TORONTO – They admittedly benefited from a perfectly timed full-course caution, but three members of Andretti Autosport will gladly accept the good fortune from Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto and use it as a springboard for the remainder of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.
Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay each made a pit stop in the laps right before the yellow flag waved on Lap 23, catching out those front-runners who had yet to pit. It shook up the running order enough to allow the Andretti trio to all finish the race in the top six.
Rossi placed second in the No. 98 Andretti Autosport/Curb Honda – his best finish since winning last year’s Indianapolis 500. Marco Andretti came home fourth in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda, his top showing since a third-place effort at Auto Club Speedway in 2015. Hunter-Reay, driving the No. 28 DHL Honda, finished sixth.
Coming on the Exhibition Place temporary street course where the team struggled mightily a year ago. No Andretti Autosport driver qualified better than 15th at Toronto in 2016, and Marco Andretti was the top race finisher in 10th.
“If you look at where we were last year,” Rossi said, “to having three cars (finish the race) in the top 10, really having something to fight for, it's a testament not only to this weekend and the strength the team has shown, but also this offseason and how much better 2017 has been for us, has been for Honda.
“I think things are starting to finally come together. We've been looking for a breakthrough this year; I think this is it. Hopefully we can take this momentum and carry it forward to tracks we should be strong at.”
Rossi started the 85-lap race from eighth and was running sixth, stuck behind James Hinchcliffe, when he stopped on Lap 21 in an effort to run in clean air on fresh tires. Hunter-Reay, mired in 15th place, pitted on the same lap and Andretti, 10th at the time, came in a lap later.
Each was back on track and up to speed when Tony Kanaan slid into the Turn 1 tire barrier to bring out the game-changing caution on Lap 23. The top six cars had yet to pit and lost track position they couldn’t regain when they stopped under yellow.
“This finish has been a long time coming," said Rossi. "We had the Indy win, but I've been looking for that first podium (since) and hopefully this will be a foundation to go and chase more wins."
For Andretti, the fourth-place finish was reason to smile – something the third-generation driver hasn’t had much reason to do in 2017. Prior to Sunday, he had three top-10 finishes this season, but none better than sixth place.
“It’s refreshing,” Andretti said. “A trophy (for a podium finish) would’ve been fun, but I had fun today. The car was well-balanced, I was able to push and save fuel. I was lacking a bit of grip to the Penskes, but we got lucky and got two or three guys on that yellow.
“We’ll take it. It’s starting to put the fun back in the sport for me. It’s been very challenging, but the next goal is to put some more hardware in the trophy case.”
Hunter-Reay was the slowest of the Andretti Autosport qualifiers Saturday (16th), but climbed the most positions from race start to finish (10) to collect his fourth top-10 of the season and second in as many races. He had a spirited back-and-forth with Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud over the last 25 laps, with Pagenaud getting past for fifth place with five laps to go.
“We had a great battle with Simon,” Hunter-Reay said. “I was almost able to hold him off to keep fifth, but we just couldn't keep it and finished sixth. I just got too loose at the end. I think I burned the rears off trying to catch Marco.
“That’s the way it goes, though. Overall, it was a pretty good day and a good turnaround from last year. All in all, a good day for Andretti Autosport – 2-4-6.”
The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action July 28-30 with the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. Ticket information is available at midohio.com. The race on July 30 airs live at 3 p.m. ET on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network with an encore airing at 7 p.m. on NBCSN.
For more information about Honda Racing, visit http://hpd.honda.com/.