Conventional wisdom would imply that testing helps drivers and teams hone setups that lead to victory at a track. But last weekend, Andretti Autosport defied that and still emerged dominant at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Andretti had an excellent weekend at Mid-Ohio despite deciding to test May 5 at Road America instead of joining nearly every other Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires team in testing that day at Mid-Ohio. Hunter McElrea won the pole and led every lap of the race, Matthew Brabham finished second, Christian Rasmussen fourth and Sting Ray Robb fifth.
“We're confident that we're going to be fast, but we're like, ‘Oh, we're not going to do a test day and they all did the test day, so we were like, oh, man, maybe we're going to be out to lunch,’” Brabham said. “But I think the test day hurt them more than anything. I think you guys like found a whole bunch of stuff on the test day and showed up here and were like, ‘Oh, none of this works,’ whereas we just rolled out what we did last year, and it just seemed to take straight away.”
The team used last year’s setups, something Brabham admitted caused some trepidation before the race weekend. But the risk paid off, big time.
“Sometimes it goes like that,” Brabham said. “I think the track changes with rubber and obviously I did the Trans Am race last weekend, and we were doing 45 laps on Pirelli tires just rubbering in the track with cars that are like are like 800, 900 horsepower and they're heavy and spinning off every corner. I was like, yeah, the track is going to be different when we come to the race weekend this weekend.”
Despite testing being seemingly the wisest choice, Brabham insisted sometimes testing can create just as many questions as it answers.
“Yeah, I don't know if it's overthinking,” Brabham said. “I think it's just more like you test but you're finding stuff and you're getting excited, and you're like, ‘Oh, man, is this going to work on a race weekend,’ and it just doesn't.”
Andretti’s strategy worked, without question.
In the first practice, the team went 1-2-5-6 (McElrea first, Rasmussen second, Brabham fifth and Robb sixth). McElrea, Brabham and Rasmussen swept the top three spots, respectively, in the second practice.
During qualifying, Andretti drivers went 1-4-5-6 (McElrea on pole, Brabham fourth, Rasmussen fifth and Robb sixth).
Race Day was even better, with the 1-2-4-5 finish. It was the first time this season the team has placed all four of its drivers in the top five of a race. It also continued a recent hot streak in Lights for the team, which swept the podium at the previous event, at Road America, with Rasmussen, Robb and McElrea finishing a respective 1-2-3.
That has helped Andretti claw back a deficit to rivals HMD Motorsports, which had won five straight races since Brabham captured the season opener at St. Petersburg. Linus Lundqvist (350 points) of HMD still leads the standings by a hefty 87 points, but Robb (263) is second, Brabham (254) third, McElrea (252) fourth and Rasmussen (232) sixth.
And by making more calculated decisions such as this one, it’s safe to say this streak might continue at the next event, July 23 at Iowa Speedway.