Andretti Autosport Still Has Some Work to Do

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Last week, car No. 26 got a serious upgrade. However, it wasn’t the way that I thought it would go. Colton Herta will drive the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda in the 2021 season. For the past three seasons, the No. 26 Andretti Autosport car had been piloted by Zach Veach. I mean no disrespect to Zach Veach, the person. Zach is a nice kid and he had a handful of decent runs in the car, but his last two seasons in the car were somewhat dismal and I really had no problem with Andretti and/or Gainbridge making a change.

The thing is, I thought James Hinchcliffe was penciled in for the No. 26 car. He drove the car in the last three races of this past season to middle-of-the-pack finishes; but I’m not sure much was expected in a fill-in role. Although they were mid-pack, Hinch’s worst performance in those three races were better than or equal to anything Veach did in the car all season, after the season-opening fourth place finish he had at Texas.

I figured that Hinch would end up in the Gainbridge car with associate sponsorship from Genesys, his sponsor for three races this season – including the Indianapolis 500.

Instead, Herta will be sliding into that car – apparently at the sponsor’s request. That means the No. 88 car that Herta has driven for the past two years will have a different driver – if it makes the grid at all in 2021. Michael Andretti still maintains he will be running five full-time cars next season. The question is, which cars will they be and who will be driving them?

So far, there are only two Andretti Autosport drivers confirmed for next season – Colton Herta in the No. 26 car and Alexander Rossi in the No. 27 car. All indications are that Ryan Hunter-Reay will return in the No. 28 car, but like Santino Ferrucci at Dale Coyne Racing, before his NASCAR deal came together – nothing has been announced yet.

It is also presumed that Marco Andretti will return to the No. 98 car, but again – nothing has been confirmed. Marco has run most of the car numbers in the Andretti stable, but he’s never run car No. 88. Maybe he will slide into the ride that had been associated with Herta and George Steinbrenner IV – and had its origins as Harding Racing. Or is that car gone? Is George Steinbrenner IV still involved with the team? He is definitely not associated with Herta’s new ride in the Gainbridge car.

And what about James Hinchcliffe? For the first three races of last season, he drove the No. 29 Andretti Autosport car with Genesys sponsorship. It seemed the general consensus was that they were pleased with how things went, and they were ready to step up and at least help Hinch with a full-time ride in 2021. But so far, we’ve heard nothing. Most people still seem to think that Hinchcliffe will be with Andretti in a full-time ride next season, but so far – we’ve heard nothing.

I still think that when the season opens in St. Petersburg next March – Michael Andretti will be fielding five full-time cars. I also think those five drivers will be Colton Herta, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe and Marco Andretti.

But it’s still early. It is now only mid-December and the start of the season is still almost three months away. A lot can happen between now and then. Will there be a surprise or two at Andretti? Will Ryan Hunter-Reay decide it’s time to call it a career? Will Marco choose ownership over driving, next season? Will Hinchcliffe take his sponsorship to another Honda team like Coyne? I don’t see any of those happening. But until teams and drivers start confirming plans for next season, anything is possible. I’ve followed this sport long enough to not let anything surprise me when it comes to driver movement and sponsorship.

Michael Andretti has some work to do to fill these slots. We may be too close to Christmas to learn anything else, but if Michael Andretti doesn’t announce anymore lineup confirmations in December, it could be a very interesting January coming up.

George Phillips

5 Responses to “Andretti Autosport Still Has Some Work to Do”

  1. The number 98 will remain as it has historical significance to the Speedway. Associate sponsors Curb-Agajanian would ask that number be used. I am not a historian but I don’t think the number 88 carries much history with it

  2. With Penske and Ganassi expanding in 2021, I think it’s a perfect time for Michael to retract and tighten up this operation.

    Drop the #88 car for starters. Then convince Marco to focus on being a car owner and put Hinch in the #98. I’d love seeing Bryan Herta call strategy for Hinch.

    Marco could run in a 5th in the 500.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Barring an F1 hopeful with a bag of money surprising us all, I expect Michael will field Hinch in the 88 (or re-numbered to 29). It is worth noting that the 98 car is said to have not earned the Leader’s Circle prize money for next year, which would seem to put Andretti’s chances of fielding 5 cars again at under 99%.

  4. Given how much of a hit the aviation industry has taken with worldwide lockdowns lately, a question mark next to a continued sponsorship from DHL wouldn’t surprise me, even though they are into freight only, which probably makes up most flights worldwide today. So it is likely that securing nominal team leader Ryan Hunter-Reay’s ride would be the first priority at Andretti Autosport. With Marco Andretti having co-owning the #98, it most likely will be him again driving the car. It wouldn’t surprise me if Hinchcliffe was only in line for the #26 which he now didn’t get. The Andretti/Harding/Steinbrenner car is the big question mark here. The year before, that team was folded into Adretti Autosport. Less than 10 years ago, the HVM/Andretti car also was folded into the same umbrella, then ran for only a single season as such and was nowhere to be seen again.
    One of the team’s 5 cars missing the Leader’s Circle spot might also have an effect, as has been noted previously.

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