Only three days after taking his promoter's hat off for the second time this year this past weekend at Baltimore, Andretti Autosport team principal Michael Andretti can now focus back on the championship.
It's a welcome return to a familiar land for the first time in five years.
Since Dario Franchitti secured his first IndyCar Series championship in 2007 for what was then known as Andretti Green Racing, Andretti's team has fallen from title contention each of the past four seasons. The best season finish has gotten progressively worse, from third to fifth, sixth and seventh last year.
“There have been quite a few changes and some personnel changes in certain positions from engineering to management, and also the driver situation is much different, as well,” Andretti said of the turnaround. “I think that has a lot to do with it. The three drivers are getting along really well, working really well together, and I think that has a lot to do with our result.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay's midseason hot streak vaulted him to the points lead but three disappointing results in a row dropped him 36 points behind Will Power, a mark he cut into by more than half last weekend in Baltimore with his series-leading fourth win of the year.
“You know, the problem that happened in Sonoma was we lost control of our own destiny, really; at that point we needed help,” Andretti noted. “We got a little bit of help this weekend, whereas we got lucky, we pulled a good strategy and we put Will in the middle of the pack and we were able to gain a ton of points. That was the most frustrating part, you know, is when you lose that control.”
Realistically, the team has nothing to lose going into Auto Club Speedway. As it's a 500-mile race, starting position isn't as important and with it being a crapshoot, anything can happen when it comes down to reliability. Andretti's team won the series' last race there in 2005, Franchitti leading home Kanaan, in the most recent final round that didn't have the title on the line.
Another thing that is up for grabs is Hunter-Reay's status for 2013, as he is one of the most prized free agents on the market. Andretti said Wednesday he is close to a deal that will keep RHR in the fold.
“We are hoping. We have been real close,” Andretti said. “Obviously it comes down to time between sponsors and all that, and we are getting real close to having it all locked down. I feel very confident that Ryan is going to be with us.”
He'll also have additional support in the form of Sebastian Saavedra, as it was announced Wednesday the Colombian will be racing in the team's fourth car for the third time this season.