Sunday, October 10, 2010
IndyCar Season Review: Marco Andretti
Marco Andretti has the best point-scoring season of his IZOD IndyCar Series career in 2010.
Standing on the bottom step of the podium three times this season, for his first podium finishes since the summer of 2008, Andretti matched his 2009 rank with an eighth place finish in the season standings. His 392 points were the most he'd scored in a season to date.
The third-generation driver entered the season with elevated expectations and a new long-term deal to drive for Andretti Autosport in his back pocket. 2009 had been a rough year for the team; none of the four Andretti cars took any victories, and Marco fared no better than fourth at Texas. However, sponsor Venom Energy Drink signed a long-term deal with the team, looking for heightened results this year.
Sao Paulo, given those expectations, was a nightmare. Andretti had a history with Mario Moraes, whose poor judgment on the first lap of the 2009 Indianapolis 500 knocked both drivers out of contention. This year, during the first lap carnage in that city's inaugural race, an out-of-practice Moraes, who hadn't signed a deal until after preseason testing, went into the first corner too hot and landed on top of an innocent Andretti's car.
Andretti led a lap at St. Petersburg, the site of his first career Indy Lights win in 2005, but only mustered a 12th-place finish. In the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, Andretti led 58 of 90 laps and looked poised for his first victory since Sonoma in 2006, but pit stop mismanagement meant he had to come in for an extra stop, and he placed fifth. Neither Long Beach nor Kansas were as strong, and Andretti headed to Indianapolis 13th in the standings, with half as many points as leader Will Power.
Qualifying wasn't too kind to the third-generation Andretti, as 16th marked his worst career Indy starting spot. But unlike father Michael and grandfather Mario, frequent victims of the "Andretti Curse" at Indianapolis, Marco managed to keep up a pattern of alternating DNFs with podium finishes. The youngest Andretti led a lap and finished third in the race, propelling him up three spots in the points.
Andretti followed that up with another third place at Texas, behind Ryan Briscoe and teammate Danica Patrick. He qualified third and led laps early in the subsequent Iowa race, and 2010 began to look as if it would be the young Andretti's best season yet.
But a 15th place finish in that event seemed to kill, for a long time, any momentum that the No. 26 team had. The next five races were mid-pack road course runs, with no truly horrible finishes but no runs better than an eighth in Toronto. Regardless, Andretti's less-than-fantastic road course finishes only ranked him 10th in the sub-championship named after his grandfather, with less than half the points total of eventual road course champion Power.
Back on the ovals to finish the season, Andretti regained his earlier mojo at Chicagoland. Poking his nose into the lead multiple times early in the race, he stuck around until the end and scored his third and final podium of the year. Kentucky and Motegi were both so-so runs, with the team finishing sixth and 11th respectively. When all was said and done, Andretti finished seventh in the oval sub-championship.
Unfortunately for Andretti the driver and Andretti the team, the season finale at Homestead wasn't included in those standings. He qualified a subpar 16th, but patiently worked his way through the pack, leading 10 laps in the final quarter of the race and finishing seventh.
It was a strong day all around for Andretti Autosport, as three of their drivers finished in the top seven in the race and took the first three spots in the championship not occupied by the dominant drivers of Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing. For Marco, it was his second consecutive eighth place finish in the series' final standings, and his fourth top-10 in points since entering the championship in 2006.
With the team scoring two wins in 2010, breaking a winless drought that had extended through 2009, the expectations for next year are that all of the Andretti cars will find the winner's circle. Andretti may benefit from the possibility of the team downsizing, as teammates Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay currently do not have the sponsorship to run next year. A smaller, easier-to-manage team for owner Michael Andretti, and better personnel on the team's remaining cars, would likely improve Andretti's chances of scoring solid finishes and race victories in 2011.