Photo: Shawn Gritzmacher/INDYCAR

2019 IndyCar Series Preview: Marco Andretti

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the NTT IndyCar Series season for the full-time drivers in the series leading into the 2019 season opener at St. Petersburg on March 10.

Age: 31

Team: Andretti Herta Autosport

Years in IndyCar: 13

Career Wins: 2

Career Podiums: 20

Marco Andretti’s 2018 campaign was a step in the right direction after changes were made that saw him move from his father Michael Andretti’s main team to Bryan Herta’s single-car alliance, and results showed. More importantly, it allowed Marco to focus on driving his No. 98 Andretti Herta Autosport Honda, and not so much on the engineering side after seasons of mediocrity that saw him outside the top-10 championship standings the previous two seasons.

Among Marco’s accomplishments was ending his pole drought dating back to Pocono in 2013 when he scored his fifth career NTT IndyCar Series pole at the opening race in Belle Isle. It also turned out to be his best performance of the 17-round schedule, scoring a season-high fourth-place and led 22 laps.

Although his 28-race streak of running at the finish ended in on the opening lap at Portland (the penultimate round) after going upside down in a multi-car crash, Andretti was still able to finish ninth in the final standings, his ninth top-10 season and his first since 2015.

Now entering his 14th IndyCar season, Marco’s hoping to end two more droughts, and those are visiting victory lane (Iowa 2011) and finishing on the podium (Fontana 2015).

More importantly, capturing that elusive victory in the Indianapolis 500. A race that grandfather Mario won 50 years ago, but also a a race father Michael wasn’t able to accomplish, and even Marco himself, who came seconds of winning it as a 19-year-old rookie in 2006.

Compared to his early years, Marco’s main emphasis is now race day (on May 26) instead of worrying about his teammates’ fast pace or anything that goes down beforehand, including testing and qualifying.

“I think what my experience at Indy has given me is (that) I used to stress and lose sleep through the month − today was good, today was bad − none of that matters, Sunday matters and that’s it,” said Marco.

“I mean, qualifying matters now because there’s points, but it does not matter for the race. I’ve started on front row, I’ve started towards the back. It’s about Sunday and having a good Sunday. I don’t stress less during the month. The preseason testing, I used to be bummed when my teammates were quicker. Now, I know where to find a time to come back and just get it. So it’s about knowing when it’s important to go. 500 miles, you run 400 of it different than you run the last 100, so it’s like two different races.”

Outside of having that perfect Sunday at Indy, Marco’s biggest goal is to score wins on both road and street courses, where he’s shown some of his best drives in years, with a sixth at Long Beach and closing out 2018 with a fifth at Sonoma.

With Herta being the head honcho at AHA, it hasn’t meant the senior driver’s role has diminished, but rather grown. Marco explained that it’s just worked out that way over the past few years, but as his experience in IndyCar grew, he further understands how the business side of things works, and although ownership isn’t on his radar in the foreseeable future, he enjoys that side of the sport.

“I think it’s been so refreshing for me because a lot of times as a driver, you question certain decisions but you’re not privy to why they made the decisions,” said Marco. “There’s a weird area because there’s a lot of times where I’d find out things just cause he’s my dad and we talk about business things and I know the ins and outs of the financial side of it, but it got weird on the competitive side because I would know things before some of the team bosses and then that wouldn’t jive.

“So now just being privy to those meetings and discussions, I have even more trust and the people I’m around because it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s why he did it’ or you get the full story. It’s so cool to be more of a part of that. I’m probably going to find stuff out anyway, whether I’m involved or not but now it’s kind of globally known that I know these things. It works out better to, it’s a sport I love so much and it’s a team I love so much. It’s cool to be a part of, you know, ‘Oh, you know, this guy, this crew guy, this, this and this could be cool. Just could we get, and it’s to build a team around you.”

Marco added that he isn’t a guy to ask his father on what needs to be done to make his Honda faster, and the pressure has eased off for both. Furthermore, the 31-year-old sees the business being influential going forward, which has him excited despite feeling weird about the matter.

“Now probably in Dad’s words were just like, ‘Now it’s your thing,’ said Marco. “It does take pressure off him because he’s not one to push for me because he doesn’t want to make it look like it’s only for me. But it’s hard to do well when you don’t have that. You need everything. You need everything in place.

“Now I can push for myself in a diplomatic way, knowing all the facts and not just calling and say, ‘why are you doing this?’

“So it just works better, and so now it’s more like my baby instead because it was just a weird place to be because I don’t like ever calling dad and like, ‘Hey, we got to do that.’ It’s just because I’m not going to ever have him pull rank and the team, and so now it’s like I can work with them rather than like, not against him, but it was just weird. It’s more organic now.”

Goals, Indy, and business aside, Marco also believes that running at the new Circuit of the Americas is similar to Barber Motorsports Park because it has a drastic, yet fun challenge, where he explained that a driver can’t lose ground.

“You can’t really give up time. You gotta be good in one. It looks like a track similar to Barber, where you’re going to have like two different setups in two different parts of the track. It’s about finding that balance and where are we going to need to be,” Marco on the 3.41-mile circuit.

“The first sector looks tricky, but I think that’s cool. I think it’s going to be tough to get right. It’s a new challenge. It’s somewhere where we don’t come and have a thousand laps, and so I like it. I welcome that challenge. I think it’ll be fun. It looks like a place where if you mess up one little corner and the first sector, it spirals, and it can get pretty bad, so it’s about not making mistakes.”

Known as the home of Formula One’s United States Grand Prix since 2012, Marco stated that he and the rest of the competitors must make the INDYCAR Classic in Austin, Texas, a staple ground for the sport over the next half century.

“We just need a shot to go out and make things happen, and we’ll make some memories,” said Marco. “I’m sure 25 of us crazies out there will make something happen. We got to create memories and stuff like that. It’s a state-of-the-art facility as you know. We have a bunch of those, but when you go there, you could just tell it was top notch and it’s an honor to be able to compete. So yeah, hopefully good things to come.”

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. He's also covered Idaho Athletics and high school football as both a writer and videographer. Additionally, he spent 2017 writing several racing columns as an independent journalist. Luis does video and photography, and is a fan of Seattle sports, a music critic and a motivator who wants to impact people's lives.