Just like the previous year, Michael Andretti can reflect on Andretti Autosport's 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season by first pointing to a victory in the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
But this past year saw more team progress than just Takuma Sato swigging milk in May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Alexander Rossi won his second series race, the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen, to go with his 2016 Indy 500 triumph. He also was the team’s top points finisher in seventh place, three spots better than the team’s top finisher a year ago. The 2016 Sunoco Rookie of the Year had finished 11th the previous year.
Sato, who is moving on to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and will be replaced by Zach Veach, finished eighth in the points. Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion, improved three spots to place ninth. Marco Andretti was up four spots to 12th from the year before.
“We’ve made great progress,” Michael Andretti, the team CEO, said. “Our results could have been even better than they ended up being because of bad luck or whatever, but the good news was we’ve been competitive in just about every race. We’ve had one of our cars up there, which is a big difference from where it was last year.
“We made great improvements within the team. Now having four cars all set for next year and having that continuity is going to carry a lot of momentum through the offseason and hopefully have us come out even better prepared for next year.”
Andretti saw the need for several offseason changes to bolster a team that had drifted out of the points championship conversation in 2016. Rob Edwards was promoted to chief operating officer, former Chip Ganassi Racing championship-winning engineer Eric Bretzman became technical director and Jeremy Milless, who worked at Ed Carpenter Racing with current series champion Josef Newgarden, was hired to join Rossi’s team. Bryan Herta, who had previously worked with Rossi, became Marco Andretti’s strategist.
“We brought a lot of good people in during the offseason who made a really big difference,” Michael Andretti said. “We also moved people around within our organization. We just made really good moves. I think that’s why our results were what they were this year. Unfortunately, we didn’t win as many as we should have, but we were competitive in a lot of them.
“We won Indy again, which is amazing. Takuma won, but we had five cars up there that could have won that race. At one point, I think we were 1-2-3-4 for a long time in the race. I was proud of that. It’s not just saying one guy, it’s the whole team.”
Aside from Sato and Rossi winning races, Rossi had four other top-five finishes including a second in the Honda Indy Toronto and a third in the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway. Sato had three other top-five runs. Hunter-Reay had four top-five finishes including three thirds. After a best finish of eighth the previous year, Marco Andretti had five races as good or better in 2017, the best a fourth at Toronto.
“I think we have four great American drivers on our team (for 2018) and, you know, America should be proud about their drivers because we've got the best,” Michael Andretti said. “We can race against the best in the world.”
The addition of Veach reunites the 22-year-old Ohioan with the team he drove for in all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder. Veach made his second career series start in May’s Indy 500, finishing 26th for AJ Foyt Racing. His 2016 debut was with Ed Carpenter Racing, for whom he finished 19th in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
Andretti didn’t rule out adding a fifth car – he had six entered in the Indy 500, including the heralded debut of Fernando Alonso – but was glad four full-time rides are already set.
“It’s most likely not going to happen,” he said of a fifth car. “But I'm very, very happy to be able to say that this is the first time in the history of our team, even going back to the Andretti Green days, that we've actually had four committed drivers for the next season at the last race of the prior season.
“And what's even more exciting is that they're all multiple-year deals. That means so much to our team. I think it's going to be really big. Continuity, we always talk about it, and it's not something that's just words. It really means something. And to have all the guys working together for many years is going to, I think, only make us a better team and get us better results. I'm very excited about that. I'm going to be able to have a really nice Christmas this year.”