IndyCar: ‘Addition by subtraction’ could pay off in a big way

Colton Herta, Andretti Global, IndyCar - Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Colton Herta, Andretti Global, IndyCar - Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

The last time Andretti Global ran three full-time entries was back in 2012, when they also most recently won the IndyCar championship.

Entering the 2023 IndyCar season, only one of Andretti Global’s (formerly Andretti Autosport) four drivers had ever won a race, and that one driver, Colton Herta, ultimately saw his four-year winning streak come to an end in disappointing fashion.

The team’s only race winner was second-year driver — first-year driver with Andretti Global — Kyle Kirkwood, who won twice but was plagued by inconsistency to the point where he still couldn’t manage a top 10 finish in the championship standings.

The team’s other two drivers, Romain Grosjean and Devlin DeFrancesco, both remained winless in their second and what would ultimately be their final seasons with the organization.

2022 Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson, who was unable to come to terms on a new deal with Chip Ganassi Racing, signed with Michael Andretti’s team to replace one of the two for 2024.

Andretti Global made clear during the 2023 season that they would no longer be bringing in a pay driver to drive one of their four cars, but the loss of long-time primary sponsor DHL cast doubt on that declaration as they considered their options for a fourth car.

But instead of going down the same path they have gone down for the last several seasons, they ultimately decided against running a fourth car, aside from Marco Andretti’s Indy 500 entry, thus placing the focus squarely on Herta, Kirkwood, and Ericsson.

This is the exact decision that Andretti Global needed to make to remain competitive in the 2024 IndyCar season.

The fourth Andretti Global car simply has not been a factor, and it has clearly taken away from the rest of the team’s efforts. You have to go back to August 2021 to find the last time it finished higher than 12th place, and that podium effort by James Hinchcliffe was its only top 10 finish of the year.

Instead of forcing a pay driver into that fourth entry, cutting it altogether was Andretti Global’s best option. The last time they only ran three cars full-time was in 2012, when Ryan Hunter-Reay won what remains the team’s most recent championship.

Now, all of a sudden, the only driver on their roster who didn’t win a race in 2023 is Herta, who leads the team with seven victories and has been their top driver — or tied for it — in the standings in all four of his seasons on the roster.

Suddenly their lineup is stacked from top to bottom.

Herta has shown what he is capable of in a competitive car, winning in his second start as a full-time driver in 2019, placing third in the 2020 championship standings, and winning three races in 2021 to mark two multi-win seasons in his first three years in the sport. Let’s not forget that he is still just 23 years old, and on raw pace, he is the fastest driver in the series.

Kirkwood made an immediate splash at Andretti Global, winning the iconic Grand Prix of Long Beach in just his third start with the team, and proved it was no fluke with another win on the streets of Nashville later in the year. He basically did what everybody thought Grosjean was supposed to do, but couldn’t.

And now they have added Ericsson into the mix. One of just four drivers to win races in each of the last three years, the “Sneaky Swede” came closer than anybody to winning two straight Indy 500s since Helio Castroneves pulled it off in 2001 and 2002.

Ever since securing his first career IndyCar win in June 2021, he has been one of the most consistent drivers in the sport, racking up three consecutive finishes of sixth place in the championship standings, notably higher than the top Andretti Global driver in both 2022 and 2023.

With all due respect, this is a powerhouse team that can actually be considered a powerhouse again, with no more extra weight. They should no longer enter a race weekend effectively knowing that they are going to have at least one car finish 20th.

Of course, they still have to prove it on the race track, but they should have no problem doing that. Speed wasn’t the problem in 2023; it was almost always a lack of execution.

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But with their focus now on three top-tier drivers instead of a proven driver, a first-year driver, and two drivers simply not performing, the 2024 season has the potential to be a big one for Andretti Global.