INDIANAPOLIS — Michael Andretti and Marco Andretti are back to being reunited again. No, the father-son duo hasn’t seen their relationship on the rocks. They’re as close as ever. This is about their racing relationship with the elder Andretti being the one calling the younger Andretti’s race next Sunday.
Yes, Michael is back on top and in charge of Marco’s pit box and his race this weekend for the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network). lt was an original combination that worked but as the two grew older, they grew more vocal on the radio and by doing so, it created a toxic team.
It wasn’t that Michael and Marco couldn’t co exist on the radio together, it was their banter made it uncomfortable for the others on the team So, they split up. Now, they’re back together. This time, they hope that they’re drinking milk together in victory lane on May 29.
Andretti jokes that it will work this time because he now has the one-up on his dad. This is his 17th Indy 500 start. His dad only started 16 of these. All jokes aside, the third generation Andretti notes that who else better than his dad to have call his race.
“I think it was a no-brainer,” Marco Andretti told me on Monday after being 8th fastest (226.776 mph) in practice. “I think he’s the best to do it honestly. He sees the race as good as me, from Nazareth last weekend with Colton, but yeah, he sees this race, and he’s a really, really good strategist.
“The two of us work a lot better nowadays than when I was a rookie and didn’t think Dad knew anything what he was talking about. Now he definitely doesn’t because I have more starts than him here. I’m about to.”
How much did the Herta father-son pairing play into this?
“I mean, their mannerisms are a little different than the Andrettis,” Andretti joked. “They’re pretty even keel. We’re very passionate is what I like to say.
“No, like I said, I think the difference is back when I was a rookie, it didn’t affect Dad and I, it affected the people around us, and we would be animated on the radio and go to dinner like no problem. But other people would make mistakes because it brings the energy so high, and it brings — now it’s even higher.
“But I think it was affecting other people more than me back then, but now I think they laugh at us. It’s like they smile and they know that when we’re going at each other it’s because we want to win this race.”
That comradery has Andretti with high confidence for his 17th start on Sunday. While he’s starting 23rd in his No. 98 Dallara-Honda, it’s not like his swagger has waned. In fact, he feels as good as ever.
He told me last week that his car didn’t have pole speed in it and that he expected to not even be in the Fast 12. But, his car was also as good of a race car that he’s ever had too.
“A little bit. We’re not as slow as last year but we don’t have pole speed right now,” he told me. “I think if we had to qualify right now we’d be 13th-15th. I’ve been really the last few years working on the race car and burying it in traffic. Making my life miserable on old tires and trying to make it feel like it would be like next Sunday. If we have good pit stops, good strategy. You’ve got to be lucky and good over the course of 500 miles. I think right now we’re 1 of the best race cars. That’s my goal.
“I always look at temperatures and conditions and like yesterday it was really hot. If you’re good when it’s hot it’s reaffirmation.
“I don’t stress out when it rains. It is what it is. When it rains for a 17 time starter it’s probably a good thing.”
Andretti has done just that. He was 11th on the opening day speed chart. He was 15th on Day 3 (Day 2 rained). On Monday he was 8th. It’s a different approach to what he used to be here he says and the fact that he’s still fast has his hopes high.
“Yeah, you just nailed it because the old me would have had the car trimmed for today and trying to go for P1, but we were actually trying bigger wickers and trying to nail the car for 90 degrees,” he told me again on Monday. “It actually might rain Friday, so the next time we’re on track might be the race.
“I think we’re ready for that and those conditions. I think I actually welcome those conditions because it gives me more of a shot when it comes down to car balance than if it’s just speed. Unfortunately it might take both speed, luck and balance to win this race, but if we get luck and balance, we can have a pretty good shot.
“I’m very comfortable at this racetrack. No, I mean, the pressure is what I want to put on myself to try to win this race. So I don’t care what my last name is; I want to win this race.”