INDIANAPOLIS — Marco Andretti is currently 0-for-14 in his career at the Indianapolis 500. While it looked early on that Andretti would eventually end that dreaded “Andretti Curse” unfortunately, he just never has.
So far this month, Andretti looks like the favorite for the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (1 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network).
Andretti, was leading on the last lap of his rookie year in 2006 before Sam Hornish Jr. beat him in a drag race to the yard of bricks. He’d finish third two years later for two top three finishes in his first three Indy starts. Throw in another third place run in 2010 and you get three top three’s in five tries.
He’s just been as jinxed though as his dad and grandpa.
From a wild pit stop that saw tires put on his car on the wrong sides, to freak incidents, he’s just never been able to sip the milk in victory circle here.
That sounds a lot like the way that his season has gone thus far too.
“Yeah, I mean, when stuff is out of my control, there’s not much I can do, right?” Andretti said on opening day of practice. “Just got to keep going. A lot of it’s been circumstantial, DNF’s here, a fire in Iowa, stuff like that.
“I think we just came off one of my worst tracks, is Iowa. We top 10’d it. That was our first normal race of the season and we were in the top 10.
“We started at Texas, we should have finished fourth through sixth. We had some stuff go wrong there.
“It’s not really pace this year. That’s kind of what is keeping me upbeat and positive. This place, I feel good around here regardless.”
The pace has been there so far here at Indy this week too. The third generation driver was P2 on Wednesday (224.345 mph). He backed that up with being P3 on Thursday (225.249 mph) in his No. 98 Honda. On Fast Friday he was untouchable with a 233 mph lap, fastest here since 1996. On Saturday he was P1 in qualifying and will be in the Fast Nine on Sunday.
“I mean, race pace is only as fast as the car ahead of you,” said Andretti. “It seems when you’re more than two cars back, it’s really hard to pass.
“I feel comfortable in race trim. I put myself in pretty tough positions and I still felt good about it. We’ll revisit that Sunday afternoon. Right now we’re in qualifying mentality.”
Andretti said that he feels like they are just one change away at the moment from having a dialed in race car.
Is this the year that he gets that ever so coveted victory? While it’s just three days of practice, he’s not been going for speed and his car is still there up front.
“Funny enough really I was more focused on the racecar,” Andretti said of his pace on opening day. “I was trying to bury myself in traffic on older tires a lot today. We didn’t really focus on fast times. It was kind of nice that materialized as well. Well, second fastest time.
“It’s good that the car rolled off with some pace. That’s always kind of like the first hurdle you have to get over. From there it’s just working on the car balance. That’s what we were able to do. We were one of the better ones in the pack today. It just seems kind of hard to pass where things are at right now.
“So far so good. It was a good start.”
Still, Andretti isn’t going to be fooled by this pace. He notes that he’s been fast here during practice a lot. He’s just not turned that speed into a win.
“More days like this,” continued Andretti. “I’m not just talking about the speed. Just the way the car felt, really putting ourselves in really tough situations like the race is going to be. That’s going to be my focus, is to try to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and put myself in really tough spots, make the car as good as we can make it.
“Really, really focused on the race. I’ve been quickest here a lot, I’ve been on the front row, I’ve been in the top 10 the majority in qualifying, but it hasn’t gotten me a Borg-Warner. That’s my focus right now.”
Andretti, has the luxury of essentially six teammates to debrief with post practice. He says that can be an advantage and also a disadvantage too. But, in order to decipher through it all, he has a strategy on that.
“I just think you have to look at who’s good and who’s happy, who’s smiling,” said Andretti of having so much data and debriefs to sort through and if it gets overwhelming. “I kind of hone in on that. You just pick and choose your battles.
“I’ve always done my best throughout my 15-year career focusing on my entry and my entry only. You find yourself dragging the whole train with you when you focus on yourself. There’s always stuff to learn off the other cars. We’ll go through the meeting. The way we shorten it is, Say what your good changes were. We sit down and can see if we want to implement it to our package or not.”
Can Andretti give the family their fourth pole at Indy? His grandfather won the other three as his dad was shutout.