By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
On the 25th anniversary weekend of Mario Andretti’s 52nd and final INDYCAR Series win, his grandson Marco carried the famous black and white Newman-Haas colors that both Mario and Marco’s dad, Michael, drove for many seasons during Saturday’s Desert Diamond Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway.
The hope of charging to a third career win looked possible early on after jumping up four spots from his 20th-place qualifying effort at the start. Despite the early climb up the running order, the night didn’t provide the celebration and performance Marco would’ve liked, pushing his car all night and forcing him to settle for 12th as the highest lapped car of the field.
“Nice work to the Oberto Circle K crew for getting me in and out of the pits smoothly all night,” said Marco. “We had a big day ahead of us from the start, starting 20th after a dropped skid in qualifying.”
Despite his qualifying misfortune, Marco came into the race confident about his car in race trim. When the green flag dropped to begin the 250-lap event he wasted no time, prowling for an early top-10 spot.
Entering Turn 1, Marco went three wide and passed both Ed Carpenter and Spencer Pigot. By the third lap the veteran had moved up to 16th as he quietly stayed on the lead lap.
But for most of the first green flag run he ran 17th, fading behind the leaders as he dealt with understeer.
When the first of two cautions came out on Lap 40 for Pietro Fittipaldi’s slight contact into the Turn 4 wall, Marco and the rest of the lead lap cars pitted, where he gained spots out of pit road to restart in 14th. Two laps later, Sebastien Bourdais served a drive-through penalty, elevating Marco up to 13th, where he would spent most of the night.
Marco complained over the radio about his car’s handling over the ensuing runs. He brought his No. 98 Orberto Circle K/Curb Honda to the pits on Lap 118, adding tire pressure and kept his car inside the top-15.
From there light attrition propelled Marco a couple of track positions, but he ultimately fell a lap down after his final green flag stop on Lap 182. He gained a lone spot on Lap 229 when second place Ed Jones went up across the track and hit the wall in Turn 3 to force the event’s final caution.
Still a lap down from the leaders, Marco relinquished his spot to pit twice under caution. Other cars pitted at different laps which improved Marco up to 14th for the final restart. The race restarted with 7 laps to go and Marco mirrored the start of the race, gaining a couple of spots before winding up 12th.
The third-generation driver left the 1.022-mile oval 10th in points, losing two spots and falling 37 markers behind points leader Josef Newgarden.
“Tonight, I think we were just down on COP all day,” Marco added. “The number was just so low that we didn’t trust it – I think we were around five percent low off of what my teammates were running. We were just way behind on front wing all day and just kind of hanging on.
“I’m not thrilled to finish P12, but with what we were working with all day it was a decent result for us. We pushed the (No.) 98 to its limits tonight for sure.”
Marco and the rest of his No. 98 Andretti-Herta Autosport team will look for redemption at the prestigious Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in California on April 15th.
In his last trip in Southern California, Marco retired early due to an electrical failure, finishing in 20th after 14 laps despite showing strong pace early on. His best effort was 6th in his first attempt in 2009, and he has since added three top-10s to his resume at the historic 1.968-mile street circuit.