Andretti Autosport Will Be Fun To Watch
We finally learned Friday that one of the worst kept secrets of the IndyCar offseason had become official. Takuma Sato will drive the car vacated earlier by Carlos Muñoz at Andretti Autosport. It had been reported two or three weeks ago by credible sources, but then we were told that it was not official. As Curt Cavin said last week on Trackside – it’s not a done deal until it’s a done deal.
There is a lot of truth in that statement. How many times have we seen deals for the Month of may fall through even beyond the last minute? Remember Sarah Fisher and the deal with RESQ in 2008? Depending on who you ask, there were some strange things going on with that deal. Whoever was at fault, Sarah’s car carried the RESQ livery during the first weekend of qualifying. But by the second weekend she had no sponsor. Something not above board transpired somewhere along the way and RESQ did not pay. Perhaps running their logo before money had changed hands was not a wise thing to do. Curt was right. In racing, it’s not a done deal until it’s a done deal.
So while it took a while to finalize the deal, Takuma Sato is now in the fold at Andretti Autosport. Things might get a get a little interesting in the Andretti part of next year’s paddock.
Think about it, personality didn’t just ooze from any of last year’s drivers in the Andretti stable. Ryan Hunter-Reay says all the right things for a sponsor, but he is not one to let us get real close to him. He’s a good driver and is aggressive when needed (just look at his dive-bomb pass in the Turn Three grass for the win at Indianapolis in 2014); but his quotes are usually about as exciting as a forty-pound bag of fertilizer.
But Hunter-Reay comes off as Helio Castroneves when you compare him to Marco Andretti. I’m told that Marco has a sense of humor. If that’s true, he doesn’t want anyone to know it. Alexander Rossi comes off as very aloof. I’m still waiting to see if that’s shyness or arrogance. I did come across a podcast with James Hinchcliffe interviewing Rossi. Hinch was able to bring out a personality in Rossi, but Hinchcliffe could probably get a good conversation out of a rock. But because we’ve seen glimpses of a personable Rossi, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt until we get to know him better and he gives us reason to think he’s arrogant.
I think if truth be known, Carlos Muñoz was probably the most personable of the bunch of the four Andretti drivers this past season. The problem was, his English was not good and his personality got lost in the translation. He certainly seemed to exude more passion for racing than any of his teammates last season.
Everyone thinks of Team Penske as the team that censors their drivers and keeps them buttoned up spewing the company line. Nothing could be further from the truth. Helio Castroneves has unbridled enthusiasm about everything. Will Power flashes the “double bird” and talks about the occasional driver being “…a bit of a wanker” in live TV interviews. Who knows what will come out of Juan Montoya’s mouth? Newcomer Josef Newgarden is a cutup, but usually seems to know when to draw the line. Actually, Simon Pagenaud is the only current Penske driver that really typifies the Penske mold.
That’s not to say that Takuma Sato is going to come in and be the second-coming of Paul Tracy, but Sato is usually pretty quick to make his presence known both on and off the track. Maybe that’s why he and former car owner AJ Foyt got along so well.
The more I think about it, I think Takuma Sato is going to be a very nice addition to Andretti Autosport, and not just for the Honda money he brings. After stints at KV, Rahal and Foyt; Sato will finally get a chance to drive for a large well-funded team. Although Chevy was strongest at most tracks other than Indianapolis and Pocono and won the championship last season, Honda was not as bad as it seemed.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan have certainly fared well with Honda over the past two seasons. You can say the same about Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Chip Ganassi has switched to Honda for next season. Ganassi doesn’t normally make decisions like that for no reason. He apparently sees something in a future with Honda.
The big question is…why has Andretti Autosport seemed to be so clueless with the Honda package for the past two seasons, especially when they did most of the testing for the aero kit?
Andretti has made some offseason changes to the structure of the team as well as bringing on Sato. You would have to think that they would be better in 2017. Wouldn’t you?
On the surface, this appears to be a driver swap between Andretti and Foyt. Both Sato and Muñoz are driving the respective cars of the other for next season. Not to be all bunnies and rainbows, but I think this “swap” will be a win-win for both. Carlos Muñoz goes to a Foyt team that is still in the process of being revamped. He no longer has to worry about sponsorship, as this is a fully-funded ride with a longtime sponsor who just agreed to an extension. Plus, he gets the coveted Chevy engine, which is thought to have an advantage on most tracks in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Sato gets something he has lacked throughout his IndyCar career – a stable of multiple teammates to share data with, on a team that has more of a tradition for winning than any other IndyCar team he has raced for. One would think Sato will now be a legitimate threat at practically every track on the schedule.
Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing how Sato meshes with his new teammates. Except for Rossi, I can name multiple times he has come together with his future teammates. The one that immediately comes to mind is when Sato inexplicably ran into the back of Hunter-Reay in the pits at Pocono a couple of years ago, while RHR was leading. If I remember it well, you know Hunter-Reay hasn’t forgotten it. It also seems Sato and Marco have something of a history with each other over the years. This should be fun to watch at Andretti Autosport.
So the music is about to stop playing in this game of Musical Chairs for the 2016-17 offseason. The future of KVSH is still in question. Max Chilton is expected to be confirmed in the fourth seat at Ganassi later today. Yesterday, Rahal Letterman Lanigan confirmed Oriol Servia for the Indianapolis 500 and possibly more. A possible part-time third seat at Sam Schmidt’s team is now about the only thing in play. And who knows what is going to happen with Carling Racing? But one thing’s for certain – there are a lot more quality drivers out there than open seats. Then again, that’s always the case. Stay tuned.