ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Andretti Autosport has insisted for months that it was doing the behind-the-scenes work to recover from last year’s brutally disappointing IndyCar season.
The team won only two races among its four drivers, former Formula One star Romain Grosjean was a bust in his first year with the team and Alexander Rossi decided early that his seventh season at Andretti would be the last.
Michael Andretti powered forward. He signed Colton Herta to a long-term extension, pulled Kyle Kirkwood back into the organization and made changes at the shop that had him optimistic for 2023.
So far, so good on the opening weekend.
Grosjean opened his third season in IndyCar by winning the pole in Saturday qualifying on the downtown streets of St. Petersburg, where the Frenchman led an all-Andretti front row. He surged to the second pole of his IndyCar career in the waning moments of the session and beat teammate Herta for the top starting position in Sunday’s race.
“We got here and I said, ‘Boys, I think we’ve got something,'” Grosjean said.
His wife and three children raced to pit road, with the kids jumping into their father’s arms in celebration. Grosjean moved to IndyCar in 2021 after his nearly fatal fiery crash in a Formula One race ended his European career. He joined Andretti last season but didn’t have the success he expected to achieve with one of IndyCar’s top teams.
“As Mike said, we improved a lot from last year as a team,” said Grosjean, who added that the improvement was noticeable in preseason testing. “We worked really hard from a tough season last year. The car felt much more alive.
“There’s always bits and pieces we can improve on the car, but this weekend as a team we’ve been very impressive and hopefully we can carry that out in the race.”
The past two winners of the race — Scott McLaughlin of Team Penske and Herta — both won from the pole. Asked how he felt about his team’s chances on Sunday, Andretti smiled and said “I feel a lot more optimistic.”
“I think we really studied ourselves and got real honest with ourselves where we needed to improve. I think we’ve done it,” Andretti said. “Obviously, the race is going to be another thing. Hopefully, we can have all four cars go through the race without making a mistake. If that happens, I think we have a great shot at winning.”
It’s been an incredible opening weekend for Andretti, which has had three fast cars since unloading for Friday practice. Along with Kirkwood, the team put three drivers…
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