INDIANAPOLIS – One would think that with so many possible free agents and potential movement around the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series Silly Season, that there would have been a lot more action around that front lately. But, despite their season being done two full months sooner than the ones in NASCAR, the silly season on that side of things have been far more action packed in the NASCAR world compared to the open wheel one. But, the main reason is everyone is sitting back waiting on that main domino to fall.
That domino is Andretti Autosport.
Whatever direction they go with on the engine supplier front for 2018 and beyond will dictate how this year’s silly season falls. We already know that James Hinchcliffe, Helio Castroneves, JR Hildebrand, Spencer Pigot, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton are free agents. But, before anybody does anything, everyone has their eyes on Andretti.
But, I don’t expect that domino to fall until after Sonoma at the earliest. Think about it, if Andretti moves from Honda to Chevrolet, would they really want to piss off their current supplier before the end of the season? They still have Takuma Sato and Alexander Rossi with outside shots of winning this year’s title. Why tarnish that?
Cons To Leaving Honda
If Andretti does switch to Chevy, then Sato and Rossi are likely gone. Sato, we know would definitely be gone because he’s a Honda driver. Honda claims Rossi as their own too. Andretti begs to differ. But, if Honda has their way, and money talks, Rossi and Sato would be placed in Honda teams for 2018, meaning Andretti lost their top two drivers for this season and the last two Indy 500 champions too. Counter that with losing Carlos Munoz last year, and the top two drivers among their four car team the last two seasons would be gone.
Do you really want to risk losing that?
Plus, do you really want to leave the manufacturer that has powered you to three Indy 500 triumphs over the last four years?
If Andretti leaves, their top two drivers the last two seasons are no longer with the team. They last two Indy 500 champions, they’re no longer part of your program. All that Indy 500 success with that manufacturer, it’s gone too.
Pros To Staying With Honda
The biggest complaint from Andretti the last few seasons with Honda has been their lack of success away from superspeedways. Last year, Honda drivers led 488 laps on the three superspeedways. Away from that, they led just 113 total laps.
This season, they’ve led 403 of the 648 laps on superspeedays and 329 laps away from them. But, just 57 of those 329 laps have been led by Andretti drivers. That stat and Andretti really being passed over by Ganassi and SPM this season in Honda’s pecking order has irked him. But, that all goes out the window next season. With a new car means those past stats are gone. That aero advantage for Chevrolet is back to an even playing field.
Why would Andretti leave Honda knowing that? Why not keep that relationship moving forward and build something out of the gates?
That advantage that Chevy has had the last two years is now gone. So, the lack of performance from the Honda side should be gone. Plus, it’s likely Sato and Rossi both stay, keeping the four car team intact.
Pros for Joining Chevrolet
The main pro to do this is all about funding. If you haven’t noticed lately, most of the Andretti cars this season have had blank sidepods or “Check It For Andretti” or “Shop Andretti.” Those are great causes but they don’t pay the team any money. HH Gregg went bankrupt. UFD hasn’t given them a ton of cash flow. NAPA and DHL have stepped up but it doesn’t fund this organization.
Rumor is Chevrolet is willing to pay a lot of money to get Andretti back. That switch would be the equivilant to Ganassi moving from Chevrolet to Honda last offseason. Ganassi lost Target’s funding but made up for it in Honda paying them to come over to their side. The same could work for Andretti. Those blank sidepods are at least being paid for by Chevrolet. This year, it’s just a loss of money. The switch at least helps to know this team can operate in the black.
Also, some of Andretti’s best years came with Chevy power.
In 2012 and 2013, the first two year’s of the DW12 era, Andretti was with Chevy. They thrived too with winning seven races those two seasons compared to eight total victories over the last four years with Honda. Yes, three of those eight wins since 2014 were in the Indy 500, but who’s to say that Chevrolet won’t have closed the gap with Honda for Indy next year since the cars will be identical?
Marco Andretti had seven top five finishes combined those two seasons. He’s had seven total the last four years with Honda including just one over the last two years. Maybe this is the reset button he’s needing.
Ryan Hunter-Reay won the 2012 championship, the last one for an Andretti driver and did so with Chevy. He had six wins with Chevy and five with Honda. If those are the two lead drivers again, they both had their best years with Chevrolet power. Losing Sato and Rossi to Honda may not be so bad after all.
Plus, if Honda hasn’t closed the gap away from superspeedways for 2018, look no further than that stat above this. Chevy is dominating. Plus, if Penske scales back to three cars, Andretti’s four cars have no other main organization to rival their equipment.
Cons To Joining Chevrolet
Obviously a big con is losing a relationship with Honda and losing the top two drivers for this team in 2017. They’d also lose out on the nearly guaranteed Indy 500 dominance. Every year since 2014, Andretti has been the favorites at Indy. Joining Chevrolet for 2018 would make them not the favorites anymore. But, who’s to say Chevy won’t have the preferred engine since there’s a new car? Who’s to say they will too?
At least with Honda, they know what they’re going to get.
Would you risk losing that relationship and two top drivers to join Chevy?