IPS: New star, familiar name

He's just a wee bit over 18 years of age and hasn't even earned his high school diploma from Notre Dame HS in Nazareth, PA yet but Marco Andretti is clearly on the road to racing stardom. Sure it helps to have a father named Michael and ...

He's just a wee bit over 18 years of age and hasn't even earned his high school diploma from Notre Dame HS in Nazareth, PA yet but Marco Andretti is clearly on the road to racing stardom.

Sure it helps to have a father named Michael and grandfather like Mario Andretti, but Marco's been earning his way through the ranks since the age of ten. Feeling extremely pressured when he got involved in go-karting, Marco stepped aside for a bit before realizing this was definitely his calling, not somebody else's dream for him.

And so he's progressed through championships in karts, in Barber Dodge national competition to where he stands today.

This weekend Andretti makes his first professional start on the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.5-mile oval in the third annual Menards Infiniti Pro Series Futaba Freedom 100. This event also marks Andretti's first oval race, making it doubly important for the young man.

Marco is driving the #26 Vonage Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone entry in the Futaba Freedom 100 this Friday, May 27th, a car entered by his family and supported by Keith Duesenberg Racing, which has a good deal of success at this venue.

Andretti's first Menards Infiniti Pro Series race came at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, where he earned pole position and won the race. Can he do it again?

"Driving here in pretty awesome, pretty special to me because I grew up at Indianapolis Motor Speedway," Andretti explained. "It's a bit of an 'unknown' to me because it's my first oval race, but it should be fairly easy if the car is working pretty good. Of course I don't have any experience working traffic on an oval but I've got plenty of support."

Not only does Andretti have the unfettered backing of his father and grandfather, the four IndyCar Series Andretti Green Racing drivers have been extremely supportive of his racing endeavors. Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti, Bryan Herta and Dan Wheldon are "like big brothers to me. Those guys help with anything I need."

Likely the biggest asset in Andretti's Menards Infiniti Pro Series campaign is the participation of uber-engineer Tony Cicale, a former teacher known for his ability to wrest the best from his drivers. Cicale has worked with such luminaries as Marco's father Michael, with Paul Tracy and with Jacques Villeneuve in his CART/Indy 500 championship year of 1995, among others.

"The main reason I'm doing this is him," Marco confirmed. "The biggest thing he teaches me is the mechanics of the car because I know so little about that. Your relationship with your engineer is what it's all about," Andretti said.

In addition to racing in the Pro Series at St Pete and at Indy this weekend, Andretti is set to contest the Liberty Challenge support race for the United States Grand Prix on June 18th, the 100-lap race on The Milwaukee Mile July 24th, and he's race at Infineon Raceway the final weekend of August and Watkins Glen International September 25th.

With his seven listed races in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series and his full agenda of Star Mazda races, Andretti has had to reschedule a good deal of his scholastic endeavors.

"At the beginning of last semester, I got together with my teachers and we worked around the racing schedule. Unfortunately I've had to miss the last two weeks of school" but Marco is hoping his grades are good enough to graduate.

Marco Andretti is hoping for another sort of graduation at the close of racing activities in 2005. He'd like to move up to the Indy cars. "The last year and a half has been pretty unbelievable." If his accelerated career continues unabated, the next IndyCar Series superstar could, indeed have a familiar name.

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Series Indy Lights
Drivers Paul Tracy , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Dan Wheldon , Marco Andretti