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IndyCar 2016 driver review: Marco Andretti

Firestone 600 - Qualifying

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 10: Marco Andretti, driver of the #27 Snapple Andretti Autosport Honda, prepares for Star-Telegram Qualifying for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

Patrick Smith

MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the Verizon IndyCar Series field in 2016 with Marco Andretti, who had a nightmare season en route to 16th in points.

Marco Andretti, No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda

  • 2015: 9th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 3rd, 2 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 60 Laps Led, 11.5 Avg. Start, 9.1 Avg. Finish
  • 2016: 16th Place, Best Finish 8th, Best Start 11th, 0 Top-5, 3 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 17.4 Avg. Start, 12.8 Avg. Finish

Let’s get the obvious single line out of the way first: this was Marco Andretti’s worst season in 11 full-time IndyCar campaigns. In 16 races, there were no podiums, no top-fives, only three top-10s finishes, not a single top-10 start, no laps led, and a career-worst average starting position of 17.4. The one bright side was Andretti was the only driver who finished all 16 races, and completed all but eight of the 2,070 laps this year, second only to Charlie Kimball (only missed four laps) in that category.

And now let’s dig deeper. Andretti is not – can’t be – as bad overall as he was this year. This is still a driver who banked top-10 finishes in points in eight of his first 10 seasons, and considering the depth of field, that’s still an achievement. He also was singularly identified as the weakest part of Andretti Autosport this year, but that overlooks the fact that the rest of the team had an overall struggle with mechanical grip throughout the year.

Qualifying was a problem throughout the Andretti quartet. None of the four full-time drivers had a top-10 qualifying average. In total, out of 65 combined qualifying attempts, there were only 16 combined top-10 starts (Carlos Munoz 6, Ryan Hunter-Reay 6, Alexander Rossi 3 and Townsend Bell 1). By contrast, Team Penske secured 28 of the 60 total possible Firestone Fast Six positions this year, while Andretti got four (Hunter-Reay 3, Munoz 1). Andretti himself only led the team’s quartet of qualifying once all year – in Phoenix, when he was 11th, and top Honda.

Andretti is, for better or worse, scrutinized more closely than most others in the field bar Graham Rahal simply because of his last name. Michael Andretti and Mario Andretti both had “off years” in their careers too; the difference was, their “off years” still often ranked in the lower regions of the top-10 in points and won a race or two. Other than his debut year of 1983, when he only started three races, Michael never finished outside the top-10 in points from 1984 to 2002. Mario Andretti is one of the greatest drivers of all-time… and his final season in 1994 saw him finish just 14th in points with one podium and a wealth of DNFs.

This isn’t to let Marco off the hook, but merely a couple notes to indicate that he, like his famous racing father and grandfather before him, is human. The Marco Andretti of 2016 is a more introspective driver; he owns his mistakes, he frequently apologizes because he isn’t the one getting the job done in qualifying, and he does, despite the outward perception that he seems to only care about his friends and the lifestyle he leads, truly want to succeed in this sport. The last time Marco had a year this bad, in 2012, he went through a major self-assessment over the winter and rebounded in a huge way in 2013. He should have won several races and even led the points early in the year. An encore would be a welcome tonic for him in 2017.

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