New Hope to End Andretti Curse at Indy 500
After Sunday’s round of Pole Qualifying for the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500, the Andretti family had something special to celebrate. Marco Andretti, a third-generation driver of one of the world’s premier racing families, posted a four-lap average speed of 231.068 mph to bump five-time Indy car champion and 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon from this year’s pole. In light of the questionable “Andretti Curse”, drivers and crews lined up to congratulate the grandson of Mario Andretti, who was the last Andretti to sit on pole back in 1987, the same year Marco was born. Marco and Scott Dixon were the only two drivers in the “Fast Nine” that seemed comfortable with a strong tailwind, as Indy requires a skillful balance of on-board adjustments for both downforce and speed for a four-lap blast covering 10 miles of pavement, including a three-foot strip of the original Indy bricks.
Mario’s Blessings Behind the Wheel
The notion of a curse arose after Mario, who sat on pole three times, claimed his only victory in 29 attempts in 1969 driving the STP Hawk for legendary owner Andy Granatelli. Year after year, race fans had expectations that Mario’s special talents would certainly produce another win at the brickyard. But, Mario Andretti’s Hall of Fame career was far from plagued. He is the only driver in history to have won the Daytona 500 (1967) in NASCAR, the Indy 500, the Formula One World Championship (1978) and the 24 Hours of Daytona (1972). Add to that resume three wins at the 12 Hours of Sebring, a win in the IROC (International Race of Champions) series, and countless other racing events in sprint cars, midgets, and modified divisions on both pavement and dirt.
Michael Andretti’s Chase for the Glass of Milk
Although he never managed a win at the Indy 500, the second-generation Andretti and father of Marco, lead 431 laps at the Brickyard in his sixteen Indianapolis starts. Having finished fifth in his rookie year, Michael, Mario, and Marco all three earned Rookie of Year honors at the Speedway. Unfortunately, for Michael, Indy just seemed to be the place as a driver where everything that could go wrong… DID! As one of the greatest Indy car drivers of all time, Michael claimed 42 wins with over 6600 laps led. Following a brief stint in Formula One, Michael became a team owner (Andretti/Green Racing) and came out of retirement in 2006 to drive against his son during his rookie season. After taking the lead late in the race, Michael had to go into fuel conservation mode which allowed son Marco and winner Sam Hornish to slip passed.
Could Another Andretti Blessing End the Indy 500 Curse?
There is little doubt that “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” may not have rewarded the Andretti clan with its fair share of victories in the past. It is true that Mario’s sons, Michael and Jeff (collective 19 Indy 500 starts), his late-nephew John (12 attempts), and grandson Marco (14 attempts) never won. Nonetheless, the 33-year old Marco, who lives close to his grandfather outside Nazareth, Pennsylvania, has the speed in 2020 to drink the cold glass milk in Victory Lane. Rescheduled to August 23 from its traditional Memorial Day timeslot due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 is apt to produce another win for Michael as a car owner. Not only does his son Marco drive the U.S. Concrete Honda-powered indy car for Andretti Racing under the guidance of crew chief Brian Herta, Michael has six entries in this year’s race and has already gone to victory lane five times as a car owner. But, a win with Marco would definitely topple the Andretti Curse and provide a crowning moment for the family’s success at the Brickyard.
Photo courtesy of Walter G. Arce