Andretti Chasing Different Destiny at Indianapolis

Andretti Autosport still searching for first victory on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Andretti Chasing Different Destiny at Indianapolis

The name Andretti is synonymous with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mario, Michael and Marco all have a long and storied history with this speed shrine. While Mario may be the lone source of victory from a driver's perspective, Michael's team has won the Indianapolis 500 five times.

Every May this organization loads into Gasoline Alley as one of the premier teams, and often considered to be the favorites to drink the milk on Memorial Day weekend. That will be the case once again this month, but there is some unfinished business to attend to first.

With the debut of the IndyCar Grand Prix in 2014, a new tradition was born. The "Month of May" now began with a road course race inside of the famed 2.5-mile oval. While some believed the race would be detrimental to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, Michael didn't see it that way.

Before the 2014 season began, Michael was asked how he felt about having a second race at IMS in May. "I don't know, I guess we have to try new things and see what happens," he said. "I know some people are in 100 percent disagreement on it, but I'm not. I'm in let's-see-what-happens mode. See what kind of interest there really is. Tradition is great and they try to hang on to it, but you have to be careful not to hang on to it to where it actually hurts you. We have to go with them on that one and see what happens."

What happened is that this race has grown enormously since then, sometimes out of necessity. When IndyCar was trying to find events to fill the calendar during the onset of the pandemic, they held not one, not two, but three races on the IMS road course in 2020. Last year there were two races as they raced on the same weekend as NASCAR, and that is the plan again this year.

Looking at the 11 races that have been run on the IMS road course, eight of them have been won by Team Penske. Will Power has five of those wins, along with five poles. The driver of the No. 12 Chevrolet has absolutely dominated this event, with 341 laps led. No other driver has led more than 75 laps. Power enters this weekend as the defending winner of this race.

Outside of Penske, the other winning teams are Ed Carpenter Racing (Rinus VeeKay) and Chip Ganassi Racing (Scott Dixon), with Sam Schmidt Motorsports winning the inaugural race in 2014. Andretti Autosport is still searching for their first victory on the road course, which has proven to provide some positive momentum for the big race later in the month.

Ryan Hunter-Reay finished 2nd in that first race in 2014, then went on to win the Indy 500 with Michael's team. The next year, Power did the opposite when he won the Grand Prix and finished 2nd in the 500. Power swept both races in 2018 and Pagenaud did the same thing the following year. Last year it was Alex Palou that finished on the podium in the Grand Prix, and runner-up in the 500 behind Helio Castroneves.

Is the “Andretti Curse” a real thing? Does it extend beyond the 2.5-mile oval and onto the road course as well? The box scores might indicate that, but it hasn’t been all bad for Michael’s team.

The wins have not been there but Andretti does have six podium finishes on the IMS road course. Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi have two podiums each, with Hunter-Reay earning the other two. Rookie Devlin DeFrancesco has only raced on this track once before; the Indy Lights doubleheader last year when he finished 7th and 6th respectively.

Herta had been solid on the IMS road course in his six starts. In the three races run in 2020, he finished 4th, 4th, and 2nd. His most recent finish resulted in another podium finish for the team. "Really excited to be back in Indianapolis," Herta said. "The Grand Prix is always an exciting kick-off for the month of May. We’ve had very good pace in the past and are hopeful we will keep that trend going into this weekend."

Andretti Chasing Different Destiny at Indianapolis

Rossi also has a pair of podiums and four top-five finishes here. His last four results are 2nd, 3rd, 7th, and 4th. At some point his winless streak will come to an end, and it just might happen this weekend. Rossi is cautiously optimistic about the race on Saturday. "We have had moderate success in the GMR Grand Prix in the past but moderate success is ultimately hard to quantify. We will go out there and do our best as we kick off the most important month of the year."

Andretti's best shot at a win on Saturday just might be Romain Grosjean. This track was the highlight of his rookie season last year as he earned pole position and led 44 laps in the first race, and finished runner-up in both events. He has taken to this course like a duck to water. "Last year the races at IMS went well for me with one pole and two, second-place finishes. This year we will try to do as well or better. I feel like we do have a very fast car and are ready to win."

While Andretti is hunting for their first victory on the IMS road course, Honda is also searching for their first win of the season. Winning at the speedway would be an excellent way to begin the month of May for the Japanese manufacturer. Andretti would love to be the ones to deliver that victory, as they get back into the battle for the championship.

Just like every other team, Andretti's focus will remain on the big prize that is the Indy 500 but there is no doubt they are hungry for a win tomorrow. That same hunger is what earned them those five bottles of milk.

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