Marco and Michael thrilled with Iowa victory
28 June 2011
Sometimes you have to stop and remind yourself how quickly things move in the world of motorsport. Only a month ago, Andretti Autosport were in the depths of despair, having failed to qualify two of their series drivers for the all-important Indianapolis 500 and reduced to the ignominy of buying a seat from AJ Foyt for Ryan Hunter-Reay. It was such a disastrous display that many were wondering if this was the end of the road for the team, especially with Danica Patrick set to quit and move to NASCAR.
Fast forward a month and suddenly Andretti Autosport are back in victory lane, with Marco Andretti taking his first win in almost five years (and 78 races). And unlike his sole previous victory at Sonoma in 2006 which was the result of a fuel conservation strategy, it wasn't luck or happenstance that put them there at Iowa: Marco had been fast from the green flag, making up positions from the start and then taking on the likes of Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan wheel-to-wheel - and beating them in a flat-out fight. It was probably the best drive of Marco's IndyCar Series career to date.
"It was fun racing!", said Marco. "It's always nice at the front. You know you can always trust those guys. It was close, it was dicy, but that's what the fans want."
What really impressed observers was the way he had bided his time before overtaking Kanaan, and then intelligently played the veteran Brazilian driver - luring him into an overtaking move that played into Marco's hands and allowed him to dive to the inside and break Kanaan's momentum and end his comeback challenge.
"I think the last 30 laps I was really asking how many laps to go because I didn't want to wait until three laps to go to make the move because if he would have chopped me or something, I would have been way back kind of like what I did to him," said Marco. "I wanted to kind of be in the driver's seat and kind of make the move when he was least expecting it, and from there we had to really put our head down. I got the lead a couple times so I kind of knew what I needed to stay on the bottom. I was really aggressive with the tools in the car and stuff, and we made it work.
"I was trying a couple times on the outside, but I knew I had to go on the inside when he was least expecting it, like he did to me a couple times," he explained. "It was good racing for a while. We were clean, and you know, if I did anything mean to him, I'm sure he understands it's for the win, and I wouldn't be belly aching if he chopped me. It's for first place."
Marco knows Kanaan well, the two of them having been team mates up until the end of 2010. Kanaan was happy for Marco's win and said "He did a great job. It was a great battle, a great race," although he was less appreciative of that final move: "It was pretty clean until he chopped me off." Still, he was one of the first to arrive in victory lane to congratulate the winner.
Marco insisted that he hadn't changed his driving style to achieve this win and it was just everything coming together at last. "All I've gained is experience. We've been in a position to win a lot of races we've come up short, so it's more, I think, relieved is the word. You know, I never doubted the team, never doubted myself. I always said as soon as the stars were aligned and a little bit of luck goes my way that we'd be sitting here.
"I think it's just the drought, so to speak, just made me appreciate what we have here in IndyCar racing," he continued. "From the drivers to the teams, it just makes us appreciate being here that much more because we know we beat those guys ... I'm going to be looking to make a habit of this, that's for sure. You know, it definitely gets the monkey off our back a bit because, you know, we can quiet a lot of my doubters at the same time. It feels so good."
Marco's father - and car owner - Michael Andretti was just as delighted with the win as his son, and quipped "I'm beginning to really love Iowa!
"It was a big win for us for sure," Michael continued, going on to refer to the turbulent few weeks since the disastrous Indianapolis campaign for the team. "I think a lot of people were really pounding on us and thought we were down and out, but I can tell you this team has got tons of fight in it, and we are never out. We got together and made a few little changes in the team, and everybody just rallied and everybody worked their butts off, and here we are. I'm just proud of everybody on this team.
"I think it's huge, and hopefully we can get the momentum going here. It's always nice to get a win. I think it just lifts everybody within the team and hopefully we can just now ride this momentum. I'd love to see him winning in Toronto. That would be just huge."
"Dad is like a god up there, seven wins!" added Marco. "But I'm looking to make my mark up there, for sure."
The return of an Andretti to victory lane after such a long gap is indeed a hugely popular result everywhere and not just in Canada; and it capped what is possibly the rejuvenated IndyCar Series' most successful weekend outside of Indianapolis since Randy Bernard took over as CEO.
"I think it's going to be a popular win, and I think we need to get him up there winning more than just this one," said Michael Andretti. "And hopefully Graham [Rahal, son of former champion and Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal] will get up there, too, and get a little rivalry going. I think that sort of thing is always good!"
"We had a packed house tonight," said Marco. "It was good to see. I'm glad we could put on a bit of a show anyway." And the Iowa Speedway did indeed look close to its 30,000 capacity for the thrilling night's entertainment, compared with the deeply disappointing turn-out at Milwaukee the week before which saw the stadium attract only around 15,000 fans or a third of the facility's capacity.
Things also looked good on the TV front, with US cable network Versus reporting a 35 per cent year-on-year increase in viewers, as the coverage once again was boosted by the addition of Dan Wheldon to the commentary team, and a striking if somewhat stilted and rushed first attempt at a BBC F1-style "grid walk" before the race.
In fact the evening race was such an overall hit with everyone concerned that there was immediate talk that perhaps it would host next year's "double header" style event, staged this year at Texas but with problems related to the timing because of the June heat in Texas that meant the race didn't end until almost midnight on the East Coast of America.
But such advance plans are for another day. In the meantime, IndyCar is just celebrating the return of one of its most famous family names to the top of the box score.