Andretti Wants to Win, for Grandpa

Marco Andretti Marco Andretti made sure to stick a pair of sunglasses in his shirt Thursday afternoon, even though rain drenched the Indianapolis Motor Speedway again. He learned a while ago how quickly the weather changes at this place.

Andretti, the 24-year-old grandson of the legendary Mario Andretti, also already knows how quickly a driver’s fortunes can change here, which is why he is back for a sixth run. He barely made the field for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, but now he thinks he can win anyway.

“I’m frustrated — are you kidding me?” he said, cracking a smile. “After ’06, I didn’t expect my career to be playing out like this. But I know I can beat these guys.”

As a 19-year-old rookie, Andretti finished second at Indy to Sam Hornish Jr., who made a breathtaking pass 150 yards from the finish line to win by 0.0635 seconds, or less than a car length. After the race, Andretti was forecast to have a bright future.

Driving a car owned by his father, Michael, Marco Andretti has not exactly done poorly. He has won one race on the Izod IndyCar Series (as many as Danica Patrick), and has finished third in two of the last three Indy 500s. But he is an Andretti.

“He knows he should have more to show for it at this stage of his career,” Mario Andretti, 71, who won the Indy 500 in 1969, said in an interview Thursday morning. “Sooner or later, the right thing will come around for him. I’m fully confident that his turn is coming.”

Marco Andretti earned big points with his grandfather just by getting into the 33-car field. He was the last driver to make a qualifying attempt, literally beginning his run one minute before the deadline. Even Mario Andretti said his knees were shaking.

“He was really on the edge of disaster,” Mario said of his grandson.

Bumped from the field earlier in the afternoon, Andretti said later that he would either put his car into the fence or the show. His four-lap average speed of 224.628 miles an hour got him a spot near the back of the grid. But he bumped Ryan Hunter-Reay, a teammate.

“We were both worried that it was going to come down to cannibalism at the end,” Hunter-Reay said Thursday.

Hunter-Reay ended up making the field, anyway, because Michael Andretti paid A. J. Foyt, the four-time Indy 500 winner, for Hunter-Reay to replace Bruno Junqueira in a car owned by Foyt and qualified by Junqueira. Fans have ripped Marco Andretti for being a lousy teammate. John Andretti, Mario’s 48-year-old nephew, said he was proud of the way Marco Andretti battled to get into the race. John Andretti, who is to start 17th, said he would have driven just as hard as Marco and would probably win way more than one Indy 500.

“If I’m leading, I hope it’s not the year that he breaks through,” John Andretti said.

John Andretti, the son of Aldo Andretti, Mario’s twin brother, has not won in 11 Indy 500s. Michael Andretti was a champion everywhere else except Indianapolis, where he did not win the Indy 500 in 16 tries. After a two-year absence, he made a comeback and finished third in 2006.

And then there is Mario Andretti. His only victory at Indianapolis came in his fifth attempt. He did not win in 24 more tries. Including Jeff Andretti, Michael’s brother, the Andretti family has one Indianapolis 500 victory in 64 tries. “Andretti luck” at Indianapolis is not good luck.

“There’s a lot that can happen in 500 miles,” Marco Andretti said, shrugging. “I knew if we could field this car, put it in the show, we have a shot to win.”

Although the cars owned by Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi are considered to be strong, as always, there are no clear-cut favorites.

There are no clear favorites in the race. Patrick, Andretti’s teammate, struggled to find speed during rain-interrupted practice sessions this month on the two-and-a-half-mile oval and scuffled to qualify for the race. She is to start 26th, which will be her worst starting position in seven attempts to win the race.

“Unfortunately, when you start farther back, you tend to take more chances,” Patrick said, “but because of the fact that it’s 500 miles, we can let it play out and see how it goes.”

One hundred years ago, Ray Harroun hopped in his Marmon Wasp and won the first Indianapolis 500 nearly seven hours later. Harroun started 28th — perhaps a bit of good luck for Marco Andretti, who will also start 28th. He thinks he has a “darn good chance” to win.

His grandfather thinks Marco’s race team has played it way too safe. Marco just showed him on Sunday that he is capable of pressing for more speed when he really needs it. The pressure was on, period, Mario Andretti said, and Marco Andretti really looked good.

“Could you imagine what he had to grow up with, from the time he took the first turn of a wheel in a go-kart?” Hunter-Reay said.

Published by: DAVE CALDWELL

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