INDIANAPOLIS — Andretti Autosport is one of the most iconic teams around the NTT IndyCar Series paddock today. They’ve had some rich success and are a well run organization with a lot of smart minds behind it.
But, they’re in a bit of a transition year now you see. AA had a ton of moving pieces potentially between the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season and 2021 one coming up. We obviously knew that Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi would be back, but what about the rest?
With five full time cars including the alliance with Harding Steinbrenner Racing on Herta’s ride mixed with a part time ride for James Hinchcliffe, you get six cars at some races. In saying that, who comes back in 2021 and to what capacity?
It all came down to money and honestly performance. After all, this is a business and tough decisions had to be made to get to where we are today with AA solidifying their 2021 lineup on Tuesday. Three of the five full time cars from 2020 had sponsor contracts that ended at the end of last season.
AA would have loved to have everyone back, but that wasn’t reasonable. Six full time cars would be as difficult as they come. So, they had to make the pieces work for the puzzle in a different way.
It all started with Zach Veach last Fall stepping out of his ride in the No. 26 Honda. That’s what got this puzzle in motion. He and Gainbridge had their contracts up at the conclusion of the 2020 season and Veach unfortunately wasn’t producing the results. He had no podiums in 45 career starts with AA.
AA didn’t want to end the deal with the sponsor though, but it was clear both sides needed a new driver. Despite Gainbridge being brought to Andretti by Veach, it wasn’t working on the track for producing the results needed to continue in the same fashion.
“Colton (Herta) has quickly shown in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES that talent and drive produce winning results. Gainbridge is proud to align with Colton and Andretti Autosport to represent our brand and values,” said Dan Towriss, CEO and President, Group1001 and the Gainbridge brand via a team release that Herta would drive that 26 ride in 2021. “Winning demands consistency and the confidence and consistency demonstrated by Colton makes him a great fit to represent Group1001 and Gainbridge. Additionally, we look forward to remaining part of the Andretti Autosport family where we can accelerate the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda program.”
Notice a common word in that statement? “Winning” was used a lot.
See, Veach brought Gainbridge to Andretti. Veach, was down and out and looking like his open wheel career may be over. Then, a phone call with his Pastor changed his future outlook as his Pastor said Veach should talk to another member of their church who happens to own a company that may be looking to help out.
Veach, called up his Pastor at Traders Point Christian Church in Zionsville, Indiana for some guidance. See, in racing these days, you have to have talent, but you also have to have money to go with that talent. If you don’t have any money, you’re out of the industry.
Imagine spending 20+ years of your life growing up trying to make it somewhere. All your dreams. All of your hopes. Everything you’ve ever accomplished and you’re 24 hours away from all of it going up in smoke.
Veach, well he has the talent, but he lacked the money. The Ohio native, now living in the Hoosier state trying to accomplish his goals of becoming an IndyCar driver, had one day left in his deadline with AJ Foyt Racing to find the right amount of funding to drive their third car in the 2017 Indianapolis 500. Veach estimates, he made 200 emails and another 100 or so phone calls trying to find someone to put their business on his car. Someone to take a chance on him.
He was desperate and out of options. He thought, ‘maybe my Pastor knows of someone.’
That thought and that chat with Pastor Aaron Brockett changed his life forever. It doesn’t happen without Pastor Brockett giving Veach a name in their conversation who could possibly help. It doesn’t happen without a “Hail Mary” email.
Dan Towriss, President and CEO, Group 1001, parent company of Gainbridge. Towriss, is also a member of the church but wasn’t necessarily a big race fan at the time.
It was a last ditch effort for Veach. He thought, why not?
An email led to a phone call which led to where we are today.
“It was the last resort,” Veach said to me smiling on a cold Thursday afternoon inside of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Media Center a couple of years ago. “It was my Hail Mary. I was a day away from my deadline with Foyt and I called everybody in my contacts. I had a feeling that Aaron Brockett from Traders Point Christian Church up in Zionsville, I just had a feeling that I needed to call him. He’s been a big part of my life with some tough things that I had before. I asked if he thought that he had anybody that I could possibly talk to. He gave me Dan’s email and an email turned into a phone call and a phone call turned into a contract. Two in-a-half to three years later, here we are.”
Veach’s email on that Friday in 2017 went noticed. Towriss, promised Veach he’d work on something through the weekend. By Sunday, a deal was in place. By Monday, a contract signed.
Veach’s dream of being an Indy Car racer was coming true. He in fact made the race in 2017 with one of Towriss’ business on his car. Veach, started 32nd and finished 26th.
Now that Towriss saw how big the race was, he and Veach wanted more. A week after the ‘500 was completed in 2017, he had a deal in place with Andretti Autosport. Veach, was now going to be a full time IndyCar driver in 2018 with one of the premiere teams in the series.
Towriss, put Group 1001 on his No. 26 Honda and away Veach went. Now, Veach is gone but Gainbridge, another one of his companies, is still on the 26 car.
But, this comes down to winning.
So, Veach reluctantly stepped out of the ride prior to the Harvest Grand Prix race weekend. See, the 26 car was close to falling out of the Leaders Circle money and they needed someone to keep them in.
That’s where Hinchcliffe came in. His three race deal with AA and Genesys was done at that point and he was available for the taking. So, Hinchcliffe came in and kept them afloat. He even qualified in the Fast Six in the season finale at St. Pete and had a shot at a win too.
AA and Hinchcliffe were working on a full time return for 2021 in the meantime. Would this be his ride?
Instead, they decided to make the wise move by bringing Colton Herta over and under the full AA umbrella. It made the most sense. They knew what they were already working on funding for Hinch with Genesys, so why put him in a car and take away that sponsorship?
In the meantime, Ryan Hunter-Reay and DHL were working on another contract and that deal was completed for him to return to the No. 28 Honda. Alexander Rossi and NAPA/AutoNation was already done so that made three full time drivers with sponsors in place.
The next move was Hinchcliffe and Genesys. That deal was unveiled on Tuesday. Genesys will be on the car for 10 races in 2021. That’s four full time drivers with likely sponsorship from the 88 car last year filling the remaining six open races for Hinchcliffe.
“We felt very confident,” team owner Michael Andretti said of getting this deal done. “I think we felt Genesys was very excited about it. We started talking about extending their program. Then obviously we had to talk to some others to try to be able to fill in the rest of the way, which we’re just about there. Hopefully we’ll have something to announce there soon.
“Yeah, but we always felt confident that we were going to be able to get it together. I got to say it’s always nice when you fulfill a goal, and we reached it. So now we’re on to the next goal, which is win the championship.”
Genesys will go from three races to 10 on Hinchcliffe’s car in 2021 and it was enough to make this a full time venture in the process.
“We’re so excited to continue our partnership with James and Andretti Autosport,” said Joyce Kim, chief marketing officer for Genesys. “I mean, as you guys know, last year, sort of our first time into the racing arena, and I think the only thing that would have made it better than it was if we could be there in person instead of virtually cheering the team on.
“We’re really proud to continue this and deepen our roots in the Indy community, which for those who don’t know is the largest footprint of our employee base around the world. Given Indianapolis and racing are sort of synonymous, we’re really happy to continue this partnership again.
“I think a lot of people have asked me why are you guys doing Indy 500. It sort of ties back to our business. We are in awe of sort of the amount of data and real-time things that are required, the split-second decisions that the drivers and the pit crews and everyone has to make. I kind of liken it to what we do for our customers at Genesys with customer experience, the data, the artificial intelligence, predictive capabilities.
“It’s all about the team, empowering with technology and data. We’re really just honored to be a part of this. I can’t wait to watch James and Andretti Autosport flying around the track in our Genesys orange No. 29 Honda. Hopefully this year we’ll be able to be in person.”
The company boasts a major employee presence in Indianapolis with more than 50 offices worldwide. Genesys technology helps organizations around the globe connect more than 70 billion customer moments each year across voice, text, messaging apps, web chat and social media.
“We’re building upon our tremendous partnership with James Hinchcliffe and Andretti Autosport. The success we have seen together goes beyond the deep connection Genesys has with the Indianapolis community,” said Tony Bates, CEO of Genesys. “James and the entire Andretti team are leaders on the track because they’re empowered with the right technology and data so they can make informed decisions at the right moment. That’s at the heart of every winning customer experience too, and what’s driving our momentum at Genesys.”
Think about that. In a pandemic. On a three race deal. To do so without fans or even sponsors allowed at race tracks and Hinchcliffe and his team were able to turn this deal and more than triple their involvement. Just look at how they value him. That’s a testament. That tells you his value and worth to a company.
“I mean, it’s a dream come true in so many ways,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s a culmination of a lot of hard work from a lot of people certainly. I love telling the story, we talked a lot about this last year when we did our three-race deal. It was two months from an Instagram message to signing a deal with Genesys. For a company to move that quickly in this kind of program was unbelievable. They took it a step further by sponsoring the race in Texas. You talked about all the activation on the 500. Now to jump up with a 10-race deal, it’s incredible.
“It just shows the commitment they’re willing to give, the faith they have in us and this program. We’re so proud to be partnered with them.
“To be back full-time, as Michael said earlier, it’s kind of like a homecoming. This team has been like family to me since I joined the first time back in 2012. We always said we’d get the band back together.
“We did like a little reunion tour last year, but now we’re fully back together. For me with Genesys onboard, being with Andretti Autosport, it’s just incredible.”
He showed Genesys that he had one of the fastest cars all month last year at Indy and finished in seventh place. He made the Fast Six and had a car capable of winning in the season finale at St. Pete when he was filling in for Zach Veach. He also kept the No. 26 Honda in the leaders circle money over the final three races of 2020 and showed Andretti he’s the guy that they need to keep full time.
He took a step back and proved his worth in 2020 and that led to a full time return in 2021. I expect big things out of this group now for 2021.
Now, the 98 entry. That ride missed out on the leaders circle money and multiple sources and reports since have said that US Concrete wasn’t going to be back on a full time basis in 2021 either. Without that extra $1 million from the leaders circle and no sponsor, it put Marco Andretti’s seat in peril.
Andretti, made the announcement a few weeks ago that he’d just race in the Indy 500 in 2021 and focus on racing in other forms of motorsports. He said that he was at peace with that decision and that he made that choice on his own.
He’s a great human that got a bad rep with some fans. He was unfairly criticized. He has talent. He truly does. He now has a chance to focus on his best race at his best track to get over that proverbial hump.
But, his father spoke to us on Tuesday and from by what he said, it seems like while Marco made the choice on his own, it seems like a full time seat wasn’t on the menu unfortunately and with the options given, Marco thought about it and took the Indy only opportunity in order to allow him to do something else too.
“Yeah, it was an interesting time there when we were discussing where we were at, what we should do,” Andretti said of the decision via the INDYCAR Media Call on Tuesday afternoon. “Marco, we actually threw a scenario out that it may come down to only doing Indy only, a few other races. I think when we put that out to him, he started thinking about, You know what, this time in my career, where I am, maybe it’s time for me to try some other things as well, just focus mainly on Indy because that’s the big one he still wants to win. He knows deep down inside that he can still win it.
“I was completely behind him on his decision. I respected it. That’s not to say he’s not going to be back full-time again in INDYCAR in the future. But I think right now, for what he needed for his head and everything, I think in the end it was a smart decision on his part, mature decision. We’ll see what happens.
“I totally respected his decision and was behind him.”
So, the 98 car is part time as of now. While Marco owned part of it, would he be interested in coming back as an owner with his dad to continue on the family lineage later in life?
“Good question. I’m not sure yet,” Andretti continued. “I’m not sure. I haven’t really talked to Marco. I’m not sure he’ll be going to the races he’s not driving at. In fact, I know he’s looking to do other series, other types of driving.
“There probably won’t be a lot of that. I don’t think we’ll see him a lot at the INDYCAR races. He’s going to be doing a lot of other stuff, which is part of the reason why he took this decision. He thinks it’s a great opportunity to see what it’s like to drive different types of racecars and things like that.
“Probably to answer your question, probably not much of that from Marco this year.”
That’s how you get from five full time cars and one part time down to four full time cars in 2021. It’s not like this is a full step back either. Andretti ended 2020 on a high note and by all accounts should come out of the gates strong this season.
“Hopefully we are still going to have strong cars again next year,” said Andretti. “We’ve been focusing more on the tracks where we’ve been weak. There’s tracks like St. Louis that I think we can do a better job at, a few others. Those are the ones we’re really focusing on. Hopefully our guys have come up with the answer to be more competitive at the places we were weak.”
It’s no secret, the first nine races of the 2020 season were dismal for Andretti Autosport overall. Combined, they had just six top five finishes and one podium between the five of them. Four of the six top fives belonged to Colton Herta. Alexander Rossi’s third place effort in Road America 2 was their lone podium through Aug. 30 at that.
But, once we got to Mid-Ohio though in September, everything had since changed. Herta scored a win in the second race of the weekend and was ninth in the other. Rossi, had dual podiums with Hunter-Reay being fifth and third respectively himself to give AA a 1-2-3 effort in Race 2.
At Indy, it was more strength. Herta was fourth and second respectively and Rossi second and third himself.
One podium in nine races followed by seven in four races after.
Then, it was to St. Pete to where they were looking strong again. Half of the Fast Six went to AA cars. Throw in Jack Harvey and you get four of the six with their alliance. They’d start 2-3-4-5 in fact. They also went 1-2 in the lone practice session of the weekend too on Saturday as well.
Bad luck struck in the race but it doesn’t halt the speed and momentum. Now, they come to 2021 with Hunter-Reay, an 18 race winner including the 2014 Indy 500 and 2012 season championship, Hinchcliffe who’s a six time winner including three of which coming with Andretti in 2013, Rossi, a 7-time winner including the 2016 Indy 500 and two-time Long Beach winner and Herta, a driver who’s won three times in two years. Then factor in Andretti at Indy who’s coming off of a pole there and is always fast on the famed 2.5 mile course and you can see AA’s new direction.
It was a smart move to get here and shows further why Andretti has some brilliant minds over there on the west side of Indy.