Andretti Is Indianapolis Royalty Once Again

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 17 2020

Marco Andretti will lead the field to the green flag for the start of the 2020 Indianapolis 500 on Sunday. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Born with a surname synonymous with open-wheel racing royalty, Marco Andretti says he is “wired to not quit.”

Or perhaps, as 80-year-old family scion Mario Andretti suggested, Marco is a classic late-bloomer. The life and times of Marco Andretti surely will be examined in-depth this week in the lead-up to next Sunday’s 104th running of the Indianapolis 500. Because for the first time in 33 years, an Andretti will lead the traditional 33-car field to the green flag at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Marco Andretti, 33-year-old grandson of 1969 Indy 500 champion Mario, topped eight other NTT IndyCar Series drivers during Sunday’s Fast Nine Shootout to claim his first NTT Pole Award of 2020. Marco scored his family’s first Indy 500 pole since Mario claimed P1 in 1987 and the first pole for a car carrying the No. 98 since Parnelli Jones qualified on-pole en route to victory in the 1963 Indy 500.

“I was emotional,” said Marco, son of Andretti Autosport team-owner and 16-time Indy 500 starter Michael Andretti. “It’s funny because I was screaming after the run, so I don’t have a voice. Everybody is thinking I’m crying, but I just can’t talk right now. I was emotional. We put so much into it. This place means so much to us as a family. We’ve just been through so many ups and downs at this place. Obviously, my (late) cousin, John, is riding with me, my grandfather from home. We know family is pulling for us. We live and breathe this sport, this race in particular.”

Andretti recorded a four-lap/10-mile run of 2 minutes, 35.7985-seconds/231.068 mph in the No. 98 Honda to clip Scott Dixon’s provisional pole run by 0.017 mph _ third-closest margin in the race’s history by speed. Each driver in the Fast Nine Shootout had one attempt around the 2.5-mile oval in sunny but blustery conditions, including a steady north wind of 12 mph. As the fastest qualifier Saturday, Andretti was the last driver on track during the Shootout.

“Lap 1 was good,” Andretti said. “Lap 2 started giving me the hint that (Laps) 3 and 4 were going to be tough. I knew it was going to be interesting. I knew it was going to be close, too, because I was watching the speeds, knew what (Dixon) ran. The luxury of going last is you know the benchmark. Luckily we were just on the better end of that.”

The front row of the 2020 Indy 500 is comprised of Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon and Marco Andretti.

The 2008 Indy 500 winner, Dixon set the time to beat of 2:35.8098/231.051 mph as the fifth car out in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. But the current series point-leader ultimately settled for his fifth front-row starting position.

“I was definitely watching (Marco),” said Dixon, a five-time series champion and the greatest driver of this generation. “Sometimes you don’t want to know the results, right? We knew (Andretti Autosport) were going to be strong. Right from the get-go, I knew Hinch (James Hinchcliffe) was going to be a good sort of benchmark and the same with (Alexander) Rossi, because it looked like he was more trimmed-out than the rest of them, a little more aggressive. Unfortunately, it was not quite enough. There’s so many things, I think, through the run that you could definitely equate maybe to going that little bit faster. I’m sure they had similar issues on their side.”

Sunday’s pole was the sixth of Marco’s INDYCAR career and the 42nd pole from cars owned by his father. Michael Andretti, 57, never won a pole for the Indy 500 as a driver, but his team did previously in 2005 with native Brazilian Tony Kanaan.

“I was joking with dad,” Marco said. “I’m like, ‘This is probably like my third legitimate shot as far as just outright pace in 15 years.’ When I lost the 500 in 2006 (to Sam Hornish Jr.), you saw me mad because I knew that it is possible that 15 years later I’m talking to you (media) guys and I haven’t won one yet. That’s why I was so mad. It’s a tough place. Last year I had the worst race of my career. Here we are, we can win it.”

Mario Andretti won the 1969 Indy 500 after qualifying second in the No. 2 STP Oil Treatment Hawk/Ford fielded by Andy Granatelli. Mario earned poles at IMS in 1966, 1967 and 1987 during his run of 29 starts in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Michael Andretti’s best start during a star-crossed career at IMS was third in 1986. Mikey came out of retirement to race with Marco during his first Indy 500 in 2006, when Marco finished second to Team Penske’s Hornish by 0.0635-seconds after 200 laps. Michael Andretti finished third in the 2006 race, which saw Marco secure Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honors. That result prematurely marked Marco for stardom.

Marco’s two career NTT IndyCar Series victories have been logged on the road-course at Sonoma, Calif., in 2006 and the Iowa Speedway oval in 2011. In 236 races spanning 15 seasons, Andretti has 20 podium results _ a lackluster resume that has made him an easy target for criticism born of nepotism.

“I definitely do not wake up and think about what people say about me. That’s for sure,” said Marco, a lifelong resident of Nazareth, Pa. “It’s days like today that helps those cases, I suppose. I could look you straight in the eye and say it doesn’t affect me one bit.

Marco Andretti drives through the front stretch shadows at Indy on Sunday.

“I mean, when you struggle, it makes it all worth it when you’re able to have days like today. Yeah, I mean, it’s been brutal. I’m a competitor. I don’t want to not win races, not be on the podiums. I don’t know, we’re just wired to not quit, man. I love this sport. I’m going to keep doing whatever you can do for it and to try to be successful at it.”

Dixon was among the pit row crowd congratulating Marco when the dramatic session was completed. “Yeah, super happy for Marco,” said Dixon, a native of New Zealand. “They’ve been really good all week. He’s such a great guy and a good friend for so many years. To see him get a pole position at Indianapolis, I know what that means to him and especially his family, as well.

“I just know him as Marco, my friend. He’s a great person. Everybody included, his family, is. I think it’s hard when you drive for a team that’s owned by your dad. Graham Rahal gets some flack sometimes. These are extremely talented guys.

“For me it was just really, one, hard because we didn’t win the pole. If anybody out of that list, honestly, Marco was the guy I was hoping for because I think he deserved it. That’s a hard situation to go into, especially being last up and everything is on the line.

“We threw up a decent number. It wasn’t going to be easy to beat. That’s definitely going to help Marco in a lot of ways throughout the season as well, maybe beyond. We just hope he doesn’t get too confident for next weekend.”

Takuma Sato, the 2017 Indy 500 champ and first car to run after sitting provisionally ninth Saturday, qualified third at 230.725 mph in the No. 30 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. 

“Well, it’s great run,” said Sato, a native of Tokyo, Japan, and favorite son of Honda Performance Development. “Needless to say team and Honda did tremendous job. No. 30 Panasonic PeopleReady Honda car worked really well, but that’s because we tried third attempt yesterday for the qualify with a very hot condition that I wanted to simulate worst condition for preparing for today.

“Obviously, yesterday we were very fortunate to draw the early part of the conditions that everybody can see that we were just been lucky. We wanted to prove not only that, but we wanted to be competitive.

“This morning, too, only Graham and I practice. That’s because we just wanted to make the most of it and optimize the car for the conditions, which we did. A big credit for the engineers. The boys did a tremendous job. I’m very happy.”

Rookie Rinus VeeKay _ driving the lone Chevrolet-powered entry in the Fast Nine _ qualified fourth at 230.704 mph in the No. 21 car fielded by Ed Carpenter Racing. A 19-year-old native of The Netherlands, VeeKay posted the highest qualifying result for a teenager in Indianapolis 500 history.

“That was the most amazing qualifying. I did not expect it,” VeeKay said. “I was really happy to even make it to the Fast Nine. Being the only Chevy made it tough, but we are starting fourth. Super-close to making the front row, but I’m still happy with this…and fastest rookie. Ed (Carpenter) really helped me, telling me what the wind was going to do to my car. I’ve never driven in wind like this at this track. He really helped me to be confident.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indy 500 champ, qualified fifth at 230.648 mph in the No. 28 Honda, with Andretti Autosport teammate/2016 Indy 500 pole-sitter James Hinchcliffe sixth at 229.870 mph in the No. 29 Honda.

Rookie Alex Palou of Spain placed a solid seventh at 229.676 mph in the No. 55 Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh Honda.

Rahal, son of 1986 Indy 500 champion/team co-owner Bobby Rahal, was eighth at 229.380 mph in the No. 15 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Alexander Rossi, the 2016 Indy 500 champ, rounded out the Fast Nine as the fourth Andretti Autosport car in the Shootout with an average of 229.234 mph in the No. 27 Honda.

Next scheduled day of track action will be Miller Lite Carb Day on Friday, Aug. 21, when all 33 drivers will practice for the last time before the race (11 a.m.-1 p.m., EDT, NBC Sports Network, INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold, Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network). NBC’s race day coverage on Sunday, Aug. 23, will begin at 1 p.m., with the green flag set to fly for the 200-lapper at 2:30 p.m.

“It’s 500 miles. It’s 500 miles,” said Andretti, anticipating his final hurdle during what has morphed into the “Month of Marco” at IMS. “I mean, it’s hard to say. We’re going to have to find out on Carb Day if we’re going to want to lead, if we’re going to be able to keep the lead, if we’re going to be going out front. I don’t know if I really have an answer for that one right yet. Yeah, it’s always better for fuel mileage running second. I don’t want to get yelled at by my grandfather again.”

Andretti capped his historic day by pacing Practice No. 6 at 224.122 mph after 27 additional laps. He was followed by three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves at 224.067 mph in the No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet. The popular Brazilian, who completed 101 laps Sunday, will start the race in the 28th spot. Dixon was third-fast at 223.686 mph after 36 additional laps.

Among other notables working on race trim, two-time Formula One World Driving Champion Fernando Alonso of Spain was 11th on the chart after a best lap of 222.353 mph in the No. 66 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. Alonso, who earned Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honors in 2017 driving the No. 29 Andretti Autosport Honda, completed 115 laps. Alonso qualified 26th on Saturday.

Reigning Indy 500 champion Simon Pagenaud placed 23rd on Sunday’s chart after a best lap of 221.174 mph after 95 laps in his No. 22 Team Penske Chevy. The Frenchman, who won last year’s race from pole position, is gridded 25th for race day. 

Originally scheduled for May 24 and the Memorial Day weekend, the 2020 race was moved to August because of health concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. Along those lines, INDYCAR has announced the race will be run without fans in the massive grandstands, as was the case this week.

“It would have been awesome,” said Marco, alluding to the missing fan reaction to his pole run. “I can’t complain. I’m lucky to be driving race cars during these times. Yeah, that would have been amazing. There’s time to celebrate. I think we got to focus on the task at-hand. I’m definitely switching my mind into race mode already. And I haven’t talked to my grandfather yet.”


Results of qualifying Sunday for the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge NTT IndyCar Series event on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with rank, car number in parentheses, driver, engine, time and average speed of a four-lap/10-mile run in parentheses:
1. (98) Marco Andretti, Honda, 02:35.7985 (231.068 mph)
2. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 02:35.8098 (231.051)
3. (30) Takuma Sato, Honda, 02:36.0300 (230.725)
4. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 02:36.0438 (230.704)
5. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 02:36.0818 (230.648)
6. (29) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 02:36.6103 (229.870)
7. (55) Alex Palou, Honda, 02:36.7425 (229.676)
8. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 02:36.9450 (229.380)
9. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 02:37.0446 (229.234)
10. (88) Colton Herta, Honda, 02:35.9962 (230.775)
11. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 02:36.1374 (230.566)
12. (45) Spencer Pigot, Honda, 02:36.1557 (230.539)
13. (1) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 02:36.3203 (230.296)
14. (10) Felix Rosenqvist, Honda, 02:36.3491 (230.254)
15. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 02:36.3769 (230.213)
16. (20) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 02:36.3781 (230.211)
17. (26) Zach Veach, Honda, 02:36.5484 (229.961)
18. (47) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 02:36.5525 (229.955)
19. (18) Santino Ferrucci, Honda, 02:36.5736 (229.924)
20. (60) Jack Harvey, Honda, 02:36.6161 (229.861)
21. (7) Oliver Askew, Chevrolet, 02:36.6852 (229.760)
22. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 02:36.7252 (229.701)
23. (14) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 02:37.0993 (229.154)
24. (41) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 02:37.2880 (228.880)
25. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 02:37.3180 (228.836)
26. (66) Fernando Alonso, Chevrolet, 02:37.3646 (228.768)
27. (51) James Davison, Honda, 02:37.3789 (228.747)
28. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 02:37.6368 (228.373)
29. (4) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 02:38.0625 (227.758)
30. (59) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 02:38.3789 (227.303)
31. (24) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 02:38.5210 (227.099)
32. (67) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 02:39.0518 (226.341)
33. (81) Ben Hanley, Chevrolet, 02:41.4948 (222.917)


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 17 2020
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