Are The Wheels Starting To Come Off?
Chances are, if you are a casual fan of the Verizon IndyCar Series, you may have no idea who George Klotz is. Even if you are pretty much of a die-hard, you may have heard the name but have trouble remembering who he is. No, he is not the eighteenth-century German violin maker. For the past decade, George Klotz has been serving as Team Manager for Andretti Autosport. Klotz has been the one in the background, quietly overseeing four championships among four different drivers at Michael Andretti’s team since joining Andretti in 2002.
That’s why I found it somewhat curious that George Klotz had chosen to leave Andretti Autosport for the not-so-greener pastures at AJ Foyt’s team. No disrespect is meant to the team that the great AJ Foyt started and his son Larry Foyt is trying to rebuild and maintain, but Michael Andretti’s team last won a title in 2012. AJ Foyt’s team hasn’t won a championship since 1979. Many readers of this site had not even been born then. That’s why I find this a curious move.
Although this is considered a lateral move, many would call this moving down the corporate ladder. But there is no indication that this move was initiated by anyone other than Klotz himself. Translation: It sounds like he was not fired.
I am normally not a conspiracy theorist. I believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing President Kennedy. I fully believe that man walked on the moon in July of 1969 and I do not subscribe to the theory that the Twin Towers fell at the hands of the US. I tend to take things at face-value.
That side of me wants to believe that George Klotz chooses to finish his career at the same team where he started as a mechanic in the early nineties – AJ Foyt Racing. Perhaps he no longer wanted to deal with the pressure of developing and massaging the Honda aero kit and squeezing every tenth of a second out of his cars, while serving in such a role at a high-profile team. But if I was looking to avoid pressure, serving under AJ Foyt is not where I would look to go. Even though AJ’s age and health have kept him away from the track for a good portion of each recent season – don’t think for a minute that he’s not following every move. And don’t forget, AJ still makes snap decisions that are seldom questioned.
The National Enquirer side of me has heard whispers and rumors for the last few months that all is not well at Andretti Autosport. Not only are there rumors of discontent among team-members, but lately there have been murmurs that the balance sheet is not so healthy either. These rumors first started surfacing when there was litigation between NOLA Motorsports Park and Andretti Sports Marketing (ASM). They intensified when ASM founders John Lopes and Starke Taylor sued Andretti Autosport and Michael Andretti for removing Lopes as President of ASM. An Andretti company suing an Andretti company is bound to get ugly and it did. Reports surfaced that Michael Andretti had used funds intended for ASM to cover expenses for the race team.
Fortunately, the suit was settled out of court before too much family laundry was aired for the public. Still, the damage to the lofty reputation of Michael Andretti as a savvy businessman was done. In the court of public opinion – perception is reality.
Since then, the rumor-mill has been running at full-capacity. Social media, message boards and even comments on this site have alluded to the notion that Andretti Autosport is in deep financial trouble and that the wheels are about to come off. In fairness, I have heard no credible source even question the financial health of Andretti Autosport. But in this internet age we live in, all you need for a good rumor to take off is to start one on social media and watch it spread.
Not all have seen or heard these rumors. Those that haven’t will accuse me of helping to spread the rumors. Believe me, the rumors are out there and this site does not have the power to spread or silence them. But to fully ignore them would be like ignoring the fact that the Honda aero kit was slower than the Chevy in 2015. It would just be glossing over the elephant in the room.
We’ve seen times before when things resembled a sinking ship at Michael Andretti’s team. After winning their third championship in four years in 2007, defending champion Dario Franchitti jumped ship to run stock cars for Chip Ganassi in 2008, amid rumors of discord at Andretti-Green.
The famously close foursome from the early days of the team, were long gone. Bryan Herta had been unceremoniously dumped in favor of Danica Patrick. Dan Wheldon left for Ganassi, after winning the 2005 Indianapolis 500 and the IndyCar championship; and was replaced by Marco Andretti. After Franchitti was replaced by Hideki Mutoh, all that was left from the glory years was Tony Kanaan who was blamed for not being able to lead this new young bunch into the promised land.
In 2008 and 2009, there was a mass exodus of key personnel at Andretti-Green; from key engineering staff to even owners Kim Green and Kevin Savoree. Some described it as a three-ring circus waiting to implode. But things did improve.
In 2010, the team was reorganized under the Andretti Autosport banner, but things were still unstable. Longtime sponsor 7-Eleven left at the end of the season and Tony Kanaan was told he could seek employment elsewhere. Ryan Hunter-Reay was brought on in a temporary race-to-race role, even though he ended up driving in every race. Eventually, Kanaan was replaced by Mike Conway for the 2011 season. Andretti Autosport rebounded in 2012, when Hunter-Reay won the IndyCar championship. Hunter-Reay also won the team’s third Indianapolis 500 in 2014.
But things quickly turned sour this past season. It was a collective head-scratcher when Andretti was among the slowest of the Honda teams early on, even though they had done the development work on the Honda aero kit. The Schmidt and Rahal teams were way ahead of Andretti and even Foyt’s team was slightly quicker than the supposedly heavily funded Andretti team. It raised eyebrows and no one could explain it. Later in the season, the team performance improved with the presence of Justin Wilson. Unfortunately, we all know what happened that fateful day at Pocono this past August.
So the question remains…just why is George Klotz leaving Michael Andretti after fourteen years and going to a team that always seems to be on the cusp of a good season, but always fails to deliver. Does he believe he’s the missing piece? He very well could be. Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth have talent.
Foyt’s Technical Director, Don Halliday, is one of the most respected men in the IndyCar paddock for many reasons, among those for salvaging good finishes with very few resources. So it’s not like he’s going into the abyss. Ten years ago, that’s how I would have described AJ Foyt Racing, but not today. Larry Foyt has a level head on his shoulders and has done a good job assembling a very talented crew. Perhaps Klotz is the final piece of the puzzle.
But there is still something that tells me that something is not quite right at Andretti Autosport and that’s why George Klotz is leaving. It just doesn’t quite add up. I’m hoping I’m wrong and that Klotz just needs a change of scenery at this point in his career. An implosion at Andretti Autosport would not be a good thing for this series.