It wasn’t quite the renaissance year that Andretti Autosport hoped for, but it was an improvement from 2016.
The team brought in Takuma Sato from AJ Foyt Racing in the offseason to replace Carlos Munoz in the No. 26 Honda. Sato’s goal was to be in a more competitive car and have another chance at a win in the Indy 500, which he came so close to in 2012.
On the final lap of the 96th running, he aggressively attempted to overtake Dario Franchitti in Turn 1 on the last lap for the lead but ended up in the wall. Franchitti won the race for the third and final time of his career and Sato finished 17th.
Andretti fielded six of the 33 cars in this year’s Indy 500, including McLaren Honda’s entry with Formula 1 wheelman, Fernando Alonso. Alonso skipped the Grand Prix of Monaco and ran the No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti car.
The Andretti Hondas were dominant for a majority of the race. They led 95 of the 200 laps, including 27 by Alonso and 28 by Ryan Hunter-Reay. However, both drivers suffered engine failures before they could make it to the finish.
The race boiled down to a duel between Sato and three-time Indy 500 champion Hélio Castroneves in the closing laps. This time, Sato had his redemption.
It was the second consecutive year, and the third time in four years an Andretti car won “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Alexander Rossi won in a memorable, yet improbable fuel-mileage run in the 100th running and Hunter-Reay won the 2014 event after a similar battle with Castroneves.
When Rossi won in 2016, it was the organization’s only victory. In 2017, Rossi earned his second career IndyCar Series win at Watkins Glen International, leading 32 of 60 laps after starting on the pole.
In total, Andretti Autosport drivers notched two victories, three poles and seven podiums in 2017. The year before, they had one win, one pole and six podiums.
Hunter-Reay didn’t have too delightful of a season. The 2012 series champion was plagued with mechanical failures early in the year. At Long Beach, he led 28 laps but fell short of the finish by six laps because of an electrical issue. Two races later at Phoenix Raceway, a suspension problem took him out 30 laps shy of the checkered flag. A month later, he had the engine expire at Indy.
In August, when the series visited Pocono Raceway, Hunter-Reay had a brutal crash during qualifying. He spun out of Turn 3 and backed his No. 28 violently into the wall. The 36-year-old was brought to Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest for evaluations on his left hip and knee.
Hunter-Reay stayed at the hospital overnight and was examined the next day. He was cleared to race in the morning and started the ABC Supply 500 that Sunday.
Starting the race in itself was an act of perseverance from Hunter-Reay. But he started from the rear of the field and made it to the lead by the halfway point, making his decision to compete even more galvanizing. He led 12 laps and finished eighth in a race that he wouldn’t have started without a doctor’s ‘OK.’ It was the highlight of his year.
Marco Andretti, the son of team CEO and chairman Michael, was the lowest-finishing Andretti driver in the championship. He finished 12th in the standings while Rossi, Sato, and Hunter-Reay were seventh, eighth and ninth, respectively. His best race finish was fourth in Toronto. For the second straight season, he failed to score a podium.
Earlier this month, Andretti Autosport announced a driver swap with Rossi and Marco. Marco will drive the No. 98 Honda, continuing a partnership with Bryan Herta, and Rossi will take over the No. 27 Honda. Herta will continue to be Marco’s race strategist.
Sato has left the team and signed with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He’s being replaced with Indy Lights graduate Zach Veach, who ran his first Indy 500 this year with AJ Foyt Racing.
— Zach Veach (@ZachVeach) September 13, 2017
The full-time driver lineup will be Veach in the No. 26, Rossi in the No. 27, Hunter-Reay in the No. 28 and Marco in the Andretti-Herta No. 98.
After sitting out this year’s Indy 500, Stefan Wilson will pilot the Andretti No. 25 next May in a partnership with Indiana Donor Network.
Although rumors swirled all season that Andretti Autosport would switch to Chevrolet for 2018, Michael Andretti confirmed in August that it would remain aligned with Honda.
“It’s no secret that we’ve been weighing this decision for a while now,” Andretti said. “We’ve had strong relationships and have marked milestones with both manufacturers, but we’re pleased to continue our Honda partnership. We have a great history of success with Honda, and I have no doubt that, together, our collection of achievements will continue to grow.”
The length of the agreement with the manufacturer is unclear, but it is a multi-year deal.