2005. Bryan Herta retired from IndyCar after the 2006 season. Dario went to NASCAR after replicating Wheldon’s achievements, winning the 500 and title in 2007.
Replacing those championship caliber drivers were Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick, Hideki Mutoh, and later Ryan Hunter-Reay. AGR – rebranded Andretti Autosport (AA) in 2009 – didn’t have a driver win multiple races in a season again until 2012. In that year, Hunter-Reay made a mid-season charge, winning four races, including three in a row, to take the Astor Cup and the team’s fourth title.
Each season since then, Andretti has been unable to find or capture the team championship dynamic they used to such great effect. In the decade after Hunter-Reay’s title, the team has fielded 40 different season-long driver entries and placed a car in the top-five of the standings just six times. The closest they came to contention was Alexander Rossi’s 2018 season, when he finished second in the championship and won three times. There have been 29 visits to victory lane in that time, but in two of those seasons (2016 and 2020) the team earned only one win. Luckily some of that poor performance was offset by three more Indianapolis 500 wins – 2014, 2016, 2017 – but the lack of a championship crown remains glaring.
Return to 2004-2007 form?
Could Kirkwood’s win be a sign of things to come? At St. Pete, three of Andretti’s four cars qualified in the Fast Six and then at Texas, two were in the top-eight with two laps to go before Grosjean crashed. Then came Long Beach, where Colton Herta finished 4th and barely missed making it an all-Andretti podium, reminiscent of the 2004-07 squad. Now Kirkwood sits 5th in the standings, with Grosjean 7th and Herta close behind in 8th. Andretti’s remaining car, driven by Devlin DeFrancesco is in 27th.
So far this year, AA has shown they have the drivers and speed, but can they be consistent? The team’s history suggests they perform better when all drivers are getting results, pushing each other as competitors, and working towards the goal in winning a season title. If they finally have remastered that approach, perhaps Andretti will finally break a decade’s drought and win another Astor Cup.
About the author
Tom is an IndyCar contributor at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. He also works full-time for the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. A native Hoosier, he's followed IndyCar closely since 1991. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.