Silly Season: Andretti Autosport

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This will be the third in a series of posts geared towards what I think a select few Verizon IndyCar teams with potential openings for next year should do. That’s in contrast with what I think they will do.

Previously, I wrote about how Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing should stay a one-car team. Most agreed with that, especially since their intentions to do just that were announced hours before that post was published. On Monday, I said that Ed Carpenter should give up his seat to JR Hildebrand and just run a one-off effort at Indianapolis, rather than a split-driver effort for the No.20 car. A slight majority seemed to agree with me, but many presented solid arguments why they should not follow that path.

Today, I’m afraid most will not agree with my opinion on what Andretti Autosport should do with a potential fourth fulltime car – should they decide to run it. But please hear me out before jumping straight to the comment section to let me have it.

For the second time in less than four years, Andretti Autosport has found themselves in the tragic position of losing their potential driver for the following year to a fatal on-track accident. When Dan Wheldon was fatally injured in October of 2011; it had been widely reported that he had been signed by Michael Andretti on that morning, to drive the Go-Daddy car being vacated by Danica Patrick for 2012. We all know what happened and the ride ultimately went to James Hinchcliffe.

Fast-forward to 2015.For much of this past season, Andretti Autosport struggled to come to grips with the new Honda aero kit. Although they were the team chosen to do the offseason development, most of the other Honda teams passed them by. When Justin Wilson was brought to Michael Andretti’s team, it seemed to have a positive influence. Perhaps it was Wilson’s calming demeanor. Maybe he had a way of communicating with the engineers or adjusting to subtle changes. Whatever the case, the results at Andretti Autosport improved after Justin Wilson came on board.

I’m not sure there is any documentation confirming this, but the general consensus was that Justin Wilson was to have a fulltime ride in a fourth car at Andretti Autosport for 2016. Assuming that was true, the question lingers if Andretti will put someone else in that seat or run as a three-car team for next season.

A couple of weeks ago, I said that I thought Team Penske made a mistake to run four cars this past season. I’m probably contradicting myself, but I think Andretti might want to strongly consider running four. The trio of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Carlos Muñoz did not fare well at all until the arrival of Wilson. After his arrival, results picked up across the board, especially for Hunter-Reay. Coincidence? Maybe, but it leads one to think that another set of veteran eyes looking at data and giving feedback may have been the catalysts they needed. Had fate not intervened, I feel quite certain that Justin Wilson would have been an integral part of Andretti Autosport going forward.

But since fate did take a cruel hand in things, Michael Andretti is faced with a decision this long offseason. Should he seek out another veteran to fill a potential fourth seat or scale back down to the core of three he ran in 2015?

My thought is that he should seek out a savvy veteran that can bring a stabilizing presence to the team, much like Wilson did.

Some are in favor of Simona de Silvestro returning to the team in a fulltime role. I would very much like to see Simona have a fulltime ride with Andretti Autosport or a team of their caliber. But I’m not sure she can fill the role of a savvy veteran. As much as I like and admire Simona, I think she is still a little behind the learning curve. Her time will come.

I’m expecting to hear a few groans and disagreement with my suggestion; and that’s fine. I get it. But the savvy veteran I’m thinking about is Oriol Servia, who drove Wilson’s car at the season finale at Sonoma, at the request of the Wilson family.

But Servia is not my pick for sentimental reasons. I would pick him regardless. He is talented, smart (one of the few college graduates in the entire paddock – a degree in mechanical engineering), extremely experienced and as I have stressed many times – savvy.

I have long maintained that Oriol Servia is one of the most underrated drivers in the paddock. He has excelled in a variety of difficult situations, whether he’s in a substitute role or driving for a financially strapped team. Given even a marginally decent car, Servia has a history of overtaking cars on-track and bringing home the equipment in one piece.

Unlike some drivers, Servia has a very unflappable personality. Like Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti, Servia is very even-keeled and never allows his emotions to run too high or to low, or to get the best of him.

Servia is also extremely experienced. After two years in Indy Lights in 1998-99, Servia moved to CART with Cal Wells and PPI Motorsports in 2000. Through a series of bad timing and financial upheaval, Servia bounced around in CART/Champ Car for the next several years. From 2000 to Champ Car’s demise in 2007; Servia drove for PPI, Sigma Autosport, PWR, Pat Patrick, Dale Coyne, Newman/Haas, PKV and Gerry Forsythe. After the open-wheel unification in 2008, Servia wheeled cars for KV, Newman/Haas, Rahal, Dreyer & Reinbold and Panther; before taking the reins of Wilson’s car at Sonoma for Andretti.

Like Justin Wilson, Oriol Servia has never gotten a break. Some of the storied teams he drove for, like Patrick and Newman/Haas were shells of their former selves, but he always excelled. When he has been in substitute roles, he has usually outperformed his fulltime teammate. Some of his other rides have been with third tier teams, simply because there was no room at the top and not due to his driving ability.

With his engineering background, Servia could bring a wealth of knowledge to an Andretti team that has struggled to find the answers with the Honda aero kit. His driving skills, his experience and his engineering background is a rare package that some team should try to make room for. Plus, his Catalonian accent is mesmerizing for interviews which should make him popular with sponsors.

Oriol Servia is now forty-one and Father Time is catching up to him like he does everyone eventually. Time is running out on Servia’s career. I would like to see him land a top-level fulltime ride before he hangs up his helmet for good. For what they were lacking throughout a great part of the 2015 season, I think Andretti Autosport would do well to bring Servia into the fold – at least for 2016. Will they? Probably not.

George Phillips

Please note – I have plans for this weekend and will be taking a couple of days off. There will be no post here on Friday Oct 9, nor Monday Oct 12. I will return here next Wednesday Oct 14 to continue the offseason discussions regarding the Verizon IndyCar Series. Enjoy the weekend! – GP

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9 Responses to “Silly Season: Andretti Autosport”

  1. Br!an McKay Says:

    I have long liked underdogs Wilson, Servia, and de Silvestro. I’m not awake enough now to posit which old veteran, such as Servia, which not-so-old recycle such as de Silvestro or Hildebrand, or which young Indy Lights graduate should be seated.
    I’ll just say, as any other commenter might, that as much ad Andretti Autosport likes to campaign a fourth car all season, it needs to be fully-sponsored!
    A.A. would have had Justin racing all season if it had funding. It would have Swiss Missile signed/up NOW if it had funding.
    It’s very fortunate that DrPepper/Snapple and DHL have been sponsoring so long while other teams see sponsors come and go.

  2. I am not sold on JW being the full time guy there had Pocono not happened, I don’t know what his future would have held. Ultimately, I feel like people will view his 2015 season as better than it was because he is gone, but really, that car wasn’t turning heads until Mid Ohio, and that was more a fuel mileage deal. I will miss JW out there but I am not sure he was going to be the guy at AA (but he should have been, don’t take me wrong on that, he had earned the shot at the ride).

    I hate recycling Scheckter and Servia, Briscoe and Tagliani, I get so sick of these guys sometimes but I grudgingly agree that Servia may be a good fit here based on experience. That said, Marco should be that guy at AA or Ryan, it’s not like they are 21 years old anymore. To be honest, in a perfect world, Marco would move on, Simona would have a full ride and Servia could run part time in the R&D car.

    • Marco has never shown that he has the ability to set up his car for best performance. He may be able to drive the wheels off it(especially if the set up is right), but he’s been behind the curve improving the car if it isn’t right straight off the hauler.

      It’s no coincidence that he was better with Kanaan on the team; at this point there’s no interest in Marco from anywhere other than Andretti Autosports. All that talk about his future in F1 has gone quiet; can’t imagine why.

  3. I did not know Servia had a mechanical engineering degree. It’s crazy how many different teams he has driven for over the years. At this point having consistency in his life might really mess him up.

    I’ll pose an additional question: does an engineering degree, give a driver an edge on a non-degreed driver? It’s sure got to help with the engineers on the team although it does not seem to be the norm. Looking backward in history, how many drivers had degrees? Probably not many.

    • Mark Donohue had an engineering degree from Brown University. If I’m not mistaken, Bobby Rahal has a degree, but I’m not sure what in. I believe JR Hildebrand is also a college grad. – GP

  4. Apropo of not much, does anyone know how this came to called the “silly season”? It is not that silly for any driver seeking a ride and a bit of stability in his or her life. Just curious.

  5. Matty Brabham, Kevin Magnussen, or Alexander Rossi if he is available. Quit recycling the same mediocre guys. Try to hit a homerun.

  6. hey George. you forgot another top flite veteran driver. ryan Briscoe.

  7. this might be the most uneventful, uninspiring Indycar off-season ever.

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