INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana – The Andretti Autosport garage is bursting at the seams with drivers for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, but the attitude seems to be more is better.
Complementing the team’s full-season Verizon IndyCar Series lineup of Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi and Takuma Sato are a pair of Indy 500 rookies: two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso and two-time Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires runner-up Jack Harvey. Sato, while a veteran of seven Indianapolis 500s, is new to the Andretti May program as well since this is his first year with the team.
Michael Andretti never won “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” as a driver but has four triumphs as a team owner, including last year’s memorable win by then-rookie Rossi. He has fielded five cars in recent years at Indy, but at least one of his drivers see no issues with adding a sixth this May.
“We're a big team that works well together as is,” said Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indy 500 winner driving the No. 28 DHL Honda. “So adding the others in has been somewhat seamless. We're just all pulling in the same direction.
“That's one of our attributes, is being able to work as a big team, being able to pull from one another to benefit the overall good of the team, to pull us all forward. I think already being a big team, it was much easier than all of a sudden expanding, let's say, from two cars.”
Rob Edwards, chief operating officer at Andretti Autosport, has been charged with managing the six-car effort. The longtime race strategist appreciates the different perspective each driver brings to the team this month.
“It’s actually been very good,” said Edwards. “Andretti has run multiple cars for many years now, so there are very definite systems and everything that we have in place, based around three or four regular-season drivers and then any additional drivers that we add. The great thing about Takuma, Fernando and Jack is they’ve all been happy to jump into that way of doing things and the plans and the procedures that we have.
“At the same time, everyone brings their own slightly different viewpoint to it. Takuma has a lot of experience here at the speedway from other teams and other situations, so that’s added into what we already have. Even with Fernando and Jack being first time both to the team and the track, they’re seeing things for the first time and so they ask questions.
“They challenge our thinking to maybe look at things again and revisit things, look at things a different way, because they don’t have any preconceived ideas. So there’s a benefit from just fresh eyes and fresh participation in the process as well.”
The Andretti drivers constantly stress the sharing of data among all six cars. Edwards doesn’t believe there is a danger of over-analyzing what is gathered.
“I think it’s hard to say you can have too much data, right?” he said. “It’s about what you do with it in picking the right pieces out of it. I think there’s absolutely times where being able to look across things with several different cars is beneficial.
“At the same time, we know with racing it’s a team sport. So I think it’s important that the teams and drivers look at what’s relevant and applicable across six cars and things that are driver specific that they don’t get. You know, being influenced one way by what someone else is doing.
“So it’s a mixture of the two. But, for sure, the benefit of being a six-car team as opposed to being a one- or two-, somewhere like here (at Indianapolis) is significant.”
Michael Andretti praised the team’s rookies, Alonso and Harvey, and said the team shoulders responsibility for the steering issue that led to Harvey crashing on Monday. The Brit rebounded to complete his rookie orientation program on Tuesday in the car run in conjunction with Michael Shank Racing.
“Jack will be fine. We’ve let him down on a few things where we spooked him a little bit with the steering and things like that,” Andretti said. “So he’s been having to build back up to it.
“At the end of the day (Tuesday), he was back on par and running as quick as our other guys. So I think we got him back, but I feel bad for him because we made a few mistakes which has affected him so far. He hasn’t gotten the running that he’s needed yet, so we need to get his confidence up. I think it’s getting closer, but we’re still not there.
“With Fernando, he’s been fine. He was really good in traffic; he took to it no problem. He’s been very aggressive in it and not intimidated at all.”
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