Andretti brings a six-pack to Indy
INDIANAPOLIS — Michael Andretti’s busiest month could turn into his best Indianapolis show.
He has four cars in the front three rows of Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.
Two of those drivers — the defending race champion, Alexander Rossi, and this year’s highest-profile rookie, Fernando Alonso — avoided getting sidetracked by sideshows.
Andretti’s own son, Marco, thrived despite taking on extra coaching duties this May. Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indy 500 champion, posted the fastest qualifying average outside the nine-car pole shootout, and Japan’s Takuma Sato proved he could be a contender. On Monday, rookie Jack Harvey moved up the speed chart, too.
If these guys produce all the right numbers this weekend, Andretti Autosport will have the best sixpack of racers in 500 history.
“It’s been good because of the data we’ve been able to share and pass on, not only for someone like Marco or Ryan, but it’s been good for all the guys,” Michael Andretti said.
The six Andretti cars in the 33car starting grid are the most by one team since Andy Evans started seven in 1996 with Team Scandia. Even for a team that regularly starts four cars, embarking on such an enormous challenge carries all sorts of potential pitfalls.
Finding sponsors and cars are the most glaring concerns, and Andretti said he never would have considered such a daunting feat if both hadn’t already been resolved. Finding crew members, spotters and strategists for all of the drivers isn’t easy, either.
“People are a huge problem because everyone in Indianapolis has a job right now,” said Michael Shank, co-owner of Harvey’s No. 50 car. “I have 22 to 25 guys in my shop, so it was only natural we could do it.”
Andretti, with an assist from Shank and Bryan Herta, the coowner of Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car, found success early: From the moment the cars rolled onto the 2.5mile oval, they were already fast.
Marco Andretti finished the first day atop the speed chart. He’ll start eighth Sunday, the middle of Row 3.
Hunter-Reay produced top-five laps in practice each of the first four days he turned laps and qualified 10th, the inside of Row 4.
Rossi and Sato, both former Formula One drivers, helped the twotime F1 champ make a quick transition from the familiar high-tech, road-course cars to the even faster cars on unfamiliar ovals. Rossi is starting from the third spot on the front row. Sato and Alonso qualified in the second row and will start fourth and fifth.
The only real glitch over the past two weeks has been Harvey, a rookie from England.
He crashed early in practice because of a steering problem, later blew an engine and wound up qualifying 27th, the outside of Row 9. While he appreciates getting the opportunity to race again — and is thrilled to give Shank his 500 entry — he acknowledges it’s hard not to think some of the problems were preventable.
Now, though, Andretti and his six drivers are focused on one goal: Topping Sunday afternoon with a drive through victory lane.
Michael Andretti during a practice session for the Indianapolis 500.