This will be a different 16th Month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for Marco Andretti, who, believe it or not, will tie his father, Michael, for the number of years competing in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
The “500” will not only be the first NTT INDYCAR SERIES race on Marco’s 2021 schedule, it is planned to be his last. And yet, there is a familiarity for the third-generation driver, who seems as refreshed and optimistic as at any point in his career.
Of course, winning his first NTT P1 Award at IMS, which was earned in August, has contributed to that.
“I’m as happy as I’ve ever been, focused on what I want to focus on, which is putting all of my energy on winning this race, first and foremost,” said Marco, who became the first member of his family to be Indy’s pole winner since his grandfather Mario in 1987.
At IMS for this week’s Open Test, Marco is driving the No. 98 Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana/Curb Honda of Andretti Herta-Haupert Autosport with Marco Andretti & Curb-Agajanian, a program while different in name is familiar in product.
Marco remains with his father’s Indianapolis-based Andretti Autosport organization, currently a five-car team that includes teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, James Hinchcliffe and Colton Herta – all drivers Marco has worked extensively with in recent years. And, the crew supporting his car is largely the same as in the past. Even the person on his radio during the “500” – his strategist – will be a familiar voice.
For the first time since 2011, Marco will have Michael in that position, something both are excited about.
“Definitely,” Marco said. “I’ve really been looking forward to it.”
Michael expects it to work better than it did a decade ago, when Marco was 24.
“Back then, I was just a dad who didn’t know anything,” Michael said, laughing. “Marco is in a different place in his life now, very motivated to win this race. He’s so focused on Indy, having gotten rid of the other pressures (of being a full-time driver).”
Bryan Herta, who called Marco’s races in recent years, has moved to his son’s car. But Herta expects Marco’s program to work smoothly because it has continuity.
“Yes, Marco will have Michael on his radio rather than me, but he will have a lot of the same people around him as he has had his whole career, so I think it’s not a typical one-off,” Herta said. “Marco is still part of ‘the family,’ and since we all know each other so well, it will be seamless.”
Eric Bretzman, Andretti Autosport’s technical director and a longtime engineer for Scott Dixon, is Marco’s engineer.
Marco likes the way the program has come together, and he said he was flat on the throttle from the moment he rolled off pit road Thursday. He expects to have a strong Month of May.
“Getting the pole has put me in a different mindset for here, which is the kind of mindset I came here with a rookie (in 2006),” he said. “I learned from dad and Bryan that it’s all about getting a comfortable race car and 500 miles, 200 laps.
“I really put myself in tough situations in practice as a rookie for the race. I think since then I have a little bit of Mario in me that I want to be quickest all of the time, which is great, but I’ve kind of done that now … and I don’t have a mini-Borg. So, that’s the shift in mentality for me this year, to really focus on putting this thing through hell in practice to make the race no surprises, making it really comfortable in traffic, which will put us further up the grid.
“I’m focused on Lap 200 and being on top of the pylon.”
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES season begins with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst on April 17-18 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. NBC will have the coverage of the season-opening race at 3 p.m. (ET) Sunday, April 18. NBC also will air the 105th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge at 11 a.m. Sunday, May 30.