This afternoon saw a day of change at Andretti-Autosport, as he final piece of their Championship winning team was quietly cut adrift.
It was announced that 2004 IRL Champion, Tony Kanaan, had reached an agreement with Michael Andretti’s squad to release the Brazilian from his contract three years early. Earlier this month, Kanaan’s position in the team had been rocked by the withdrawl of his long-time sponsor 7-11, thereby debilitating any chance to fully fund his car.
Yet, only one hour later, the squad confirmed a full-time race seat for Ryan Hunter-Reay to partner the team’s other two driver’s, Marco Andretti and Danica Patrick.
There are several ways to look at this for Andretti-Autosport. For the last few years, they have looked far too stretched as a four-car squad, yet at the same time it felt as if Kanaan was the glue that was holding the ship together.
Ironically, it may be reduction in the team’s size that helps stabilise the once great team, as they endeavour to catch both Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske Motorsports. Yet, one cannot help, but feel the wrong driver has cut loose.
In Marco Andretti, they have a sharp and fast racer, although Andretti struggles to show form from race-to-race. The 23-year-old shows stunning pace one week only to be mired in the final half of the pack a race later. It has been three-and-a-half years since his sole IndyCar victory at Sonoma.
The same could be said for Danica Patrick. The winner at Motegi in April 2008 has shun brightly on occasion in the time since, but has also struggled a lot, especially on road and street circuits. There have also been questions as to whether her partial NASCAR Nationwide runs are potentially interfering with her performances in both series’.
There have been unconfirmed rumours as to how much the team has depended on Kanaan to help set up their respective machines and if there is truth in those rumours, Andretti-Autosport may find 2011 to be a tough year.
On the other hand, the challenge to replace Kanaan as team leader may well be the making of Hunter-Reay. The 2010 Long Beach Grand Prix may indeed be the driver that steers the unsteady ship back to victory… and possibly a Championship. However, the one piece that may well be missing is consistency and Hunter-Reay has on occasion fallen short in that department.
When one considers that this is a squad that only a few short years ago had a line-up of Dan Wheldon (Indy 500 winner and Series Champion), Dario Franchitti (twice Indy 500 winner and twice Series Champion) and Bryan Herta – a highly respected test and development driver – as well as Kanaan, one can see where the dip in form may have derived from.
This is not to say that Patrick and Andretti are poor – quite the opposite in fact, but it must be understood, they simply do not fall into the quality of category of Franchitti and Kanaan.
In a sense, this may work out well for Kanaan himself. Free of ship that has been floating adrift of the front for nearly nearly three years, he is now free to consider other options.
That Kanaan has often been a spokesperson for Apex Brazil will stand him in good stead and may help him find a spot sooner than has been the case with Graham Rahal, Paul Tracy or JR Hildebrand.
However, while there are plenty of teams with potential to make it to the front of the grid eventually, it remains to be seen whether they can challenge Andretti-Autosport in the short term.