Why Marco Andretti believes he can win the Indy 500 this Sunday

Marco Andretti, pole-winner for the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500, has enjoyed several strong performances at Indy before “but not like this… This has been a fairytale so far.” He spoke to David Malsher-Lopez.

Why Marco Andretti believes he can win the Indy 500 this Sunday

DM: Regarding the pole run, did you know how close it was going to be, were you aware your second and third laps were slower than Dixon’s and so you had to do something special on Lap 4?

MA: No, I just saw from the speeds that it was going to be close. You’re so busy in the cockpit, picking out your turn-in points and getting ready to slide through the next corner because you’re so light on downforce, and altering your line depending on what lap you’re on because the tires are going away each lap. And then on the straights you’re making adjustments to the weightjacker according to which way the wind’s going and what you felt last time through. It never stops!

So looking at my speed I just knew it was going to be so close that the wind of the gods was going to decide it, whichever of us got the lucky gust. I can’t believe how close it was – but actually, I also can’t believe that 0.017mph is only the third closest margin at Indy! Isn’t that crazy? I was sure it was gonna be the closest.

It was obviously an awesome run, but the laps you turned on Saturday in the heat of the day to get through to the Fast Nine were just as impressive. Seems like your car is impervious to changing track conditions. Is that a good sign for this Sunday?

Yeah, that’s what I hope and I’m pretty positive. It was quite a different setup compared with my teammates, and I hope it bodes well for the race because then I don’t need to worry too much about what the weather gives us. I think when I ran on the Saturday the track temp was 125degF and last I saw that’s around about what the race is gonna be. But it seems like maybe this car is just good whatever the conditions.

The thing is, you know you’re good at Indy when you try something different and it doesn’t work and you can go back to what you had and it’s still solid, you know? Like in the practice on Sunday after quali, we decided to try one big change that would maybe better suit the conditions. It was our last chance to try out something really different, because you don’t want to be throwing anything big at it on Carb Day [final practice], because that just confuses you for the race. That’s what we did last year and… oh my God, it was a totally different car but not in a good way. You saw what happened.

So anyway, this last Sunday, I went out with this last big-ticket item adjustment we wanted to try and I was only 24th. We came back in, the guys did an awesome job to switch it back to how it was, and I went back out and then boom, P1 again. That’s when you know you’ve got a really solid platform. So hopefully come the race, that means we’re just doing little wing adjustments in pitstops as the track evolves.

Assuming you’re not always going to be at the head of the line because those days are gone at Indy, do you have a car that can get you to the front?

Well, it’s still going to be a track position race – I think it’s been tougher this year to pass – so that’s going to mean getting all the little details right like the in and out laps, the pitstops, and bullying people on restarts. To your point, I mean, we have to prepare to be in dirty air no matter what, right? Because whether we’re lapping traffic or something happens and we get shuffled back in the pack, that’s when we need a car that’s good in the draft, and yeah, I think that’s what we’ve got.

Marco with car co-owner Bryan Herta and race engineer, Garrett Mothersead.

Marco with car co-owner Bryan Herta and race engineer, Garrett Mothersead.

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

You sound quite different in terms of confidence level. When was the last time you felt something similar to this about your car?

Hmmm, we were good in 2016, pretty decent in 2015 among the Hondas. Then 2014 we knew we were gonna be right there at the end but I should have trimmed. My Dad trimmed out Ryan [Hunter-Reay] to beat me. Man, I was so mad at him! 2013, I was super-strong and 2012, I was gone… Yeah, there’ve been a lot of times when we’ve had strong cars at Indy, the month has gone good and we’ve been contenders – but seriously, not like this. This has been a fairytale so far because it’s like every time we go out, we can go to the front at will.

I’m trying not to assess it too much yet, I’m just trying to focus forward and steamroller on through and pray the stars align on Sunday. But at least I know that we’ve got a good car, we’ve worked well on the #98 side and done pretty much everything we can with it.

If you win, will you be bummed that finally you’ve ended 51 years of the Andretti curse and the fans – a lot of whom have been rooting for your family that whole time – aren’t going to be there to celebrate with you?

I know what you’re saying and it is a sad and weird situation… but I tell you, I’m not going to be the one complaining on Sunday afternoon if I’ve won the Indy 500! Anyway, there’s plenty of time to celebrate with people once fans can come back to all the races and come back to Indy again next year.

To me, when I’m asked about the fan situation, I think of Roger [Penske] and how thankful all of us should be that he’s in charge at a time like this. I mean, he is taking some big financial hits in order to keep us going, to help save us and to put a show on for the fans and for our sponsors. We’re really fortunate he’s driving IndyCar at these times, because man, I think we all need sports going on so long as we’re able to do it in a safe way for the fans.

In the media conference you were talking about the finish in 2006, and how you were so mad about being beaten that day because you understood Indy and how rarely these chances come around. Fourteen years on, if you beat someone by the same margin that Sam Hornish beat you, would you feel a little bit sorry for them?

Are you kidding me?! No. I have no sympathy for any of the other guys out there. I mean, obviously working with Bryan [Herta], I felt bad for him last year at Indy having to watch Colton go out with a mechanical issue at the start. But man, I’ve been on that end of it too, and he’ll have more chances just like I did.

 

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

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