Leading up to the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season, OnPitRoad.com will profile a different IndyCar Series team each week, reflecting back on last season and looking ahead to the new year.
Last year, Andretti Autosport didn’t have the season that they were looking for with none of their drivers finishing in the top-five in points. 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series Champion Ryan Hunter-Reay had the best season of the bunch, finishing sixth in points.
Hunter-Reay started off his season on the note that he would’ve wanted, posting four top-two finishes in the first five races. It looked as though he was on the road to another championship. That run was highlighted by a victory in the Indianapolis 500, where he led multiple laps and proved in the run to the checkered that he could performance top-notch. Beyond the Indy 500 win, Hunter-Reay picked up a victory on the Barber Motorsports Park road course, and the short Iowa Speedway oval. That there proved why he is one of the top notch drivers in the series as he can get it done on any course.
While the results may not have shown it all year, Hunter-Reay was always near the front of the field all year, proving that he has what it takes, no matter the track, to score the victory. However, mechanical issues and a couple crashes resulted in many of those strong runs being derailed to back half of the field finishes and a total of five DNFs on the season. As a result, he would only finish sixth in points.
Andretti Autosport had all the pieces in 2012 across the board, but has lost that magic over the past two seasons. It wasn’t just Hunter-Reay that experienced the struggles, as James Hinchcliffe and Marco Andretti were plagued by the same issues.
Coming off of a fifth place in points last year that saw improvement at all the tracks over the board, there were high hopes for Andretti to come out of the box in 2014 and really impress even more, putting himself in championship contention. However, noted by the ninth place finish in points with no wins, that did not happen. Even with the season not meeting expectations, there were still some high marks throughout the season.
Certainly, everybody will be thinking back to Marco Andretti’s performance in the Indianapolis 500 as he led 20 laps and looked to be on his way to breaking the Andretti-Indianapolis curse, when Hunter-Reay got past him late in the race. Instead of hitting victory lane, he would finish third. Andretti also posted another great performance, in finishing second at Barber Motorsports Park. RHR dominated the day, but Andretti was able to put himself in position and post a solid runner-up performance for his best finish of the season.
The same type of summery could be written for Hinchcliffe, who has moved on to new pastures, switching over to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
While disappointment was key for RHR, Andretti and Hinchcliffe, Carlos Munoz would have a solid rookie season, scoring three podium finishes en route to finishing eighth in the season ending standings. Certainly one of the biggest highlights was the fourth place finish in the Indianapolis 500, marking Munoz’s second top-five in the biggest spectacle of racing following a runner-up finish in 2013. The 23-year-old mentioned last month that the lessons under his belt should help make this year even better.
“I know now what not to do or what to do to prevent the same mistakes because of my own experiences,” Munoz explained. “I’ve been to the tracks now; I have the data, what things work for me, what didn’t work for me. As a team, they know a little bit more about what I like or don’t like with my driving style. It’s really important to have all of that.”
AA has been through a funk before, though, and has been able to turn it around. However, while trying to find the magic to turn around, they are going through a big personnel change. At the end of the season in November, Kyle Moyer announced that he was leaving his post at AA as the Director of Racing Operations, and moving over to Team Penske for 2015. AA would hire his replacement at the beginning of January, in the form of Rob Edwards. Edwards served as the Team Manager for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports last year. Depending how quickly it takes the team to adapt will depend how quickly everything gets shifting according to normal. Edwards seems to have the smarts, based on leading Simon Pagenaud to a top-five finish in points, but can he work that magic with AA?
Moyer also worked as the race strategist for Andretti, so Andretti will now have a new man on the pit box for him. It has yet to be announced by AA as to who will take over the position, but that is something else to consider.
There’s also the variable of the new aero kits this year. Depending how AA adapts to those will depend on whether they have success. If they can find the edge quicker than their fellow competitors, it could be a very good year for Hunter-Reay.