Changing Times at Andretti Autosport

On Wednesday, I mentioned that Romain Grosjean will be moving on to Andretti Autosport for next season, after making his IndyCar debut this season for Dale Coyne. I realize that the full name of Grosjean’s team is Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing; but I still consider this a Dale Coyne entry. So for simplicity sake, let’s just call his current team Dale Coyne Racing.

To the casual fan looking at this on the surface, Grosjean’s decision would appear to be a no-brainer. Dale Coyne Racing has been in existence for almost forty years. In that time, the team has won six IndyCar races – the last of which came at St. Petersburg in 2018 with Sébastien Bourdais behind the wheel. The team has scored two poles (one by Grosjean at this year’s GMR Grand Prix), zero Indianapolis 500 wins and zero drivers’ championships.

Andretti Autosport has a much more impressive resume. After Michael Andretti purchased Team Green from Barry Green in 2002, the new entity debuted in 2003 as Andretti-Green Racing (AGR). The Green named in the new team was Kim Green, Barry’s brother. The unnamed partner in the team title was Kevin Savoree. Michael eventually bought out his two partners and re-branded the team as Andretti Autosport (AA) beginning in the 2010 season.

Since the team’s formation in 2003, Andretti Autosport has won the Indianapolis 500 five times, and the IndyCar championship four times. Their last Indianapolis 500 win was in 2017 with Takuma Sato. The team has not won the championship since Ryan Hunter-Reay won it in 2012.

Although the team’s roots are in the NTT IndyCar Series; AA also fields cars in Indy Lights, Indy Pro 2000, Formula E, Extreme E and Australian Supercars.

Andretti Autosport currently employees four fulltime drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series; Colton Herta, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe. Among those four drivers, the team has one victory this season (Herta at St. Petersburg), and two other podiums (Herta at the NASCAR double-header at IMS in August, and Hinchcliffe at Nashville). Their highest ranked driver in the points is Herta, currently in sixth. The rest of their stable is far behind; with Rossi in twelfth, Hunter-Reay in sixteenth and Hinchcliffe nineteenth.

By comparison, Romain Grosjean missed the first three ovals of the season, including the double-points Indianapolis 500; yet is currently fifteenth – ahead of Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe.

One of the longtime regular readers and commenters on this site, SOCSeven, theorized on Wednesday’s post that there are two well-staffed and well-engineered teams at AA (presumably Herta and Rossi) and two teams that get almost nothing, who “…are destined to be at the tail end of the field”. He finished his comment by saying “Many a career is being ended at Andretti”. Ouch!

The point is that these are not the glory days at Andretti, but they have been through slumps before and come out of them.

This week, I’ve seen where several people have opined that Grosjean has made a career mistake by leaving Coyne and moving to Andretti. To that, I say…Baloney!

Remember that Coyne has won six races in the team’s existence, and those took place between 2009 and 2018 – a ten year span. That’s a little bit better than one race win every two years, but sixty races have been run since their last win. Even in what is considered a down period for Andretti, they have won nine races since Coyne’s last win in 2018; three more than Coyne has won – ever.

While Herta and Rossi are having better seasons than their other two teammates, I’m not buying the notion that they’ve thrown the second and third string talent to those two cars. Nor am I buying into the idea that Michael Andretti is taking DHL money and throwing it all at Herta’s car. I think DHL has been a partner long enough that they expect their resources to be used on the car and driver carrying their logo. Maybe I’m naïve in thinking that. I know it has happened at other teams in the past, but I’m not sure that’s happening at AA.

I think Dale Coyne has done a masterful job in the last fifteen years or so, doing the most with very little. He has launched several careers of drivers who went on to better things – Alex Palou being just the most recent example. While I think he and Grosjean have worked near-miracles together this season, it still has not produced a race win yet. They have three more chances to make something happen this season.

I think Grosjean made the correct move going to Andretti. He has a much better shot at winning races there, than if he had stayed at Coyne. I look at this situation as being similar, although not as clear, as when Josef Newgarden was being courted by Team Penske. Newgarden had done well for himself at Ed Carpenter’s team, but when Roger Penske calls, you take that call.

Andretti Autosport is still considered one of the Big Three of Penske, Ganassi and Andretti. Some are trying to add Arrow McLaren SP into what they are calling the Big Four, but I’m still holding off on that one. When one of the Big Three call, while you are driving for Dale Coyne – you take that call.

It would not totally surprise me if Grosjean won one of these last three remaining races, while with Coyne. That would keep Dale Coyne from going into a fourth season without a win. But I think it is a lot more likely that Grosjean wins at least one race for Andretti next season.

I have quickly learned to really like Romain Grosjean. I will admit that I knew very little about him while he was in Formula One, other than the fact he drove for Haas. Of course, I saw the countless replays of his fiery crash at Bahrain last November, but I still knew very little about him – other than the fact that he was very lucky to be alive.

It wasn’t until last February that we binge-watched the first two seasons of Formula 1: Drive to Survive on Netflix, that I learned about Romain Grosjean, the man. I saw how he and teammate Kevin Magnussen were under the gun in Season Two of the show, and were portrayed as scapegoats as the performance of Haas dropped considerable from 2018 to 2019. Grosjean was a punchline for other teams, as they predicted he would be gone in the first corner of a race. Sometimes, they were right.

In Season Three, which covered the 2020 F1 season – Haas Team Principal Guenther Steiner made the decision to dump both drivers after the season was over. You lived through the disappointment that Grosjean endured. Of course, itb was easy to feel sorry for him when you knew of the inferno that awaited him in November. In the episode that covered the fiery crash, Grosjean was interviewed while sitting with his wife. You couldn’t help but appreciate his thoughtful and introspective comments on racing, life and survival. The viewer understood that this man had a profound perspective on the second chance at life he had been given.

By the time Season Three dropped in, we already knew that Grosjean was headed to IndyCar, but to run the street and road courses only. He would not run any ovals. By the time the Indianapolis 500 rolled around, he was already second-guessing himself. In IndyCar, he had rediscovered his joy in racing that had been lost during his time in Formula One. Shortly after the 500, it was announced that he would test at Gateway. If that went well, he would commit to running the egg-shaped oval.

When Grosjean made his oval debut there a couple of weeks ago, it was hard to tell it was his first oval race. The man who had escaped death just nine months earlier, was showing no hesitation as he was making passes normally reserved for oval veterans. A friend texted me during the race saying “Grosjean will crash before this race is over”. I responded that I didn’t think so, that I was very impressed with him. His next text said it all: “I’m impressed too, but he’s making some [gutsy] moves and really a very high line…moves an oval rookie doesn’t usually get away with”. Exactly.

As we now know, Grosjean did not crash. He finished an unremarkable fourteenth, but only because he got caught out on an ill-timed yellow flag. But he showed enough prowess to convince me that him being a quick-study with Indy cars, wasn’t limited to just the non-ovals. I’m not sure I’ve seen a Formula One veteran adjust to IndyCar so quickly since Nigel Mansell, when he came over in 1993 – and I don’t make that statement lightly.

But there’s a big difference between Romain Grosjean and Nigel Mansell. Grosjean is a lot more likeable.

It is a rare thing this season, if you catch Grosjean not smiling. He has had a big grin on his face since the opening race of the season at Barber. He has embraced IndyCar, as well as the US. Comparing his demeanor now, versus his mood while in Formula One is like night and day. It seems as if a giant burden has been lifted off of his shoulders and he is having more fun than he has for a long time. (All photos by Susan Phillips)

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I find Romain Grosjean to be a breath of fresh air. Not only does he appear to be a great driver who has acclimated to IndyCar very well; he comes across as a very pleasant and grounded individual. You never see him brooding or pouting when he’s had a bad race. That’s more than I can say for at least one driver in Andretti Autosport’s 2021 driver lineup, who may or may not be driving the car that Grosjean will be moving into next year.

Will there be another change in the driver lineup at Andretti in 2022? The more time goes on, I’m thinking there will be. It has not gone well for James Hinchcliffe this season. Looking back, he did not have an awful season at McLaren. He had eight Top-Ten finishes with one podium. Still, that was only good enough for twelfth in 2019. If he doesn’t go to Coyne for 2022, I’m not sure there’s a spot on the grid for Hinch next season. That would be a shame. While his results have diminished, he is a good ambassador for the series and a great personality to have around.

I’m also wondering if Alexander Rossi will finally end his dry spell in one of these three final races. Rossi has not won a race since Road America in 2019. Since then, he has been saddled with bad luck, bad pit stops, bad strategy or bad driving. He is still under contract for 2022, but after that – all bets are off if he doesn’t start getting better results, no matter the reason.

Right now, Colton Herta is carrying Andretti Autosport. He is a good driver, who is fast. But youthful exuberance has gotten the best of him many times. It’s time for that to stop, if he wants to be the leader of this team. Will Grosjean be carrying this team a year from now? Time will tell.

George Phillips

Please Note:  Monday Sep 6 is Labor Day. Since most of the US is taking off, I will too. I’ve found that very few people read this site on holidays, so I might as well take a break, relax and watch a lot of football. I will return here on Wednesday Sep 8. I hope everyone stays safe and enjoys the long holiday weekend. – GP

5 Responses to “Changing Times at Andretti Autosport”

  1. Tony Geinzer Says:

    The peeve of a Generally Managed Andretti is that is like Roush in NASCAR where Careers don’t take off or blossom like they should.

  2. James T Suel Says:

    I must agree, moving to Andretti is a good move.. Drivers and teams have up and down seasons. I think he will shine at Andretti

  3. At first I questioned his decision as well, but the more I think about it, “The Phoenix” (forgive me) is making the right move heading to Andretti.

    It comes down to the proverbial higher ceiling debate. Andretti has no doubt struggled, but with their resources in tow, if the braintrust can get their issues figured out they simply have a far higher ceiling for success than DCR. Coyne on the other hand has to constantly punch above their weight class and overachieve in order to be competitive. Bottom line, you’re better off going to the underachiever who theoretically should and can be better. At DCR, we pretty much know where that ceiling is.

  4. I wasn’t thrilled when I heard that Grosjean was looking to come to IndyCar. He seemed to crash a lot in F1 with some over ambitious passes, taking out more cars than his. However, I was wrong. Romain has blossomed here and I have grown to like and respect him very much. I thought he made some gusty moves on his first oval. Very impressive. Moving to Andretti next year looks advantageous to both driver and team.

    Have a restful holiday weekend everyone!!

  5. For me the interesting thing is how Grosjean and Herta compare. Rossi I think is a small step behind while De Francesco, if signed will pay the bills. I’m hoping Kirkwood gets the call rather than De Francesco.

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