Andretti, Veach struggles are down to tires, says engineer

David Malsher

Mothersead, who was race engineer for Zach Veach in his rookie season last year and most of this season, swapped positions with Marco Andretti’s new-for-2019 engineer Mark Bryant for the Gateway race, as the team seeks to find remedies for the drivers’ underperformance relative to their teammates Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

While Rossi is contending for the title, and Hunter-Reay lies seventh in the points table, Andretti and Veach are just 16th and 18th, Andretti’s highlights being two sixth places and Veach a solitary seventh.

Mothersead explained: “They’re suffering from the same kind of problems – not drastically different anyway – even though they verbalize it differently and sometimes deal with it differently.

“It’s all about the way Firestone has gone with the tires. It robs them of the feel they’re looking for, mainly at the rear. You don’t get the nice warning messages you used to get with the older generation of road course tire, where there’s a nice build-up to the limit and you can feel where the car’s at. It’s like they’re having to drive by Braille.

“It’s a ‘peakier’ tire and it’s harder for the guys to stay on top of it. And because they don’t have that feel, they either underdrive or overdrive it in qualifying and across a race stint, and it’s so easy to get it wrong on either side of that.”

Asked whether the 2020 aeroscreen-caused revised weight distribution – and the engineering methods to counteract that – would hurt or help Andretti and Veach, Mothersead said it was hard to tell before the actual Red Bull Advanced Technology device was tested.

So far there have only been ballast simulations run on a Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing-Honda and a Team Penske-Chevrolet at Texas Motor Speedway.

He said: “Let’s see how it actually comes out, how much actual weight forward there actually is and how Firestone responds to it. I’m not sure the aeroscreen itself is going to make a huge difference. I think the aero effect may be a bigger deal, although right now we don’t know. But putting something that size on the car is going to alter the flow to the rear wing.

“The good thing is, the weight distribution and the aeroflow changes are at least going to be the same for everybody.”

Zach Veach, Andretti Autosport Honda

Zach Veach, Andretti Autosport Honda Geoffrey M. Miller / LAT Images

Geoffrey M. Miller / LAT Images