Notes: Drivers See Pluses Of Danica-less IndyCar
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
Marco Andretti turns 100 on Sunday, although he’s sounding more like a 25-year-old who’s finally comfortable in his own skin.
Andretti celebrated his 25th birthday on March 13 with “a lot of love and stuff like that from the people on my cell phone,” in-between testing for the IZOD IndyCar Series’ season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
“It’s all business now,” said Andretti, anticipating his milestone 100th series start Sunday on the Streets of St. Pete. “That’s right. My (100th) race. All I could say is I wish I had a little more to show for it. Definitely doesn’t feel like going into my seventh year already in IndyCar. But yeah, I mean, it’s been fun and stuff like that. But now it’s time to string together a few wins.”
Andretti begins 2012 as de facto leader of Andretti Autosport, the three-car IndyCar team owned by father and former open-wheel star Michael Andretti. Marco’s teammates this season are holdover Ryan Hunter-Reay and newcomer James Hinchcliffe, signed to replace Danica Patrick after her fulltime departure for a career in NASCAR.
“I can say we’re three guys with the same goal in mind,” said Andretti, who placed eighth in the point standings last year, one spot and 10 points behind Hunter-Reay. “We all share the same goal. We’re all big-picture thinkers. We’re going to work together. We’re all going to be truthful to each other and we’re
going to work together to the last lap because that’s the only way we’re going to be able to beat these bigger teams.
“We all share the same goal. We all want to win races. It’s all business with us, and the business is racing. We’re going to just focus on winning races, period.”
Knockout qualifying and the Firestone Fast Six is set for 1:55 p.m. (EDT) today. The 100-lap/181-mile event on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn Florida street circuit will be broadcast live Sunday on ABC at 12:30 p.m. (EDT), with additional coverage on the IMS Radio Network, XM Channel 145 and Sirius Channel 211. Both the radio broadcast and live timing and scoring also can be accessed at www.indycar.com.
Andretti, Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway (now driving for A.J. Foyt Racing) each scored one victory in 2011 for Andretti Autosport, with Marco registering the second win of his career and first on an oval on the 0.894-mile Iowa Speedway on June25. That effort and a third-place finish on the Twin Ring Motegi road-course on Sept. 17 were the highlights of a season that began with a bang at St. Pete. Marco, who qualified seventh, and Conway were among six drivers involved in a six-car pileup in Turn 1 of the opening lap.
“Hopefully, I don’t go upside-down in Turn 1,” Andretti joked. “We were all antsy and all just going for it. Maybe some drivers would disagree with me but I had it woe’ d down and turned inside of, I believe it was (Scott) Dixon. I just got broadsided from behind and launched over, I believe it was Dixon’s car or maybe it was (Ryan) Briscoe. But, yeah, we all came battling in there and some people couldn’t get it stopped so they ended up launching me and a couple other cars.”
Andretti finished 24th at St. Pete, the first of six results of 24th or worse contrasted against four top-fives and seven top-10s. But Sunday’s race is the proverbial clean sheet, as it will mark the debut of the revolutionary Dallara DW12 chassis and turbocharged V-6 engines supplied by Chevrolet, Honda and Lotus. Andretti Autosport is competing with the purpose-built, 2.2-liter Chevy IndyCar twin-turbocharged, direct-injected V-6 that will be central to the team’s attempted return to prominence.
“Yeah, it’s obviously very important because right now it comes down to whoever can get a grasp for these things the quickest can win out of the box,” said Andretti, 11th on Friday’s combined practice session chart in the No. 26 Team RC Cola entry after a best single-lap of 1:02.5624-seconds.
“I’m pretty excited about qualifying because we didn’t get the most out of any our runs on new tires,” Andretti said. “Every time we went out with fresh tires, someone would spin or the caution would come out and we weren’t able to get a clean, fast lap. Each of those laps would have easily been much quicker than what we ended up with. Obviously, it’s very important every time we hit the track with one of these cars because there is so much we learn each and every time out.”
Andretti said he has not noticed much difference between this package and the Dallara/Honda V-8 that has been the series’ staple since his rookie season of 2006.
“I always say it still has four wheels. Driving the thing, at the end of the day, it’s still a race car,” said Marco, echoing a remark that easily could have been made by either his father or open-wheel icon and grandfather Mario Andretti. “It has more grip and more downforce on the higher-speed corners, but I guess the biggest thing you get used to is probably the brakes, the carbon brakes. I’ve driven it in Formula One and the P2 (sports car), but with these cars it’s a little different. The tires maybe can use a little more grip on the last part of the braking when you lose the downforce; we’re dealing with some locking. So I guess that’s the biggest thing to get used to and that you just drive it.
“I think Chevy is definitely up to the task. Hopefully it doesn’t come down to reliability the first couple of races and the fastest guy wins. I think we made the right (engine) decision, and we have all the confidence in the world in those guys, so it’s going to be fun.”
Andretti’s rookie season featured a victory on the road-course at Infineon Raceway and an even more celebrated runnerup finish to Sam Hornish Jr. in the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Although mired around eighth-place in points in the years since, Marco said the pressure of carrying the family name has become less intense.
“The pressure of the family, yeah,” Andretti said. “At 9-years-old in a go-kart the pressure is immense because you’re looking at the race – you can’t even see the racetrack because there are so many cameras around you, and you don’t know why at that age. You just want to be like, ‘Let me go, let’s go drive.’ At the racetrack at a young age, I would win the race and I would say that is what I had to do other than really enjoy myself and have fun. Now, I don’t know, I think you just get in the car and you get better dealing with it.
“Now I welcome that with open arms because I see the bigger picture. We need to get our sponsors and our brands out there and get people watching IndyCar Racing. The way I look at it is I show up at the race weekend because I want to win, not because they (his father and grandfather) won at that place. I show up because I want to win for me. That’s it.”
Marketing superstar Danica Patrick’s exit from the IndyCar Series for a fulltime NASCAR career continues to be a hot paddock and sports-talk topic.
“It’s a loss of a person, but the thing is there’s a lot of personalities in this sport that haven’t been able to be seen because of that,” said Graham Rahal, beginning his second season with Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing this weekend. “Whether it be myself or Ryan Hunter-Reay, who’s an American, who’s very talented, or James Hinchcliffe, who drives for GoDaddy now. You’ll see him more. He’s got a lot of personality – almost too much personality and I tell him that all the time.
“But you’ve got all these guys who the common person says, ‘Oh I’ve never heard of them.’ Well there’s one reason. It’s because they haven’t been seen. I think it’s a great thing for us to be able to get back to developing different personalities and people who are better drivers that can perform and win races. Ultimately it will be just fine.”
Patrick made her IndyCar debut in 2005 with Rahal Letterman Racing, the team co-owned by Graham’s father, Bobby, the 1986 Indy 500 champion. Patrick spent the final five years of her open-wheel career driving for Andretti Green Racing/Andretti Autosport.
“Danica is a loss. That’s no doubt,” Graham Rahal said. “Danica was like a sister to me for many years. My dad was the one who found her when her racing career was basically dead. My dad gave her a chance and helped pay for her career, and get her into Indy-cars. I was very close to her for many, many years. But I think it’s (her departure) a very good thing and I think my dad made very similar comments at the time because he said, ‘Ok, this is good, because we can get back to being a race team rather than a PR team all the time.’
“People should realize we’ve got female drivers like Simona de Silvestro who are damn good. If they want to be a female fan, they can go with her or Katherine (Legge). There’s a whole list of them. I really hope that we can develop other personalities in this sport because there’s a lot of them and they deserve a shot.”
Pardon his French, but rookie Simon Pagenaud’s IndyCar Series race-day apparently will be contested from the back of the 26-car field because of a rules infraction.
Pursuant to INDYCAR rule 15.6.1, the No. 77 Dallara/Honda of Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports driven by the Frenchman was penalized 10 grid-spots Friday for an unapproved engine change following the second practice at St. Pete.
Rule 15.6.1 (Unapproved engine change) reads: Any Unapproved Engine Change-Out, except those caused by Engine failure in a Race, will result in a 10-place grid penalty. If an entrant makes two Unapproved Engine Change-Outs during an Event the penalty for the second Unapproved Engine Change-Out will be served at the following Race.
Pagenaud stood 12th on the combined speed chart Friday at 2:01:02.5997/103.515 mph after running 33 laps.
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.com Comments