Andretti Autosport drivers stunned by disasters in St. Pete

The Andretti Autosport-Honda team’s drivers were left shocked by the run of misfortune and mistakes that cost them several winning chances in the GP of St. Petersburg.

Andretti Autosport drivers stunned by disasters in St. Pete

Despite starting second, third and fourth on the grid, Alexander Rossi, Colton Herta and James Hinchcliffe all made crucial errors on an admittedly difficult track surface, that cost the team a chance to repeat the 1-2-3 it scored in the second race at Mid-Ohio.

After Team Penske-Chevrolet pole-winner Will Power suffered gear downchange difficulties on Lap 5, Rossi moved into the lead ahead of Herta and Hinchcliffe, and the two Americans, locked in battle, seemed destined to duel to the checkered flag.

However, it all started to unravel at around two-thirds distance in this 100-lap race. On Lap 63, Herta, running two seconds behind Rossi, outbraked himself into Turn 4, and the time lost spin-turning his way back onto the track allowed Hinchcliffe and Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden to slip past and demote him to fourth.

Rossi’s crew, in response to Newgarden stopping on Lap 65, pulled in the #27 Andretti Autosport car next time by and on emerging, Rossi escaped a knot of traffic to lay down a fast lap.

Then on Lap 70 Rossi lost the rear of the car exiting the fast right-handed Turn 3, ran out of steering lock to correct the slide and speared over into the wall on the right.

“It was just a human error,” said Rossi. “I think the 27 AutoNation Andretti Honda guys were phenomenal. Andretti Autosport was phenomenal all weekend. It sucks. This is the first time it’s happened to me – to crash from the lead. I’m sorry for the boys.”

The cars that had yet to stop were thus doomed, as the pits were, as usual, closed under caution (although Alex Palou of Dale Coyne Racing-Honda with Team Goh stayed out, very off-sequence) which meant when the pits re-opened and they pitted, Herta was left in the lead for the restart. He had laid down some fast laps before his final stop and had thus jumped Hinchcliffe during the pitstop sequence.

Following the Lap 75 restart, Marco Andretti, who had opportunistically made some bold passes to climb to seventh from 23rd on the grid, was the victim of Takuma Sato diving his Rahal Letterman Lanigan-Honda down the inside of Jack Harvey in the Meyer Shank Racing-Honda. The RLL car ran just long enough to slice the #98 car’s right rear tire. The immediate deflation caused Andretti to spin and stall at the next turn, bringing out another yellow.

“I left room to the apex, and I think I just got tagged,” said Andretti. “We got a flat, and then it was all down from there. We were so much faster; I just can’t believe we are in this position.

“I’ve never seen a season like we’ve had this year with the misfortunes. Some of it is luck, and some of it is not.”

Almost unbelievably, team owner Michael Andretti’s disappointments weren’t over yet. Under that caution, Hinchcliffe lost control of his car at the hairpin that leads onto the straight and spun slowly to the grass on the inside. Rejoining the track from standstill, he struck Harvey – whose Meyer Shank team has a technical partnership with Andretti Autosport – and ripped off his own front wing while sending Harvey, who had been running sixth, into the pits with a broken right-rear tie-rod.

“In 16 years of racing cars, I’ve never spun out under caution before,” said a mortified Hinchcliffe. “Just my fault. The pace car was going really, really slow, and it was super hard to keep heat in the tires. Going through the last corner there, I was making an adjustment on the wheel and just had one hand on the wheel. Even at 30mph, you’re going slower than pit lane speed, and the thing spun.

“The worst part is that coming back on track, I did it dangerously and not only hit someone but hit a [Andretti Technologies] teammate. That’s an even bigger black eye.

“To have a podium car – the guys did such a great job all weekend on the Gainbridge entry, and I was really hoping to give them a strong result to end the year.

“I’m gutted for the whole team, I’m gutted for Jack – can’t be sorrier than I am for him… We had a podium car and just didn’t pull it off today, and that’s on me.”

Hinchcliffe had also missed the pit entrance and so trailed around the track with the broken wing tucked under the nose of the car before pitting for repairs, and then again to serve a drive-through penalty. He would eventually finish 14th, five places ahead of the unlucky Harvey.

At the next restart, Herta was outdragged out of the final turn by Palou’s light DCR car, and the pair’s lost momentum at Turn 1 allowed Newgarden to pass both of them around the outside to grab the lead through Turn 2, although Herta did at least re-pass Palou for second. Almost immediately, however, there was a sixth full-course caution for Sato nudging Oliver Askew into the Turn 10 tire barrier.

Following what would prove to be the final restart on Lap 84, Askew’s Arrow McLaren SP teammate Pato O’Ward outbraked Scott Dixon into Turn 1, and Herta into Turn 4, and two laps later Herta outbraked himself into Turn 4. With the field still tightly bunched from the previous caution period, Herta tumbled down to 13th, and could only claw back two positions by the checkered flag.

That was enough, however, to keep him ahead of the O’Ward and Power in the championship.

“I’m fairly upset with my performance on track today,” said Herta, “but I think throughout the year we did a really good job. I’m really happy to finish P3 in the championship, and hopefully we can carry some of that momentum into next year.

“But for St. Pete, obviously pretty upset with how it went. I think we had a pretty good shot at a win, and I just messed it up.”

So Ryan Hunter-Reay, who started only 19th after a mistake in qualifying, wound up as highest-finishing Andretti driver in fifth.

“Despite our starting position, we had a really positive day,” said the 2012 champion and 2014 Indy 500 winner. “We came through the field twice to finish fifth. I’m proud of the DHL boys both on the track and in pit lane today.

“It’s nice to have a top five to finish the season, but we thought we could have more than that with our pace. We’ll regroup and come back stronger in March.”

 

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