INDIANAPOLIS — Marco Andretti is here. In Indianapolis. He’s strapping himself into the cockpit of the No. 98 Honda about to make a daring run for supremacy. He’s going to endure the toughest 2 1/2-minutes he’s had in a while. But, if he can prevail, the glory will be his.
His dad, is on a pit box yards away. His grandfather, hours away at his home in Pennsylvania watching the NBC broadcast.
But, it was words that Mario Andretti spoke to Marco Andretti in the past, well that’s why, well that’s part why, an Andretti is on the pole in Indianapolis for the first time since 1987.
The pressure was on. An Andretti hasn’t won the Indianapolis 500 in 51 years now. Their last pole here was 33 years ago. Michael Andretti had never won an Indy 500 pole in his career. He never won a race as a driver here either.
If anything could go wrong for the Andretti family here, it did. Hence, the name “Andretti Curse.”
Fast forward to Sunday. Marco Andretti, third generation driver, has the fastest car in Gasoline Alley. That comes with pressure in itself.
“I was joking with dad. I’m like, This is probably like my third legitimate shot as far as just outright pace in 15 years,” Andretti said on Sunday. “When I lost the 500 in 2006, you saw me mad because I knew that it is possible that 15 years later I’m talking to you 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. We’re going to take it one race at a time. The INDYCAR Series is so competitive. Drivers and the teams, everybody is so close. It’s easy to go from last to first if you just find that little bit.”
Andretti is right. That 2006 race seemed to be maybe it was the youngest Andretti to exercise those damn demons. Marco, passed his dad Michael, for the race lead with three laps-to-go. But, Sam Hornish Jr. chased Marco down and passed him on the front stretch on the last lap and beat him by just .0635-seconds. The second closest finish in Indy 500 history at the time and third closest now.
Andretti, has been close since then, but not close enough to win and in the days that he had a car capable of winning, something of a fluke kept him from drinking the milk in victory lane like his grandpa did 51 years ago now.
So, for a driver that hasn’t won a race since 2011. Has one pole since 2014. The curse hanging over his head. The fastest car in the field. That’s a lot of weight on the 33 year olds shoulders. If he didn’t win the pole, it would come down to him.
Andretti, showed what he’s made of on Sunday and beat arguably one of best to ever race an Indy Car to the pole for next Sunday’s 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (1 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network). The conditions on Sunday were worse than they’ve been all month. Graham Rahal said after his qualifying run that “it’s terrible. It’s not easy. Not a good day to be a race car driver.”
Andretti, still held it wide open and won the pole. He can thank of advise given to him from his grandpa on why. Instead of being uptight over the last couple of days, Andretti had faith.
“Wind will scare you but it won’t crash you,” Andretti said on what his grandfather Mario has said to him in the past. “He was right today. I don’t know if he’s right totally. We were able to keep it going the right way today.
“He has a lot of quotes in-house. As soon as I came out of the motorhome today, we were expecting winds. That’s when I kind of had a laugh, too.”
Andretti, also said that while he had three other teammates in the Fast Nine and could rely on advise from them on how track conditions are, it was Mario in his head again allowing him to just stay calm.
“My grandfather, good advice yesterday,” Andretti said. “Let them beat you, don’t dial yourself out. You already know what you have, do it again. Let them try to dial themselves out chasing, right? Good advice.”
That was good advice. What else does he have up his sleeve for next Sunday?