INDIANAPOLIS – If this year’s Indianapolis 500 qualifications were a motion picture, it would be billed as the feel good story of the summer.
That’s the nearly universal reaction from the IndyCar paddock to hard-luck driver Marco Andretti’s pole-winning effort this past weekend during qualifications for the Aug. 23 104th Indianapolis 500.
Even Scott Dixon, the driver Andretti knocked off the pole in Sunday’s Fast Nine Shootout when Andretti whipped off a four-lap average of 231.068 miles per hour in the No. 98 US Concrete/Curb Honda, was happy to see Andretti finally have a positive result.
The same goes for Dixon’s engineer, Michael Cannon.
“I think we all did,” Cannon told SPEED SPORT. “It’s a well-kept secret within this paddock, but a lot of people think very highly of Marco and it’s nice to see him do well.
“I’ve picked him as a dark horse a couple of times, and he has had some bad luck.
“I was fortunate enough to work at Andretti in 2013 and I think the world of Marco Andretti. He’s braver than Dick Tracy on a speedway. I wish him a lot of luck.”
Tony Kanaan of A.J. Foyt Racing has been close to Andretti since Andretti’s rookie season in 2006. By then, Kanaan was the star driver at what was then known as Andretti Green Racing.
Kanaan remained with the team through the 2010 season. He’s remained close friends with Marco Andretti ever since.
“Every driver was actually pulling for him,” Kanaan told SPEED SPORT. “I witnessed Marco in his rookie year and was his teammate for a long time. People’s opinions don’t matter. What matters is what you believe.
“He shut up the haters. What are people going to say now? He was the best yesterday. All of those tough decisions and pressure made him a stronger person and a stronger driver. That was really cool to see. If anybody deserved something at that place, Marco proved that.
“I was really happy to see that.”
Practice for the 104th Indianapolis 500 began last Wednesday. Since that time, Andretti has not turned a wheel wrong the entire time.
If the 33-year-old driver were to win Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, it could be another boost to the event and to the NTT IndyCar Series because it would be the first driver named Andretti to win the big race since his grandfather, Mario, in 1969.
That remains the only time an Andretti has won the Indianapolis 500.
“It would be huge,” Kanaan said. “If that happens, it would be the biggest win of the decade. It’s a big name. You know the history of that family at that place. That family has experienced the good and the bad. The good with Mario, but the bad with Michael. That would be something that would be crazy, crazy.
“That would be really big.”
Paul ‘Ziggy’ Harcus is the team manager at Andretti Autosport and calls the race strategy for Ryan Hunter-Reay. A few seasons ago he was the race strategist for Andretti and has the utmost respect for him.
“You can’t be any more pleased, not only for Marco, but for the whole team,” Harcus told SPEED SPORT. “The Andretti name is synonymous with first place. I’m so happy for him. He did a fantastic job for us. Marco and Garrett Mothershead (Andretti’s engineer) did the right choice on the downforce level and he was awesome.”
The beauty of Andretti’s pole-winning effort is he ran the fastest laps during difficult weather conditions. Saturday’s first round run came in the hottest part of the day. Andretti’s pole-winning run on Sunday came during hot and windy conditions.
“It takes a real man, a real race car driver to do that, man,” Harcus said. “When I joined the team 12 years ago, Marco was one of the bravest men out there in terms of doing the job. Don’t put him down. He’s a race car driver.
“He did a hell of a job today and hopefully he’ll do a hell of a job next week and we can win this sucker.”