AVONDALE, Arizona — Andretti Autosport can’t come home to Indianapolis soon enough.
For the second time in three Verizon IndyCar Series races, all four Andretti Autosport cars didn’t finish in Saturday’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix, thus continuing what has been a disturbingly inconsistent beginning to 2017.
“It would be nice to start our season in May in Indy,” said Marco Andretti, who finished 18th after his No. 27 Oberto Beef Jerky/Circle K Honda was taken out in a first-lap, first-turn, five-car incident. “Hopefully we’ve got it all out of the way.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay lasted the longest of the Andretti drivers, completing 220 of the 250 laps before his No. 28 DHL Honda retired in 12th due to a mechanical issue. Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda was parked in 15th after 141 laps, following Rossi’s brush with the Turn 4 wall at Phoenix for the second straight year. Takuma Sato’s No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda finished 16th after a similar incident on Lap 136.
Just two races ago, team CEO Michael Andretti buried his head in his hands after his four entries suffered the same ignominious fate in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Those DNFs saw Hunter-Reay place 17th, Sato 18th, Rossi 19th and Andretti 20th.
The season started rather promising in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, where Hunter-Reay was fourth, Sato fifth, Andretti seventh and Rossi 11th. But since then, it’s been mostly sour, particularly for Marco Andretti, who has finishes of 20th, 21st and 18th in the last three races.
“It’s just a bummer,” Marco Andretti said. “We’re all trying to miss Mikhail (Aleshin, whose Turn 1 spin precipitated the five-car incident. “I spun to miss him, I did miss him, I kept it off the wall, but in order to keep it off the wall I had to light up the rears (tires). That blinded everybody behind me. I was either going to crash or light up the rears and then hope people would miss me. Graham (Rahal) couldn’t see and he hit me.”
The point standings aren’t exactly encouraging, either. Hunter-Reay stands ninth after four of 17 races, Sato 11th, Rossi 12th and Andretti 19th.
Hunter-Reay, typically strong on ovals, qualified 12th and never ran higher than eighth in what became an aggravating exercise in futility.
“I couldn’t do anything with the car all day,” he said. “I love short ovals and it’s just really frustrating. The DHL car had a great start – we got by a bunch of guys and then we got a (tire) puncture or whatever. It’s just the way it’s been.
“(Scott) Dixon was coming up behind me there, stuck his nose in – I was afraid I’d turn across, and I should’ve just turned across. Anyway, I got out into the gray and two guys got by me. Then I got down into Turn 1 and the car wouldn’t turn at all. I don’t know. It was a really wild ride in that thing today, it was way too complicated behind the steering wheel.”
Rossi ran as high as seventh before brushing the wall.
“Everything was fine, I came out of the pits on new tires and everything was status quo until the weight went out on the wheel and the front grip went away,” Rossi said. “I brushed the wall and we came back into the pits to see what was going on and unfortunately couldn’t fix it.
“We don’t really know what happened. We were having a decent race until then, we were running consistently in the top 10, staying with the Ganassi cars. I don’t really know what to say, I’m just not really sure what happened.”
It’s not the kind of momentum Michael Andretti was hoping for as the team returns to its Indianapolis headquarters to prepare for the May 13 INDYCAR Grand Prix before fielding a six-car entry including two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso in the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on May 28.
Rossi won last year’s Indy 500, where Andretti has celebrated four victories and is typically a strong contender in the season’s most important race.
“It’s kind of nice to look at that one (the Indy 500) as a championship in itself because of how terrible it’s gone so far,” Marco Andretti said.