As a driver, Michael Andretti led 431 laps during the Indianapolis 500. That’s two more laps led than Rick Mears, 25 more than Gordon Johncock, 102 more than Dario Franchitti and 126 more than Helio Castroneves.
Mears is a four-time Indianapolis 500 winner, Johncock won the Indy 500 twice and Franchitti and Castroneves are both three-time winners.
Andretti never won the Indy 500. He came close many times, including finishing second to Mears in 1991, but he has never drank the milk in victory lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Of the top-11 lap leaders in Indianapolis 500 history, Andretti is the only one not to win the race. However, he has enjoyed great success in the Indianapolis 500 as a team owner.
Since the late Dan Wheldon drove Andretti’s car to victory in 2005, Andretti’s cars and drivers have won the Indy 500 five times. Franchitti won in 2007, Ryan Hunter-Reay in ’14, Alexander Rossi in ’16 and Takuma Sato last year
Andretti hopes to become the first team owner to win the Indianapolis 500 three years in a row since Roger Penske from 2001-’03.
SPEED SPORT’s Bruce Martin recently talked with Andretti about his career at the Indianapolis 500 career and other Verizon IndyCar Series topics.
Q: Your teams have won the Indianapolis two years in a row and three out of the last four for a total of five Indy victories. Why have you been so successful?
Andretti: I don’t know. I know we put in a huge effort for it. I don’t know why we have been so good there, but I hope it continues. With a new car and a new aero package, we don’t exactly know how good we are going to be. We hope we are going to be as competitive as we have been in the past.
Indy is a weird place. You just never know what you are going to get every year. I’m hoping Honda does the good job they have been doing the last few years and, hopefully, we do what we’ve been doing, and we can do another repeat.
Q: You have done everything you can do at Indianapolis as a driver except winthe race. Do you ever think, especially in 1992, that you’ve had cars there more dominant than the cars you’ve won with as an owner?
Andretti: The 1992 car was the most dominant car I’ve ever had in my career. I was five mph quicker than anyone else in the field. It was insane. That was the easiest race of my life. I’m cruising along and the next thing you know, a belt on the front of my engine breaks. That’s the way it goes.
Q: What did you learn all of those years working with Carl Haas and Paul Newman? Some years, they had the best car in the series, but never won the Indianapolis 500.
Andretti: They should have won. It’s actually a crime they didn’t. I feel the same way as a driver that I never won there. I have no idea. I wish I could explain it, but I can’t. As a driver, it was one of my best race tracks where I just felt like I had so many dominant cars there and I never got it done. I can’t explain it.
Q: At least your father, Mario, won in 1969, but he had a chance to win four or five more times and didn’t. What are your thoughts on that?
Andretti: In the 1960s, there were three or four years he should have won and didn’t. The year he won in 1969, he shouldn’t have won because it was a backup car and was overheating in the race. It was just insane. The one race he shouldn’t have won, he wins and was dominant in 10 other races and didn’t win. Just like me. For whatever reason, it wasn’t meant to be. I guess God had different plans for us in other areas.”
Q: For a period there, it looked like your son Marco was going to win. Your thoughts on that?
Andretti: He had dominant cars there, too. Three or four Indy 500s he was in a position to win and then there was a mistake. Not his mistake, but ours.
Q: What are your earliest memories of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
Andretti: It was probably in 1966, my dad brought us all to the race track with my brother, myself and my cousins, John and Mark. We were all dressed in Firestone racing suits. That’s the first I remember about the track.
Q: When did you decide you wanted to be a race driver?
Andretti: I always wanted to drive but I wasn’t sure I had the talent to do it. I was around 16 when I started doing some race-driving schools. I was always the quickest or one of the quickest at every school. It seemed like a habit, so I decided this is what I wanted to do.
Q: Are great race drivers born with that ability?
Andretti: Yes. There is something there that can’t be taught. You can be taught to be better but the actual talent or whatever it is, the coordination of handling and feeling the equipment, there is something there. I saw it in my own kids. Marco picked it up immediately but my other kids, most of them would get on the thing and head straight into a wall when they were young. Marco would get off the throttle and have control where my other kids didn’t. It was something you were born with.