In 2008, Andretti Green Racing failed to match the quartet of red cars that frequent the top of the leader board, Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske, as often as it had previously. Although Tony Kanaan finished third in points and Hideki...
In 2008, Andretti Green Racing failed to match the quartet of red cars that frequent the top of the leader board, Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske, as often as it had previously.
Although Tony Kanaan finished third in points and Hideki Mutoh emerged from a deep field of rookie-of-the-year contenders as top freshman as the fourth AGR car in the top ten in points, there was not a consistent championship challenge.
The team was at the center of one of the year's most noteworthy headlines when Danica Patrick scored her first win halfway around the world at Motegi, Japan in mid-April.
But only once more over the course of the season did the team visit victory lane, at the crash-marred race in Richmond when Kanaan survived the carnage in the 300-lap event.
For 2009, AGR has kept the same four drivers, Kanaan, Patrick, Marco Andretti and Hideki Mutoh, on board for the first time since 2005. That bodes well considering that in 2005 the team won 11 of 17 races including the Indianapolis 500 and the series championship with Dan Wheldon.
"I think continuity is always an important thing, and it's nice to have that going into this year," said team co-owner Michael Andretti in today's IndyCar Series teleconference. "I think we have high expectations from all four drivers."
"I think Tony and Marco are going to have great years, I really feel it, as well as I think Danica (Patrick)," he added. "Hopefully we can get her back into victory lane, and we want to give Hideki (Mutoh) his first win, which we feel would be really huge for our team if we were able to achieve that, be able to get the first Japanese driver to win a major open wheel race."
Kanaan continues as team leader, sage and professor emeritus of the Dallara- Honda package now into his seventh season with AGR. He renewed his commitment to the team last season at Kentucky for five additional seasons, despite rumors he would jump ship to Target Chip Ganassi Racing to replace, ironically, Wheldon.
Consistent as ever, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion has never finished lower than sixth in the series standings. But he is poised to return to championship contention once more, this time with new engineer Allen McDonald turning the wrenches after longtime engineer Eric Cowdin left for Team Penske.
"I think the goals never change, especially when you're a part of the team that is the most successful team in IndyCar Series," Kanaan said. "We know what we're going to face, and we know exactly where we needed to improve last year, and I think we're not leaving anything on the table."
"I think the changes were good," he added. "It's taking me a little bit of time to adjust with my engineer just because I spent only 13 years with Eric, so we're not going to do it in a couple tests. But Allen is very good. Allen has been with Dario (Franchitti). They won the championship and the (Indianapolis) 500 together. He has a different way of working so I'm just getting used to it. But again, I'm excited."
The younger Andretti, Marco, is still only 22 but already entrenched in his fourth season of IndyCar with his father's team and a mere one victory to his name. A busy off-season has seen him embark on world traveling and valuable seat time with the AGR-prepared Team USA effort in the A1GP season. Many expect this will be his breakout season in IndyCar.
"I think (staying active) has been huge, because the main thing that I always stress is that it's not just testing race cars, it keeps you race savvy, as well, because I think a small mistake is definitely magnified in a race, so it keeps you really on your toes, and it's a form of training for what we're doing," Marco Andretti said.
AGR is of course, also active in race promotions. It adds the revived event at Toronto this season to the season-opening round at St. Petersburg as races it stages. Keeping interest in the events with sponsorship amidst the economic climate is a specifically challenging task for Michael Andretti and team co-owner Kevin Savoree.
"I think it's making us work extra hard, and we have to really, really give these sponsors a return on their investment," Andretti said. "I have to say that almost all our sponsors are returning, so that's an exciting thing."
"But yeah, it's a constant challenge, and we're always trying to be as creative as we can to get more business for our sponsors, to get more exposure for them," he added. "One thing really works, and that is winning. So if we can hopefully have a big year this year, that will hopefully help us rolling into 2010, which I think 2010 could very well be the toughest of all years."
AGR's "baby", the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, brings the IndyCar Series out of its prolonged winter hibernation on the former Blatchford Field airport on Sunday, April 5. No doubt the home team will be looking to get in the winner's column for the opening round of the season.