IndyCar Off-season analysis: Andretti Autosport

Michael Hickey

While Andretti Autosport did not come away with any major hardware last season -- neither the Borg Warner nor Astor Cup -- the team may have been the most competitive based purely on speed. The off-season analysis continues with Marco, James, Ryan, EJ and Carlos.

Looking Back:

The 2013 season can be best described as one of 'missed opportunities' for Andretti Autosport.

On one hand, it seemed like an Andretti car was the fastest in practice every single race weekend, especially on ovals. This was especially true at Indianapolis where each session was dominated by a different AA driver.

The speed carried over into race day in the 500 too as Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Carlos Munoz all looked like the class of the field. But it wasn't meant to be as the race ended under caution with Tony Kanaan up front.

That was the other hand: a season where speed and contention was largely off-set by circumstance and bad luck.

James Hinchcliffe emerged as a star, winning his first career races at St. Petersburg, Brazil and Iowa while Marco Andretti's consistency had him in the thick of the title hunt for the first half of the season. Even EJ Viso showed sparks of contention, scoring his first pole (inherited via the rulebook at Belle Isle) and a career-best average finish of 12.9.

Meanwhile, defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay showed the potential to repeat, especially during a summer stretch where he scored podiums in five of six races leading up to Pocono. But that's where the rug was pulled out from under him, like so many other opportunities for Andretti in 2013, when Takuma Sato ran into the back of the No. 1 Chevrolet on pit road.

This began a string of three races where he finished no better than 18th and jettisoned him from the championship picture.

The season ultimately ended with championship finishes fifth (Andretti), seventh (RHR), eighth (Hinchcliffe) and 15th (Viso) and the team's decision to switch from Chevrolet to Honda after Chip Ganassi announced his own to the Bowtie Brigade.

Looking Forward:

How the team will gel with Honda power will largely dictate how the 2014 season will go. Honda was working on a twin-turbocharger even before IndyCar decreed them universal and Andretti should be the badge's top entry.

Marco Andretti spent time in Europe last off-season with a driving coach to enhance his road and street prowess and it showed. While Andretti went winless overall, he became a better-rounded contender and should be in line to win once the luck swings back in his favor.

Munoz became an instant darling for fans and the media with his dogged, no fear mentality at Indianapolis. It's hard to predict how that aggressive nature will serve him over the course of a full season. But the process should make for exciting television if nothing else.

Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe should be the top fantasy picks out of the Andretti stable. Hunter-Reay may be the most complete IndyCar driver outside of Scott Dixon while Hinchcliffe knows performance may eventually net him an opportunity at a Chip Ganassi Racing ride in the next few years.

All told, it might be the most exciting combination in IndyCar next season.

Best case for 2014: Any of the four drivers have the capacity to catch fire, win races, and contend for the championship. While Munoz doesn't have the experience to be a title favorite, he's set to enter the sport at a perfect time with parity at an all-time high.

Worst case for 2014: The move to Honda doesn't pan out as Andretti finds itself behind, not only Penske and Ganassi contingency, but all of Chevrolet.

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