For the first time since 2005, when Andretti Green Racing won its second consecutive IndyCar Series championship, the team's four-driver line-up will return to the fray intact.
Despite rumours of unrest in the camp during a turbulent 2008 campaign, Tony Kanaan, Danica Patrick, Marco Andretti and Hideki Mutoh all return after combining for two victories and 21 top fives, and finishing third, sixth, seventh and tenth in the championship last season. The team now has high hopes that having everyone back onboard can lead to another title in 2009.
“Continuity is definitely a nice thing,” co-owner Michael Andretti, who has overseen three series titles in the last five seasons, admits, “There's no adjusting going on. That's always good because you can hit it strong right away. Everybody knows everybody. That's definitely a positive for us.”
Kanaan has been the only constant on the team that joined the IndyCar Series in 2003. In 98 career starts, the 2004 series champion has had full-time team-mates that have included Bryan Herta, 2005 series champion Dan Wheldon and 2007 champion Dario Franchitti. Marco Andretti debuted with the team in 2006, Patrick signed on in 2007 and Mutoh joined in 2008.
“Last year was a year we could say 'oh, they're young, they're learning', but now it's time to do it,” Kanaan said of the team's high expectations, “We did not deliver as much as we should have last year, and I think we failed on the driver's side to get it done. We talked, and this year we're saying 'no excuses'.”
“It's always nice to have a little bit of continuity, especially among the drivers,” agreed Patrick, who earned her first career victory in 2008, “It's such an important dynamic, especially for Andretti Green. There's always a certain grace period that exists with new team-mates and getting to know each other - and each other's trends, each other's habits and each other's demeanour - but it's nice to have that consistency.”
While there is consistency in the driving seat, however, there have been behind-the-scenes changes during the off-season, including the hiring of Peter Gibbons as engineer for Andretti's car, Eddie Jones moving to the engineer position for Patrick's car and Andretti Sr moving from race strategist for his 22-year old son to Patrick's #7 entry.
“When you're in a team like this and you make one change, it affects another thing and another, so you really have to think out your strategy on how it's going to affect your overall scheme,” the co-owner said, “I ended up being the guy that's going to take over Danica's radio.
''I'm looking forward to the challenge. I think it will be good for her, and I'll try and help her out as much as I can with my experience. Peter Gibbons as Marco's engineer and Eddie Jones going over to Danica are all positive moves. I think we've strengthened our teams.”
So to does Kanaan, a fierce competitor who clearly wasn't happy finishing third overall, behind old rivals Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves, in 2008.
“Everybody put their requests into Santa Claus as far as what they want for their own teams, and everybody got what they want, so basically it's time to go back to work,'' he said, ''And there won't be any excuses....”