Starting today, RACER.com will break down each team's season in the IZOD IndyCar Series. First up are the champions from Andretti Autosport, with each driver, points total and finish, wins/poles or best start/finish, average start, points per race and laps led, if applicable.
ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT (CHEVROLET)
Ryan Hunter-Reay / (468, Champion)
James Hinchcliffe / (358, 8th)
Marco Andretti / (278, 16th)
Sebastian Saavedra / (41, 27th)
Ana Beatriz / (28, 29th)
Wins: Four (Hunter-Reay) / Poles: Two* (Hunter-Reay, Edmonton,* Andretti, Fontana)
Avg. Start: Hunter-Reay 8.4, Hinchcliffe 9.1, Andretti 11.5
Points Per Race: Hunter-Reay 31.2, Hinchcliffe 23.9, Andretti 18.5
Laps Led: Hunter-Reay 153, Andretti 65, Hinchcliffe 39
*Hunter-Reay on pole in Edmonton but lost due to grid penalty.
The chemistry of Andretti Autosport was much discussed and vastly improved in 2012, and in no small coincidence, so were the team's results. Ryan Hunter-Reay emerged as the true team leader, rescued from the career wilderness to score the championship, while James Hinchcliffe served notice of his potential throughout the year and Marco Andretti had his moments.
Hunter-Reay's buildup to 2012 started with a torrid second half of 2011, to where I thought he could legitimately be called a dark horse title contender. Robin Miller expanded on the possibility in the April issue of RACER, but it was interesting that RHR – not one of the sons of legends, Andretti or Rahal – would emerge as America's next open-wheel champion.
Hunter-Reay is the true all-'rounder in the series, and it was only at Texas (where he started 13th, retired because of a fuel injector issue) where he failed to truly figure in the equation. He was strong at Indy for the first time since his rookie attempt there in 2008. He then, of course, reeled off his string of three straight wins from Milwaukee through Toronto before pole turned to 11th on the grid, then seventh in Edmonton. His back was against the wall after Mid-Ohio and Sonoma, but he and the team responded admirably the last two races. He is a worthy champion.
For Hinchcliffe, the season unfolded in two halves. Arguably the most consistent driver of the first half, the Canadian scored his first two podiums at Long Beach and Milwaukee and ranked second in points with seven finishes in the top six in the first eight races (Detroit was the exception, thanks to the track).
But, from there – perhaps coincidentally with his appearance on the GoDaddy.com homepage – his season tailed off. An unforced error in Iowa was the precursor to two other mechanical issues and midpack finishes, with only a fifth at Mid-Ohio on a three-stop strategy his saving grace. That dropped him to eighth in points.
Andretti's season was pure disappointment – there's not really a better way to put it. He scored only three top-10 finishes, just one a top five (second at Iowa) and was consistently outpaced by his teammates on the road and street courses. His oval efforts were stout and he could have won Indy, having had one of the month's best setups (engineer Allen McDonald helped), but all told there were very few moments where he could feel pleased with his performance.
Part-timers Sebastian Saavedra and Ana Beatriz, each full-time rookies a year ago, did OK in their outings. It was good to see them get a shot in proper equipment, but of their five combined starts, Saavedra's Sonoma weekend was the lone standout effort.
For Michael Andretti himself, though, you'd have to say the year couldn't have gone much better. OK, sure, Indianapolis was a disappointment given the pace all three of his full-season drivers showed throughout the month. But beyond the team regaining its place among IndyCar's top teams after a few years where just Penske and Ganassi dominated, Andretti dipped his feet back into race promotion for the first time since he split from longtime partners Kim Green and Kevin Savoree, who now promote several events (St. Petersburg, Toronto, Mid-Ohio) on their own.
Andretti rescued the Milwaukee Mile from possible extinction, re-branding the race into “Milwaukee IndyFest” with a street festival like atmosphere in the infield, and a healthy attendance increase from 2011. He stepped in to save Baltimore, too, after its winter of discontent over unpaid fees to vendors, mounting debts, and rotating carousel of potential new promoters. Granted, outside investor J.P. Grant poured a lot of time and effort into it, but the event itself – one of the most popular of 2011 – was resuscitated just in time for a very respectable encore. The Andretti Sports Marketing team should pat itself on the back for two jobs very well done in 2012, and here's to future success and further improvements for the company in 2013.
There's no time to rest on their laurels, either. Michael Andretti said Sunday during an extended Twitter question and answer session he's already full-speed ahead on planning for next year, in possibly bringing the team's fourth car back full-time and maybe taking on another race to promote.
On track, Will Power and Dario Franchitti will want to wrest the crown away from Hunter-Reay. RHR wants to add an Indy win to his mantle. A first win for Hinch must surely not be far off. And Marco desperately needs a year where he can more frequently run with his teammates at the front of the field.