The Indianapolis 500 isn’t until Sunday, but Marco Andretti is already making race history — and family history too.
After a strong performance this weekend during the initial qualifying session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for one of the biggest races in the world, Andretti won the Fast Nine Shootout for the prestigious pole position to lead the field to green.
And that means the 104th Indy 500 will mark the first time since 1987 that a member of the Andretti family will start on the pole. And 33-year-old Marco, looking to follow his grandfather, legendary racer Mario Andretti, could be the first Andretti in more than five decades to win it all.
Monday, For The Win spoke with Marco — who drives the No. 98 Honda for his father Michael’s team, Andretti Autosport — about winning the pole, his chances of winning the Indy 500 (1 p.m. ET, NBC) and whether or not the Andretti Curse, supposedly precluding the family from winning the race, is real.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
(Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)
You were the last driver to hit the track in the Fast Nine Shootout for the Indy 500 pole. What went through your mind as you climbed into the car to get ready?
I tried to clear my mind because there are so many things that we have to think about, and I just was so focused on the task at hand. Instead of thinking of the what-ifs, it was just: Execute. It was windy, so inside the car, I was very busy on the cockpit tools.
It came down to a gear shift, doing it just perfectly from first to second yesterday. We were so close so I just knew that if we nailed it and did everything right that we’d be on pole, and we did.
With such a storied family history in racing and your grandfather, Mario Andretti, winning the 1969 Indy 500 and three Indy poles, what does it mean to you to be the first Andretti to start this race on the pole in 33 years?
It’s pretty cool. I was two months old, and I was probably here, actually. I was born in March, so yeah, May 33 years ago. That’s crazy. They told me that stat yesterday, and it’s super special. Hopefully, I can be the first one in 51 years to win.
Who was more excited for you or your grandfather?
Maybe him, to be honest. It was awesome. I come here to win the race, but yesterday did feel like a win to me regardless. The support’s been crazy. I think the whirlwind that comes with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in combination with my family has just been incredible with the support — even with my peers and competitors.
I haven’t talked to him yet, but I saw an interview that he did. He said he jumped so high he hit the ceiling. You know, my grandfather, I don’t think he’s that tall, so I don’t know. He must have been pretty excited.
Marco and Mario Andretti before qualifying for the 2015 Indianapolis 500. (AP Photo/Sam Riche)
So is the Andretti Curse real?
I keep saying: Not in August, it’s not. So far, it’s just been incredible. Every time we go out on the track, we’ve been the quickest. So I’m trying not to assess it very much. I’m trying to just keep it going. I think our family plays with it with the media because it’s a huge story, but when we really talk internally, we’re really a blessed family. We’re unscathed. This is a very dangerous sport, and we’ve been able to do it and not get hurt. So I think we’re pretty lucky.
You said you haven’t talked with your grandfather, Mario, yet, but what did your dad, Michael, have to say after you won the pole?
We didn’t really have to say much to each other. I think the pair of us both knew. We hugged each other, but I think we both were just in such a sigh of relief because we knew how much I needed that, and it was right on time. The way this season’s gone, we’ve been super fast, but there’s been so much stuff go wrong that it’s just been like, “What’s going to happen next?”
But thank God for yesterday. It really lit a fire and ignited the team again. You could see the pep in their step, and that’s what we needed because now, I think we’re going to be tough to beat.
Have people outside of the racing world reached out to congratulate you? I saw Ice-T gave you a shoutout on Twitter.
— ICE T (@FINALLEVEL) August 16, 2020
Yeah, I have a lot of really cool friends, and the support has just been incredible. I was at dinner last night, and I left dinner and got in bed with 500 text messages, and I’m like, “Alright, I’ll answer a few.” And then I ended up getting through them all, and I’m like, “Oh my god, it’s three in the morning.”
How would you compare your chance to win this year from the pole with past years?
I was talking to Dad about this. In 15 years, this might be my best shot at it, and in 15 years, I was close to winning the race maybe four times. But I think as far as dominance goes, this has got to be No. 1. It’s been incredible. Every time we go out, it’s just been quick.
Speed is the No. 1 hurdle when you get to the speedway. It’s just the horsepower. Are we going to be fast? And we have that. So now, it’s about executing everything in our power, and then if the stars align, we win the race. So we’ll see. We’re just going to try to do our job.
Have you decided what kind of milk you’ll drink if you win?
Whole milk. Originally, I said buttermilk because Louis Meyer did it, and then my friend gave me some. I’m not drinking that after a hot race. Man, it’s gross.
Did you happen to see the video of Team Penske drivers cheering you on and celebrating your pole?
Before practice our guys were watching #Indy500 qualifying.
— Team Penske (@Team_Penske) August 16, 2020
I was just so humbled to see that. It was so cool. Those guys are goofs. They’re so funny. And then when they stopped celebrating, they were like, “Wait, why are we celebrating?” It was so funny to see.
I think a lot of my friends and peers — they’ve seen a lot of heartbreak that I’ve gone through in this sport and been so close on so many wins and races and come up short. So it felt really good to me to see that.
What do you think that says about the IndyCar community when your competitors in one of the biggest races in the world are cheering for you to start out front?
I think it’s a community, but I think it’s that I have some pretty cool friends. I think that’s what it means because you don’t see that very often.
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