Honda Racing / IZOD IndyCar Series / RacingLine
Rookie Marco Andretti Seeks to Add to Glittering Family Legacy
Most kids have driven their father's car by the time they're 18. Just not at 200 miles per hour.
That's the scenario as teenager Marco Andretti slides into one of the Indy cars owned by his dad, Michael, for the 2006 Indy Racing League season.
Obviously, the Andretti legacy in open-wheel racing is entrenched in success, as grandfather and patriarch Mario and Michael own five championships, 94 wins, 99 pole positions and more than 14,000 laps led during the past five decades.
But both believe the next generation could be the best yet.
"Some people may think we're rushing him but they don't know him," says the proud papa. "I cannot believe how mature Marco is. I wasn't anything like that when I was his age. He's shown the ability to always make the car faster and he's much more mature at his age than I was at 21.
"In each series he would always do something that would surprise us and make us say, 'Wow, he's a little bit farther along than we thought.' He's also the best talent I've seen at his age in a long time. I'm not saying that because he's my son and that's not why he got the ride. The other two owners of this team [Kim Green and Kevin Savoree] wouldn't operate like that.
"He got the ride because he's ready."
The patriarch of this famous family sees a lot of himself in his grandson.
"Marco is like I was in that he has a tremendous passion for driving a race car. He loves it," said Mario Andretti, the only man to ever win the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500 and the Formula One championship.
"He's got that fire and that drive that it takes to succeed in this business and he's still a teenager." Marco may not look old enough to drive a passenger car, let alone muscle a 650-horsepower Indy car, yet the precocious 18-year-old is joining the Andretti Green Racing team to take the place of 2006 IRL champ Dan Wheldon.
"We've taken everything one step at a time, starting with go karts," said Marco, who won his Infiniti Pro Series debut last year at St. Petersburg. "Each step I've taken seems to be pretty good.
"I think what opened most people's eyes was just how good it went in the Pro Series races [he won three in 2005]. At St. Pete, we went into it thinking we'd just see how we matched up. Obviously things went well, so we decided we would try some more.
"Originally, Dad thought about running a fifth car for me this year in some selected races but we knew we couldn't do that, and then we considered more Pro Series races, especially on ovals. That's where things stood, but then Dan left and here I am."
Young Andretti has looked smooth in pre-season testing and understands the learning curve will be a steep one, but he's got veterans Bryan Herta, Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan to lean on.
"Look at this team's accomplishments over the last couple of years. They've been unbelievable," he noted. "That's going to be the biggest thing, just trying to keep that up. I can't stress enough how much these guys will help my learning curve.
"I need to be realistic about it, but we have to take it slow. It's going to come down to race craft and how I run in traffic and all of that. It's a totally different ballgame."
And it's going to be a real family reunion in May because Michael is coming out of retirement to chase that elusive victory and tutor his son in the 90th Indianapolis 500.
"The closer it gets the more excited I get," said Michael, who's led 400 laps at Indy yet never been in victory lane. "It's going to be such a great experience like it was when I got to race with dad.
"Hopefully it's going to be our best May ever as a family."