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America’s Andretti Clan Holds Court In Texas

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 7 2013

Mario Andretti, patriarch of one of America's top racing families, talked racing in Texas on Friday. (Photos courtesay of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

FORT WORTH, Texas _ There is a legacy – or is it a burden? – that comes gift-wrapped with the surname Andretti, a fact of life realized over the past 30 years by Michael, Jeff and now Marco.

Family scion Mario Gabriele Andretti says sons Michael and Jeff caught the racing bug when they were 4 or 5 years old, banging around the family compound in Nazareth, Pa. A generation later, the lineage continues with grandson Marco in the IZOD IndyCar Series.

“Marco for instance, he’s in a four-wheeler when he’s like 5-years-old just standing that thing up on the rear wheels,” Mario said during an interview Friday at Texas Motor Speedway. “Just took to certain things in a natural way. You’re never born with a steering wheel in your hands, obviously, but some kids because they’re exposed, they tend to go in that area. They take to it naturally.

“That’s the way it was with me. Fortunately or unfortunately for them, everything I have has got a motor in it. So my wife (Dee Ann) always said, ‘These kids don’t even got a chance, because everything makes noise.’ They had a choice. I didn’t really provide the choice for them to pursue the career of a lawyer or a diplomat or something like that, but it (racing) was ultimately still their choice.”

Eight years into his IndyCar career, Marco appears to be rounding into championship form at Andretti Autosport on-and-off the track. The 25-year-old son of team-owner Michael, Marco will start Saturday night’s Firestone 550 at TMS tied with Helio Castroneves of Team Penske for the driver’s championship with 206 points. Neither has a victory through the season’s first seven races, an anomaly for Castroneves but perhaps another measure of

Marco Andretti is tied for the 2013 IndyCar points lead.

Marco’s ongoing maturity.

“Consistency is what I’ve worked for in the offseason. I just want to be consistently better,” said Marco, driver of the No. 25 RC Cola Dallara/Chevrolet. “I think we’ve been knocking on the door and hanging and lingering around the top-six, (with) a couple of podiums. I’m pleased with the start of the season, but I’m not exactly where I want to be yet. We need to keep working. I think I’m a lot closer at where I was weak last year, so that’s helping. But like I said, not where I want to be right now. If we come out of here with a win then we could start some big momentum. That will be the goal.”

The Family Andretti seemingly has been waiting on Marco to perform at this level since his rookie IndyCar season of 2006, when he finished second to three-time series champion Sam Hornish Jr. in the Indianapolis 500. Mario, of course, won “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in 1969. The closest Michael came to swigging the milk in Victory Lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a runnerup finish to Rick Mears in 1991. Mikey completed his Indy 500 career 0-for-16.

Beyond Indy, Mario’s resume includes the 1978 Formula One World Driving Championship with Team Lotus, a win in NASCAR’s Daytona 500 in 1967 and four domestic open-wheel championships. In 2000, The Associated Press and RACER magazine selected Mario as Driver of the Century.

Meanwhile, Michael’s domestic open-wheel career featured 42 victories, 32 poles and the CART/PPG IndyCar World Series title in 1991. Mikey’s resume also includes an aborted F1 season with McLaren in 1993 opposite three-time World Champion Ayrton Senna.

“Here again, it can be a burden if you let it be,” Mario, 73, said of the legacy. “I remember when it just started with Michael and Jeff. When they started driving a lot of the focus and attention and questions to them was, ‘Do you feel the pressure because your dad did this-and-that?’ You know, when I’m looking at Michael, especially, he could care less what I did. He just went and carved his own thing. From that standpoint, I think Marco is the same way. He’s not arrogant about it but has to think about himself. I always keep telling him, ‘Marco, take control of your own destiny. You know what you need to do. You know what satisfies you.’ And the rest, you’ve got to let it go. Bottom line is all about focusing on your job and not worrying about what other people are saying.

“It’s all up to the individual to handle it, and this comes with experience. It’s probably taken maybe a little longer

Mario Andretti, perhaps the greatest driver in auto racing history, is a fan favorite.

than you would expect for him to really realize what his position is, but I think he’s getting there. I’m just seeing that. He’s coming around to responsibility. Young guys that are pretty wild all of a sudden can go sideways and he buckled down nicely by taking on responsibility. By buying his dad’s house, which I don’t think he’ll ever pay it off. But he took the responsibility.”

Marco, who moved to Miami and the myriad distractions it offers when he was 20, opted to return to his roots in 2012, when he purchased Michael’s 12,000-square-foot home in Nazareth. The layout features six bedrooms, six bathrooms, a library, an exercise and game room, a wine cellar, a pool and whenever the East Coast weather permits, a nine-hole golf course.

“He sold all the other clusters that he had – a condo here, a condo there,” Mario said. “Now he’s buckled down and I see the friends that he’s surrounding himself with, it’s solid. Quite honestly, I think there’s a misconception about Marco being a partier and so forth and that’s a total misconception, believe me. That kid, as far as his commitment and his behavior, is impeccable. Trains every single day, doesn’t drink or do any of that stuff.”

Marco also re-evaluated his skill-set after a career-worst 16th-place finish in last year’s championship. A trip to London to work with a driving coach who mentored former F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton has proven pivotal to Andretti’s early-season success.

“I went to a driver coach. You can’t be too proud. I was always dedicated, but I really focused on the details of where I was getting beat and fixed it,” said Marco, whose six top-10 finishes this season includes a fourth in the Indy 500. “I’m not sure how it helped me at Indianapolis. I was just really working on my weak points, which at the time were street circuits. But having said that I think the big word that wasn’t part of my vocabulary was ‘finesse’ back the last few years of my career. I think that was costing me. I think that could have helped me at Indy just be a little more patient.”

Marco also isn’t too proud to sponge off of his teammates, a lineup featuring reigning series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, two-time 2013 race-winner James Hinchcliffe and E.J. Viso.

“I think you have to start off with last year when Ryan came along and really challenged for the championship,”

Michael and Marco Andretti. (File photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series).

Marco said. “It kind of upped the whole morale, the whole game, of the team. It upped my game, for sure, because it made me really do my homework. Not work harder, just know where to work and where I was struggling and to be able to go up against the series champ helped me a lot. And to know that if I can beat him, I can win helped me, too.”

Marco, who qualified third at IMS, will start the season’s second oval race of the season and only event run on a high-banked, 1.5-mile quadoval second after lapping at 217.553 mph during Verizon P1 qualifying on Friday. That’s one spot behind Will Power of Team Penske, who earned the pole at 219.182 mph in his No. 12 Verizon Dallara/Chevrolet and one spot ahead of Hunter-Reay at 217.524 mph in the No. 1 DHL Dallara/Chevy.

“I was joking with my engineer that you’re never going to have a good car this weekend,” said Marco, whose best finish in eight starts at TMS is third in 2010. “It’s just the guy that makes it less-crap is going to win.”

Marco’s two career IndyCar victories – the most recent at the 0.875-mile Iowa Speedway in 2011 – pale in comparison to Castroneves’ 27, including three in the Indy 500. But Helio knows Marco’s notebook is getting thicker.

“Marco, he started very young and he’s still a very young driver,” said Castroneves, 38, driver of the No. 3 AAA Insurance Dallara/Chevrolet. “But I believe that with the experience that he has accumulated over the years finally he is paying off. He’s being very aggressive, but conservative at the same time. Probably that’s why he’s sharing the top spot in the championship with me, because it looks like he understands that even if you sometimes don’t have a car to win, it’s good to be patient.

“He certainly is a talent, you can’t deny that. The whole family, it’s difficult for the guy to do something else besides racing. I believe that all the teammates that he had in the past, he has been able to learn from and it’s paid off. Good for him. I think finally he’s understanding the chemistry here.”

A three-time Driver of The Year award-winner, Mario said that chemistry lesson includes Marco’s relationship with 50-year-old Michael as team-owner/dad. “It’s really difficult sometimes,” said Mario, the winner of 109 races on major circuits. “When I assess the situation, I say, ‘Well, maybe Marco shouldn’t be driving for his dad.’ Why? Because maybe his teammates might think or people might think that he gets the favors. So Michael goes out of his way not to show favoritism so much he suffers sometimes. It’s a double-edged sword, if you will.

“Yes, Marco stepped-in from the minor series (Firestone Indy Lights) into a top team _ so there’s the benefit. But is he No. 1 on the team? Well, that’s questionable. I think they all think they’re No. 1. But realistically? Overall, it’s still Marco’s responsibility as a driver to control his own destiny and take charge of certain situations. You’re going to have some confrontations between father and son you probably wouldn’t have with a different boss because each side knows they can get away with it. It’s something different. I’m just glad I never had to drive for my dad.

“Again, when I came on the scene I had to do everything myself. I didn’t have family (support); in fact, I had the opposite. But I was driven by a different passion. And I look at my sons, they expressed the desire to race and I made it possible for them. Start with go-karts, go to driving schools and so-on; I didn’t have that but still the end result is their responsibility.

“And at one point they find, you know what, this is not a bed of roses. This is hard work and the only thing you’re going to get paid back on. If you’re only doing it for the money, you’re not worth a damn. Passion for your work comes first, and that comes with the results. Whether you realize it sooner or later, that’s a fact.”

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

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 7 2013
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