Marco Andretti hoping for a breakthrough year
Marco Andretti's resume reads like that of a seasoned IndyCar Series veteran: 32 top-10 finishes, 18 top-fives and nearly $5 million in career earnings.
Yet he will only turn 23 on the eve of the March 14 season opener in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and is still waiting for that breakthrough year.
So is he a youngster or a veteran?
``I'm feeling more like a veteran, just because of having been there. Experience is everything,'' Andretti said Thursday before testing at Barber Motorsports Park. ``I'm talking to my dad this morning and I'm like, 'Can you believe I'm going into my fifth year with this team already?' I'm only 22.
``It's cool to kind of look back at what we've been able to do in the past. Having said that, if you ask me, there's a lot more potential than what we've actually brought home results-wise.''
His father agrees. Michael Andretti also happens to own the four-driver team, Andretti Autosport, and can relate to what it's like to be an up-and-coming driver.
``Just from the middle of last year to now, I think he's really matured in his approach,'' said the elder Andretti, who drove to 42 IndyCar wins. ``I remember how immature I was when I started when I was 21. I was 23 or 24 when I won my first race. I'm cautiously optimistic for Marco this year.
``He's at that age now when you start to really see that jump in maturity. That's what happened last year.''
Will Power led the way in Thursday's testing with a speed of 118.502, followed by Helio Castroneves (118.272) and Ryan Briscoe (118.208).
Marco Andretti was eighth at 117.621.
He says he is raising the bar after finishing eighth in the IndyCar points last season, when teammates Danica Patrick, Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay finished fifth, sixth and 15th, respectively.
``Going into last year, consistency was the word for me,'' said Andretti, who plummeted three spots after having mechanical problems in the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. ``Looking back at it, yeah OK, we lived up to that, but it was consistently average. We were working way too hard for mediocre finishes.''
Andretti's family name, he is the grandson of open-wheel racing legend Mario Andretti, and a roaring start to his career heightened expectations.
After all, he was the youngest driver to earn a victory in a major open-wheel race when he won at Infineon Raceway in 2006 at age 19. Graham Rahal has since surpassed that record by about 2 1/2 months.
Andretti is still seeking win No. 2 four years after his first. His father thinks maybe that drought won't be such a bad thing down the road.
``At the end of his career, you might look back and say that was good for him, because when things start going right for him and he starts winning on a regular basis, he's going to appreciate those years and he's going to appreciate his wins,'' Michael Andretti said. ``Because it's not so easy.
``In his defense, he should have a bunch more wins already. In '08 he should have won three races easily and the team made some mistakes. Last year, we really weren't that competitive for any of our drivers to be in position to win. It's not all him.''
Marco Andretti has certainly had close calls, including in the Indianapolis 500. He finished second at Indy in 2006, and had one of several frustrating 2008 races at the signature event.
That's when he took third in the race won by Scott Dixon after losing precious seconds on a pit stop.
``They made a change in the car when all they should have done was make a regular pit stop and I think he would've won the race,'' Michael Andretti said. ``They took too long. If he would have done a regular pit stop, he would have been first or second, and I think he would have won the race. He was quicker than Dixon that year.''
Marco Andretti thinks that was the best he has run at Indy.
``The whole month we were setting up the car and I had a race-winning car that day,'' he said. ``I was kind of controlling the race. I was able to overtake Dixon and was kind of controlling him. We chose to trim the car out. Obviously looking back at it, it was the wrong decision.''
That year, he also finished third at Kentucky Speedway and ninth at Richmond Speedway after leading a combined 53 laps in 2008. His father said bad pit decisions hurt his chances there, too.
``He was dominating the race (at Richmond) and they left him hanging out there,'' Michael Andretti said. ``He ended up losing a lap because they didn't pit him, and he should have won.''
The younger Andretti thinks that maturity brings a greater appreciation for how important the entire team is to winning a race, even if he happens to be the guy behind the wheel.
He calls it ``seeing the big picture.'' Andretti hopes that perspective helps push his team over the top.
``We've struggled as a team the last few years,'' he said. ``It's been really challenging. It is the IndyCar Series and it's super competitive, but these are guys we can beat and have beaten. We've hopefully just been going back to basics and just being sensible about our decisions and just making good ones.''