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Marco Hopes He Has Acquired A Great New Habit

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 29 2011

Marco Andretti got a much-needed victory last weekend at Iowa Speedway. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series_

Nearly five years have passed since Marco Andretti, then 19-years-old, won his first IZOD IndyCar Series race, flirted with the allure of Formula One and began to shave.

The ensuing 78-race eternity that began for the Family Andretti at Infineon Raceway on Aug. 27, 2006 mercifully ended Saturday night at Iowa Speedway, where Marco outbattled former teammate and mentor Tony Kanaan to win the Iowa Corn Indy 250 presented by Pioneer.

“I’m going to be looking to make a habit of this, that’s for sure,” Andretti joked after prevailing over Kanaan by 0.7932-seconds. “It definitely gets the monkey off our back a bit because, you know, we can quiet a lot of my doubters at the same time.

“Feels good, man. I think it’s just the drought, so to speak, made me appreciate what we have here in IndyCar racing. From the drivers to the teams, it just makes us appreciate being here that much more because we know we beat those guys. The competition is unbelievable if you look at qualifying. That’s what IndyCar racing is all about. It made me appreciate it. We’ve been in positions to win races but we fell short and it’s good to capitalize.”

Kanaan, the 2004 series champion, suggested it was time for Andretti-watchers/haters to forget about Marco’s first win and concentrate on those to come for the team owned by Michael Andretti.

“If anybody had a doubt that (Marco) could win a race, if they watched the race (Saturday night), he won it fair-and-square,” said Kanaan, driver of the No. 82 GEICO/KV Racing Technology – Lotus Dallara/Honda. “I think he deserved it and he had a good car. He was strong all night long. I was watching the leader board. We had plenty of

Marco Andretti goes low as he races former teammate Tony Kanaan at Iowa.

yellow flags in the beginning, so every lap I was just watching and looking who was there, and he was always in the top-10. You know, it was a great effort for him.

“I think it’s a big relief for him, for Michael. I mean, Michael – obviously it’s his son, who’s been pushing pretty hard to have Marco to succeed, and he’s giving Marco everything he can as far as equipment, team, personnel to make the kid successful, and it paid off. He’s been driving great, and he got it. I think the kid proved that he can win. Now he did his second one. I told him, ‘Now it’s just a matter of getting more.’^”

Andretti started 17th on the 0.875-mile bullring in Newton and weaved through traffic to move into second behind championship leader Dario Franchitti with a pass on Lap 152 around Takuma Sato, Kanaan’s teammate. Andretti overtook Franchitti, the three-time/reigning series champion, two laps later.

A determining factor in setting up the finish with Kanaan was a pit stop on Lap 184, when Andretti and his No. 26 Team Venom Energy Dallara/Honda charged out ahead of Franchitti. Andretti and Kanaan exchanged the lead during the final 47 laps, with Marco grabbing the point for good on Lap 232.

“I’m just so happy and relieved for him,” said Michael Andretti, a son of family patriarch Mario. “There’s been a huge monkey on his (Marco’s) back, and it was on mine, as well. There was just a lot of pressure on us – him as a driver, me as an owner – because of some of the past things that happened at Indy and stuff. So to come back and win like this, it was just a great, great day.”

Mikey was referring to Marco’s runnerup finish in the 90th Indianapolis 500 during his rookie season of 2006. Marco started ninth and finished second when passed by Team Penske’s Sam Hornish Jr. a few hundred yards short of the checkered flag in the second-closest finish in race history – extending The Andretti Jinx at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Marco subsequently participated in Formula One tests for Honda in December 2006 and February 2007. Those

Marco Andretti is monkey free.

sessions fueled speculation Marco was being groomed to quickly follow grandpa Mario – the 1978 World Driving Champion for Team Lotus – and Michael, who suffered through an aborted F1 season with Team McLaren in 1993. But a succession of lackluster seasons have dropped Marco’s F1 stock, prompting critics to wonder if he’s capable of coming anywhere close to his dad’s 42 open-wheel wins .

“It was a big win for us, for sure,” Michael Andretti said. ”I think a lot of people were really pounding on us and thought we were down-and-out, but I can tell you this team has got tons of fight in it, and we are never out. We got together and made a few little changes in the team, and everybody just rallied and everybody worked their butts off, and here we are. I’m just proud of everybody on this team.

“All the Venom guys, they did a great job. The last pit stop they brought him out P1. They did it when we needed it. It was just really truly a team effort, and Marco drove a hell of a race there in the end. He drove up through the field. He didn’t inherit anything. He earned every spot out there. He was beating the best. He had Tony out there, he had Dario, (third-place finisher) Scott Dixon, and he drove very well there in the end.”

Andretti Autosport entered the 2011 season with entrant championships courtesy of Kanaan (2004), Dan Wheldon (2005) and Franchitti (2007); Indy 500 victories by Wheldon (2005) and Franchitti (2007) and 36 combined wins since 2003.

Franchitti left the organization and the series after the 2007 campaign to pursue a short-lived NASCAR career, and in the succeeding three seasons Andretti Autosport collected four victories and 57 top-five finishes (of 58 collective races among seven drivers). Included in that stretch was Danica Patrick’s historic first, and to-date only, open-wheel victory at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan on April 20, 2008.

In the first half of this season, Andretti Autosport has equaled its Victory Circle appearances of 2008 and 2010 via Mike Conway’s win in the No. 27 car on the Streets of Long Beach in mid-April and Marco’s performance Saturday night. The third generation driver gained four positions in the standings to eighth with his victory.

During the season’s first nine races, Andretti Autosport’s lineup of Marco, Conway, Patrick and Ryan Hunter-Reay have compiled four top-five and 12 top-10 finishes. Patrick posted her third consecutive top-10 in the No. 7 Team GoDaddy Dallara/Honda Saturday night after starting second and Hunter-Reay started and finished eighth in the No. 28 Team DHL/Circle K/Sun Drop Citrus Soda entry.

“I think it’s something that we (Andretti Autosport) needed,” said Michael Andretti, who led 6,702 laps during his stellar open-wheel career. “I think it’s going to be a popular win, and I think we need to get (Marco) up there winning more than just this one, and hopefully Graham (Rahal) will get up there, too, and get a little rivalry going. I think that sort of thing is always good.”

Inside the numbers from the fifth annual Iowa Corn Indy 250 presented by Pioneer at the Iowa Speedway:

2 _Top-five finishes needed by Tony Kanaan, runnerup at Iowa, to reach 100 in his open-wheel career.

3 _ Consecutive top-10 finishes for Danica Patrick. It also was her fourth consecutive top-10 at Iowa Speedway.

4 _Best start of the season for rookie JR Hildebrand, who posted his second top-five finish with a fourth place in the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Dallara/Honda.

5 _ Winners in 2011 (Dario Franchitti, Will Power, Mike Conway, Dan Wheldon, Marco Andretti).

16 _ Fewest cars running at the finish this season.

20 _ Positions gained by Scott Dixon, most in the 25-car field. He finished third in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda.

35 _ Percentage increase in overnight ratings for VERSUS’ coverage of the Iowa Corn Indy 250 from a year ago. According to data from Neilsen Media Research, the prime-time telecast posted a national overnight rating 0.35.

38 _ Overall victories for Andretti Autosport in the IZOD IndyCar Series.

60 _ Percentage of the time a driver is turning during a lap around the 0.875-mile Iowa Speedway.

72 _ Most cautions laps recorded this season.

172 _Laps-led by Dario Franchitti, who increased his series-leading total to 588. Team Penske’s Will Power (225) is next.

177.853 _ Fastest lap (136) in mph by Alex Tagliani, who finished 16th in the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins Dallara/Honda for Sam Schmidt Motorsports (18.0958-seconds).

1,233 _ Laps completed by Dario Franchitti, driver of the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car, of 1,233.

4,213 _ Career laps-led by Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves, 24 shy of Paul Tracy’s all-time record.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 29 2011
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