If test times are any indication, it appears Andretti Autosport may be back.
Andretti drivers took the top two spots – and four of the top seven overall – in a nine-driver private test Monday, Feb. 13 at Sebring (Florida) International Raceway. Romain Grosjean was quickest overall in the No. 28 Honda, while Kyle Kirkwood continued his impressive offseason of testing by ending up second, just .030 of a second behind in the No. 27 Honda.
Devlin DeFrancesco was fifth in the No. 29 Honda, .193 of a second behind Grosjean, while Colton Herta was seventh in the No. 26 Honda, .238 behind the leader.
The strong outing continued a resurgence for the team that won just one race last season with Herta’s victory in the GMR Grand Prix. The team’s top driver in the standings last season was Alexander Rossi, who placed ninth in the standings before leaving for Arrow McLaren. Herta was 10th.
Kirkwood Keeps Pedal to Metal
Among the Andretti Autosport drivers flexing muscle Monday, Kirkwood arguably was the most impressive.
While he finished .030 of a second behind teammate and leader Grosjean, this is the second straight test in which Kirkwood has finished in the top three overall. He was second quickest overall, behind Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing, on Feb. 2-3 at the open test at The Thermal Club near Palm Springs, California.
Kirkwood and Andretti are looking to bounce back together this season. Andretti didn’t place a driver higher than ninth in the series standings last season, and Kirkwood placed 24th in points as a rookie last season with AJ Foyt Racing.
The dip last year was one of the first in Kirkwood’s storied career. He became the first driver to win USF2000, USF Pro 2000 and INDY NXT championships in succession, before graduating to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES last season with the Foyt team.
Herta is the only driver in the four-car Andretti lineup this season with a victory in the series, as he has seven. But it appears Grosjean and Kirkwood are prime contenders to join the club of race winners this season, and they could push Herta for unofficial team leader status.
Ilott, Armstrong Lurk Again
Kirkwood wasn’t the only driver who impressed Monday at Sebring with his continued consistency this month.
Callum Ilott ended up third overall, .077 of a second behind leader Grosjean, in the No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet. That follows his strong performance at Thermal, where he ended up fourth overall.
Rookie Marcus Armstrong also continued to show speed at Sebring. He was fourth overall in the No. 11 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, .157 of a second behind Grosjean, after finishing fifth overall at Thermal. Armstrong, who is racing the road and street courses only this season, was the fastest rookie at both tests.
Times Deceive for Canapino
Juncos Hollinger Racing rookie Agustin Canapino was one of the pleasant surprises of the Thermal test, ending up 21st out of 27 in only his second full session in an NTT INDYCAR SERIES car after a career of racing touring cars in his native Argentina.
The transition from a closed-fendered car with the engine in front and very limited aerodynamics to a rear-engined open-wheel car with wings is similar to what NASCAR Cup Series legend Jimmie Johnson and Australian V8 Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin did with Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske the last two seasons, as both of those drivers had almost no previous open-wheel experience.
Canapino ended up last among the nine drivers Monday at Sebring, but that’s deceiving. He was only .671 of a second behind Grosjean after being nearly 1.3 seconds behind leader Ericsson at Thermal.
Progress is continuing for the rookie, perhaps at a clip faster than anyone expected other than team owners Ricardo Juncos and Brad Hollinger, who picked Canapino from relative North American racing obscurity for one of just 27 seats in the series.
That’s looking more and more like a shrewd move.
Daly Does It
Conor Daly’s only career NTT P1 Award came when he won the pole in 2020 at Iowa Speedway. He isn’t shy about professing his love for racing on ovals, either, but some forget that Daly has shown strong road-racing chops during his career, too.
Daly’s best career finish is second in 2016 on the Belle Isle street circuit in Detroit, and he won two GP3 races – two steps down from Formula One on that developmental ladder – in 2012-13. His best finish in 2022 with Ed Carpenter Racing was fifth at the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Daly was 26th overall at Thermal, but he rebounded to end up sixth Monday at Sebring in the team’s No. 20 Chevrolet, just .212 of a second behind Grosjean. Daly was quicker than NTT INDYCAR SERIES race winner Herta and .043 of a second quicker than ECR teammate Rinus VeeKay.
A smaller group of teams is testing Tuesday, Feb. 14 at Sebring, including Arrow McLaren and Chip Ganassi Racing.
Ganassi has an eye on the future by testing Formula E race winner Nick Cassidy of New Zealand. The team already has a confirmed vacancy for 2024, as Alex Palou will join McLaren Racing after three seasons with CGR.
Could Cassidy become the third New Zealander in Ganassi’s lineup next season, joining six-time series champion Scott Dixon and Armstrong. Is CGR heading toward becoming Team Kiwi?
After this test, teams will continue to prepare for the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding on Sunday, March 5 (noon ET, NBC, Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network).