In a somewhat surprising move today, Andretti Autosport announced with a press release that Alex Tagliani's engineer, Allen McDonald, is returning to the team, taking over for Mike Conway's No. 27 car.
The engineer who gave Sam Schmidt a pole-winning car in this year's Indianapolis 500 is going back to the organization that failed to get two of their cars in this year's race.
Obviously, Schmidt was not happy about the move, but in defense of McDonald, he wasn't given a full-year contract to stay with Tagliani. Michael Andretti said that McDonald wanted to return to the team. Sam Schmidt denied that Tagliani's program is in danger of falling apart.
McDonald engineered Dario Franchitti's 2007 winning car on the team now owned by Andretti. Schmidt said it was a case of a team with funding robbing talent from a smaller team.
"I'm looking forward to working with Andretti Autosport once again," said McDonald. "We did some great things together in the past and the goal is to get back to that level of consistency and success. Everyone here is focused on the same goals and is ready to do whatever it takes for us to get there. That effort begins this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway."
"We're excited to have Allen back with our team," said Michael Andretti, whose team released Tom Anderson from his role as competition director after its disappointing month of May in Indianapolis. "He was a great asset to us in the past, and I'm confident he will bring a lot to the table and make an immediate impact for us. He clearly knows what it takes to be fast and knows how our operation works, so it should be a smooth transition for him."
According to The Indianapolis Star, Schmidt said that the team was "stable" and that funding is in place at least through the July 24 race in Edmonton. He hopes to keep it a full season program, but McDonald wanted the assurance of having work after that date.
Even further than that, Schmidt said that his team plans to expand in July. It will field the No. 99 car that Townsend Bell drove in the Indy 500, but a driver has yet to be named. He also said that he has talked to former Champ Car World Series driver Katherine Legge about the ride.
Maybe he did want to return to Michael Andretti’s team, or maybe the fact that Schmidt could only guarantee him a job through next month’s Edmonton race was a factor. Both teams are based in the Indianapolis area.