He reached a milestone last month with his 200th consecutive start in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season finale, but Marco Andretti is only focused on what lies ahead.
Completing his 12th straight season with Andretti Autosport – the team run by his father, Michael – Marco bookended his year with a pair of seventh-place finishes. He added three more top-10 finishes in between, including a season-high result of fourth at the Honda Indy Toronto in July.
But after finishing outside the top 10 in the final standings for a second straight year – the only one of the team’s four full-time drivers to do so – Marco can only look forward. In addition to an array of mechanical issues that plagued him, the 30-year-old from Nazareth, Pennsylvania, is the first to admit his struggles in adapting to the competitive aero kit era that came to a conclusion Sept. 17 when the checkered flag waved at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.
The three-year manufacturer aero kit duel between Honda and Chevrolet was not kind to Andretti Autosport as a whole. None of its drivers finished in the top five in the championship from 2015-17. Marco, in fact, is the team’s last driver to crack the top five in the standings when he was fifth in 2013, prior to the competitive aero kit era.
With a new universal aero kit set to debut in 2018 and be used by all teams, it’s easy to understand Andretti’s confidence in being able to return to form.
“I really think the (2018) package will be way more to my strengths,” said Andretti, driver of the team’s No. 27 Honda.
“I don't just want to turn the page and say, ‘I sucked on that aero kit.’ I want to figure out why. I have no doubt next year we can be on it. I tidied up my street course game, which was my old weakness, so I think if we get my strength back on the short ovals – where I used to be good – who knows."
Bryan Herta (shown above left with Andretti), who moved to Andretti’s pit box to call strategy this year, has seen continued growth from his driver despite battling issues that left them 12th in the final standings.
“That’s the great thing about this sport is you never stop learning, you never stop developing and evolving,” said Herta, who has called strategies that led to two Indianapolis 500 victories (2011 with Dan Wheldon and 2016 with Alexander Rossi).
“The cars are always changing with the tires, the engines and the rules. As a driver, you have to keep adapting and as a team you have to keep adapting. So I think we’re always looking for growth and always looking to improve and get better than the day before.
“I think this was a really good year for Marco. Early on, we had a lot of bad luck, which put us in a hole with the points and everything. Without that, I think we would’ve had a very solid season.”
For Andretti, the 2006 Indianapolis 500 and Verizon IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year, the ability to figure out and attack the new car is a challenge he is already relishing, along with engineer Nathan O’Rourke.
“I think it’s all going to be me adapting to the new car in testing,” said Andretti, “Nathan and I making the right changes, which, when we’re thrown a new package, it’s really fun because he’s really good at what he does.
“It’s fun to work with him and I think we’re going to be able to get a good car under me.”
Across the board, Andretti Autosport already has its pieces in place for next year. The all-American driver lineup is set with Andretti, Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay and newcomer Zach Veach. The technical side appears solid as well following a sizable upgrade last offseason.
Herta believes the stability should pay huge dividends moving forward.
“I think we’ve got an exciting offseason,” said Herta. “We’ve got new aero kits coming, which is always fun for the teams because they’ve got a lot of work to do to re-understand and re-learn. There’s a big challenge to be the first ones to figure it out best.
“Everybody is looking forward to that, but also we’ve got a lot of continuity. In terms of the engineering staff, in terms of drivers coming back – we’ve only got one different driver (Veach replacing Takuma Sato), but we’ve got all our deals done.
“We already know what next year is going to look like for us, now it’s just a case of getting to work. Next season starts now.”
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