While Team Penske's trio of drivers has been in multiple championship-deciding situations, either in title contention or support for one of its rivals, Andretti Autosport's quartet has less experience in the pressure cooker situations.
Ryan Hunter-Reay – the lead anchor of the crew – is not only going for his first title, but for James Hinchcliffe and Sebastian Saavedra, it's their first times playing “wingman” and for Marco Andretti, the first time having a chance to help his teammate since Dario Franchitti's first title in 2007. It's up to the rest of the news team to help deliver RHR the title, a story that could lead the 11:00 p.m. news.
Leave it to the loquacious Hinchcliffe to explain in simplest, easiest terms the goal of the three AA teammates this weekend at the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway:
“I spoke to Ryan the Monday after Baltimore and I said, ‘Look man, now I race for you. I've got nothing left to fight for,'” he said. “My main goal is to make sure Andretti Autosport wins the championship. We're approaching this weekend very much with the mindset we're backing Ryan and we'll do anything we can ethically and legally to do so.”
Understandably, Hinchcliffe and Andretti are looking to find victory lane for the first time this year – Hinchcliffe's would also be the first of his career – and Saavedra is eager to make an impression in his third start of the year. But in this race, the personal goals have to take a backseat to the team philosophy.
Saavedra, for his part, admits the more the cars, the better the information sharing within the team to prepare for the race.
“It's amazing the amount of information you can share, and for us, the more brains working together can help us go faster,” he said. “For me, I still feel like a rookie, because I learn so much more in a big team compared to last year, in a small team, and with no teammates.”
Wednesday's test provided the optimal opportunity for the trio to try different setup options, again all with the intention to make RHR's car stand out from its competitors. Andretti explained the nature of the challenge ahead.
“There's a lot of different variables but mainly, it was hot at Indy and it'll be smoking hot here,” he said. “You have to try a bunch of things, and throw some darts. With light downforce, these tracks (2-mile ovals) are becoming a lot harder than the 1.5-milers because we have less grip. So it makes that mechanical setup more important as we have less aero grip.”
“We should be a bit quicker than 210s, but ultimately it's not a real flat-out racetrack anymore,” added Hinchcliffe. “It's almost driving more like Milwaukee than any other track we go to. It's a huge race of ebb and flow, with the tires we have, and the downforce levels we have will going into it.”
Hinchcliffe's other big point is that most of the potential help he and his teammates can provide Hunter-Reay will be done before the race itself.
“Everything we're trying is coming to help the 28 car,” he said. “Anything they want us to do, we can sacrifice because we need that car running as well as possible. Hopefully Ryan feels that and confident in his teammates.
“But when the race comes, he's gotta go get the job done. We can only do so much, and most of what we can help with is well before the green flag falls. It's not necessarily every man for himself, but we're not gonna cause a yellow or take guys out. We'll still work to put him in the best situation.”