until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


This Andretti renaissance is exactly what IndyCar needs

by Jack Benyon
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

The 2023 IndyCar season has followed a similar path to recent years for Andretti; plenty of pace without the finishes to match.

Until now.

With a one-two in Long Beach, the team got a result it really deserved after a perfect performance from Kyle Kirkwood and arguably Romain Grosjean, who pitted a lap early to help the team cover off Josef Newgarden and couldn’t use the push-to-pass he’d held back because of the need to fuel-save at the end.

Romain Grosjean Acura Grand Prix Of Long Beach By Joe Skibinski Largeimagewithoutwatermark M76590

The reason 2023 has been different to previous years is because the team has been faster and better – even if the end result up until Long Beach had been the same.

It’s worked all off-season on its pit work, with team owner Michael Andretti saying a lot of that practice has been voluntary by his team.

It’s taken a strong street course package and got better. It’s taken a punt on Kyle Kirkwood that appears to have well and truly paid off, and almost all of its adversity early in 2023 has been down to incidents outside of its control.

Grosjean, Herta and Kirkwood in 2023

St Petersburg

Romain Grosjean And Scott Mclaughlin Firestone Grand Prix Of St Petersburg By Chris Owens Largeimagewithoutwatermark M75144 (1)

Average start: 6.5
Average finish: 13.25
What happened? Herta and Kirkwood struggled with tyres early, and Kirkwood really fell back. Herta was involved in a crash with Will Power. Kirkwood clipped Conor Daly into spin then went airborne after being collected in another crash. Grosjean was eliminated in a clash with Scott McLaughlin while jostling for the lead.


Kyle Kirkwood Ppg 375 At Texas Motor Speedway By Chris Jones Largeimagewithoutwatermark M75708 (1)

Average start: 13.25
Average finish: 16
What happened? Herta had a strong drive to seventh, Grosjean crashed fighting for fourth. Kirkwood retired with damage after a shunt with Alexander Rossi in the pits which felt like neither driver’s fault.

Long Beach

Kyle Kirkwood And Romain Grosjean Acura Grand Prix Of Long Beach By Joe Skibinski Largeimagewithoutwatermark M76768

Average start: 3.66
Average finish: 2.33
What happened? A one-two after excellent drives for Kirkwood and Grosjean, while Herta was fourth lacking the elite pace of his team-mates on this day but had also started further back than them.

St Petersburg was the big one because Grosjean should have won that race had it not been for being taken out by McLaughlin. Herta should have had a top seven comfortably too, which would have put him near the sharp end in the championship, before he was taken out.

This is not the familiar story from Andretti of having fast race cars but failing on reliability, strategy or race weekend execution.

Execution and decision making on a race weekend, alongside many pitstop issues, has really been the undoing of this team for too long.

The start to this year really has been a spell of excessive misfortune for the team that came at a time when it should have been winning races.

There’s an alternate universe where Grosjean, for example, has a win, a fourth and a second to start the season. Add those lost points to seventh-placed Grosjean’s current total and he – not Marcus Ericsson – would hold an impressive points lead right now.

All this is just to say that the Andretti story of quick cars, lacking finishes might be familiar. But this off-season it really feels as though it has pulled out all the stops in a bid to end its 10-year-plus wait for an IndyCar title and turn things around.

“Unbelievable,” was the post-race reaction of Michael Andretti, who called the result “medicine” in his TV interview.

Kyle Kirkwood And Michael Andretti Acura Grand Prix Of Long Beach By Chris Owens Largeimagewithoutwatermark M76673

“We needed this bad; the way we started off the year with really fast cars, not getting any results. It’s nice to get the results we did. 1-2-4 is not a bad day.

“This is going to really help, especially rolling into Indy in a few races. This always puts an extra bounce in everybody’s step. We’re very excited about the rest of the year.

“It was the off-season that we put a big effort in, in a lot of areas we felt we were really weak. We worked very hard on our pitstops. Pitstops let us down a few times last year.

“There’s racetracks where we were weaker than we wanted to be, and we worked very hard on hopefully fixing those problems.

“It was not the last few weeks, it was the hard work over the winter. It’s nice to see it paying off.”

Kirkwood is showing why Andretti has signed him. Even if his year hasn’t been crystal clear in terms of errors, his pace has been right up there and occasionally better than a team-mate who finished on the podium in F1 and another who is constantly linked with that championship.

Andretti said he compares Herta and Kirkwood “very equally”, which is about as high a compliment as Michael could pay any driver.

Kyle Kirkwood Acura Grand Prix Of Long Beach By Joe Skibinski Largeimagewithoutwatermark M76763

One element of Kirkwood’s Long Beach drive that perhaps went under the radar was that he set the fastest out-lap of the race, having set the fifth best in-lap on the way to the pits.

The out-lap on cold tyres and a car full of fuel is one of IndyCar’s most difficult arts to master as there’s no tyre warmers, and no room for error on a street circuit like Long Beach. The fact that Kirkwood did that in the final round of stops, while the win was on the line, makes it all the more impressive.

Another good example of Andretti growth was moving its strategists around. Bryan Herta has moved to Kirkwood’s car from his son Colton’s car, and Scott Harner has gone the other way to work with Herta.

Andretti confirmed this week the move had been planned for the off-season, with Brian Barnhard due to move to Herta’s car, but Barnhard left the team for McLaren so the move came at the second race.

It’s taken some time to get clarity on that as initially at Texas the drivers or the media weren’t given a full explanation. But, what it shows is that the team is willing to make big decisions whenever they are required. It’s certainly paid off for Kirkwood already, working with Herta Sr, and Harner won’t be a liability for Herta Jr, either.

The next step for Andretti is Barber, where we’ll get a taste of where the team’s at as a title contender. It’s clear that it has the street courses nailed, but the road courses were an area it needs to work on from 2022. It wasn’t terrible, but maybe lacking the edge of some of its rivals.

2023 Long Beach Grand Prix

The big takeaway from the start of the season is, if you’re a neutral, Andretti’s renaissance is the best thing that could have happened to the series.

With Chevrolet winning 11 of 17 races last year, its teams Arrow McLaren and Penske are tough to beat and have also started 2023 well. With Andretti joining Ganassi on the Honda side in consistently being back at the front, each manufacturer has two top teams fighting its corner.

If it continues this way, we’re in for one hell of an IndyCar season.

We’ve been heavily critical of Andretti in the past down to it not executing at the level we know it can. All that’s left is to praise the team for its turnaround so far in 2023 and get excited about what that can mean for the series.

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