INDIANAPOLIS — Marco Andretti knows how to drive this place. He’s competed in 17 Indianapolis 500’s. Not only that, he’s also completed 3,200 laps on race day and led the 43rd most laps (144) all-time. So when Andretti feels what he feels, he knows what he’s talking about.
That’s why despite after a couple of early practice runs on Wednesday and what every metric showed on his No. 98 Dallara-Honda, the third-generation driver from one of the most famous racing families in the world knew that it wasn’t right.
He told his team that. They trusted him.
Back to Gasoline Alley they went. After some changes, back out they came. It worked. Andretti’s ideas and descriptions of what he was feeling was right. When he came back to the 2.5-mile track to practice again, Andretti shot up to 10th on the speed charts at 226.982 mph.
“That was a good feeling,” Andretti told me on Thursday morning on if it was somewhat rewarding to have verified what he was feeling was right. “Yeah, I mean, I think what’s good about it and it shows everybody in the team on the radio like knows what he’s talking about.
“So it got to a point yesterday where I said actually, I’m done driving this car till you find out what’s wrong. So I mean, I literally was looking at every little piece on the car and and I knew it was I knew what it was, and we found it and backed it up.”
Andretti does his best work at this place. It’s why he’s scaled his program down to just one NTT INDYCAR SERIES race a year – this one.
This year, Andretti Autosport comes to Indy with some momentum. They have speed. They’ve won two poles and a race already this season.
Andretti feels like his car right now already has better speed than it had a year ago and that’s early in practice week.
“I feel like yeah, it rebounded to where we were at the test and honestly, the race car last year was stout, we just had no speed,” he told me. “I think if we execute, we have third row speed.”
That’s exactly where he needs to be. This package is said to be easier to pass in dirty air than it was previously. Still, track position is going to be key. The last seven Indy 500 winners all came from the top 3 rows, so if Andretti can hone into that, he may have something next weekend.
Also, he has some continuity within the Andretti program. When he came to the team for Indy last year, he had a new look in the debriefing room. Devlin DeFrancesco and Romain Grosjean were new additions. So was Simon Pagenaud to the Meyer Shank Racing side.
This year, they will have seven voices in that meeting, but six of them are the same. Is that an advantage? He says he never really relied much on other programs anyways because they don’t always translate over. He said just look up how many teammates that he’s had in this series and that it’s so hard to adapt to everyone of them. I did. Kirkwood is his 35th teammate in this series.
“Always find I do my best work at this place when I’m focused on my program and then I end up leading the herd and people end up coming in to my my direction,” Andretti said. “So it’s hard to judge setups because it’s not I guess my confidence. Number one it’s never behaves almost exactly the same as another guy. And also, maybe you found that I’ve gotten out like it’s tailored to that particular guy as well. So rather have it tailored to myself.”
One change for him this year over last thought is on his timing stand. His dad, Michael Andretti, is no longer on it.
“No, we discussed it last year. I think with all the stuff he has going on. I mean just takes 100% focus and can’t be missing practices and stuff like that,” Andretti told me on if his dad was back on his stand this month.
In comes Eric Bretzman. He also has a fantastic assistant to him helping in engineering and fuel strategy, one who won the Indy 500 with Ryan Hunter-Reay before.
That veteran presence and support has Andretti hopeful to join his grandpa as the first grandpa-grandson Indy 500 winning combination.