After a 33-year wait, a member of the storied Andretti family will once again start on the pole and lead the Indianapolis 500 field to green. And although he wasn’t the one behind the wheel, no one seemed more excited about that than the family patriarch, Mario Andretti, who won the 1969 Indy 500 and was last on the pole in 1987.
It was Mario’s grandson, 33-year-old Marco Andretti, who won the 2020 Indy 500 pole Sunday during the Fast Nine Shootout, thanks to his four-lap run of two minutes, 35.7985 seconds, averaging 231.068 miles per hour. Driving for Andretti Autosport, his father Michael Andretti’s team, Marco edged Scott Dixon — the five-time IndyCar Series champion and 2008 Indy 500 winner — by .017 miles per hour, which, by speed, is the third-smallest margin in the race’s history, according to the series.
Mario — the only driver to win the Indy 500, NASCAR’s Daytona 500 and a Formula 1 world championship — was not at the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway to watch Marco qualify in person, but he was ecstatic.
“I’m happier now than I’ve ever been all during my days at Indy, believe it or not,” 80-year-old Mario told NBC Sports after Marco won the pole. “When he crossed that line and he was on pole, I jumped so high that I hit my head on the ceiling, and it’s a nine-foot ceiling.”
It’s been 33 years since an Andretti got to lead the field of 33 into Turn 1 at #IMS. @MarioAndretti talked with @NBCSports during Sunday’s #Indy500 practice about his grandson @MarcoAndretti winning the pole on Sunday.#INDYCAR | @GainbridgeLife pic.twitter.com/qUacIPOSUN
— Indianapolis Motor Speedway (@IMS) August 16, 2020
When asked where Marco’s Indy 500 pole ranks in his mind, Mario said:
“I don’t know how to to explain it as far as the excitement because, you know, you’re here biting your fingernails. You know, usually, you’re nervous and so forth, but you know you have control of your own situation when you’re doing it yourself. But sitting here and watching it and being so helpless, I was never so nervous in my life because I felt he had a shot at it.”
Marco nearly won the 2006 Indy 500 as 19-year-old rookie, but at the last second, Sam Hornish Jr. passed him and took the checkered flag. And most recently, he had a poor performance in the 2019 Indy 500 and finished 26th.
While winning the Indy 500 is a massive accomplishment for any driver, it might mean a bit more for Marco, who has two career wins but hasn’t won a race since the 2011 season. This was also his first race pole since 2018 and sixth overall, and going back to the 2016 season, Marco has recorded just three top-5 finishes.
Marco was only a couple months old the last time a member of his family started the Indy 500 on the pole, and his grandfather was beaming with pride. More of Mario Andretti’s reaction, via The Athletic:
“It’s something I’ve been wanting to happen so badly. And he did it in championship fashion under not-the-best conditions, but he overcame them somehow. He showed confidence in the car and the team gave him what he needed, so I’m very, very proud.
“I was happier for Marco than I’ve ever been for anything I’ve done myself. What a great moment for him. He earned it, earned it, earned it. What a fabulous job he did.”
The 104th running of the Indy 500 is Sunday, August 23 at 1 p.m. ET on NBC.
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