INDIANAPOLIS – Marco Andretti knows how much heartache his family has suffered at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
He needs no reminders that IndyCar could use an American superstar, and with his famous last name, he is quite aware of the hope that maybe he can be the one to elevate this attention-starved series.
None of that matters to Andretti as he heads into today’s Indianapolis 500.
The 25-year-old thinks he can win – “it’s going to be our race to lose,” he said – and he wants it, badly. But Andretti wants it for himself, for his own career, and not because of what it would mean to his family or for IndyCar. His grandfather, Mario Andretti, won in 1969, and no other Andretti has done it in 65 starts, including many devastating near-misses.
“That’s not my approach to the event. My approach is I want to win our Super Bowl,” Andretti said. “I put that pressure on myself. I don’t want to do it because he did it and my dad didn’t, that’s all bonus. Do I think we can? You’re darn right.”
The 96th running of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” is the most wide-open race in a long time. Engine competition for the first time in six years and the introduction of a new car has widened the pool of potential winners, and there’s no clear favorite.
“I think we’re going to see the best race we’ve had in at least a decade,” said Roger Penske, winner of 15 Indy 500s and the team owner of pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe.
Penske is undefeated this season after Helio Castroneves and points leader Will Power combined to win the first four races. And with Chevrolet power, Penske drivers have swept all five poles so far this season.
So it seemed to be business as usual on pole day, when Chevrolet clearly had the edge. The team put nine drivers in the top 10, and all six of the full-time entries were from Penske and Andretti Autosport.
Then came Carb Day, and the Hondas came to life.
Chip Ganassi teammates Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon led the leaderboard, with Andretti landing third on the final speed chart as the fastest Chevy driver.
“Maybe some sandbagging?” Franchitti wondered as Andretti slid into the seat next to him following their final on-track session before the race. “Do you really think we’re all going to show what we can do?”
There’s been no speculation about the two Lotus entries, which have been so far off the pace there have been calls for IndyCar to park Simona de Silvestro and Jean Alesi after the start. The engine is a tremendous handicap to Alesi, a 47-year-old former Formula One driver who has never before raced an IndyCar, never raced on an oval and has been sporadically racing in anything at all the last several years.
On Friday, his last day in the car before the race, Alesi was clocked at 204.452 mph — almost 10 miles slower than the last non-Lotus car, and a long way off Franchitti’s 222.360.
“The engine is a disaster,” he was picked up saying during the television broadcast of practice. “The engine is really bad.”
Nothing has been bad for Andretti, who has been one of the few constants this month at Indy. He’s been consistently fast, and was thought to be a threat for the pole. He wound up fourth, right behind teammates James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay.