INDIANAPOLIS – Just below the Indy 500 Winners Circle at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Marco Andretti wandered up to a group of reporters Tuesday morning with an easygoing gait and a broad smile.
It’s been a while, huh?
“About a year,” Andretti said. “Give or take.”
The third-generation driver has adjusted well to a much slower pace since stepping back last year after 15 consecutive full-time seasons in the NTT IndyCar Series.
When he announced that move 17 months ago, Andretti described it as a “reset” of a racing career that had produced two victories and some agonizing near-misses and disappointments at the Brickyard (notably a razor-thin loss to Sam Hornish Jr. as a 2006 rookie; he started on the pole position in 2020 but was unable to lead a lap).
In a statement at the time, his father, Michael, alluded to the pressure that Marco had faced as “for any multi-generational athlete, it can be really challenging to find your own ground and make your own name on top of your family’s. Marco has always had the courage to chart his own path.”
Marco Andretti said Wednesday he remains very much at peace with his decision to scale back his IndyCar schedule to the Brickyard, which always has been the center of his family’s universe as the site of some triumphs and many heartbreaks for him, his father and his famous grandfather, Mario.
“What I put into it, I felt I wasn’t getting out of it for various reasons,” Marco said of racing full time in IndyCar. “But (the Indy 500) is the one I live my life around.”
The 106th Indy 500 will mark his first IndyCar start since the Brickyard last year.
His main focus in 2021 was the six-round Superstar Racing Experience, where he won in a stock car last July at Slinger Speedway in Wisconsin against a stacked field that included Tony Stewart, Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves.
Andretti’s only other major start was in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, sharing an LMP3 prototype car with his cousin Jarett (who runs the Andretti Autosport team) and Oliver Askew in the six-hour race at Watkins Glen International.
The limited schedule has been ideal for Marco, who said he has turned down “a ton of rides” in sports cars because he prefers racing in the fastest overall division without having to about worry traffic (“I don’t like looking in my mirrors ; if there’s closing rate, I want to be the guy closing”) in the slower prototypes and GT classes.
Despite racing less often, he remains a fan favorite at Indy, where he has been signing autographs this week with a smile “that is coming more natural with my decision a couple of years ago.
“I’ve been able to mold my life the way I want to do it now,” Andretti, 35, said. “And even go have fun on SRX and do fun stuff, but it still keeps me in the game. I’m not fully retired. It keeps me working, and I put all my energy into this race. I’m good without the grind of a full season.”
There are times he still misses racing, though. He attended the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach last month and was itching to be behind the wheel as the street course produced record lap times with unexpected grip. He also felt pangs watching IndyCar drivers navigate a rain-soaked Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course last week.
“I get jealous here and there,” he said. “That wet race last week, I wish I was in, that’s all me. So here and there, I’m like, ‘Oh man, I wish I was there.’ A lot of times when it’s 100 degrees, I’m good watching.”
Particularly when he still can have an impact on a race’s outcome from his home in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.
Last Saturday, Marco furiously was texting Andretti Autosport strategist Bryan Herta as the track dried during the opening laps, advising an early pit stop for Colton Herta, who had started 14th. The team made the call ahead of the field, and Herta made up 11 seconds while catapulting into the lead on Lap 5 in his first victory of the 2022 season.
Though he enjoys advising, Marco has no interest in becoming a race strategist, nor in moving into management. In his last few seasons of full-time IndyCar, he was more involved in competition and personnel moves but discovered “I think I’m more like my grandfather. I just like enjoying driving.”
But he remains hugely supportive of Andretti Autosport – especially with a Formula One program looming as a future possibility.
“I think it’s awesome,” Marco said of his father’s goal to be on the F1 grid. “It’s a potential reality right now. Every day, there’s always something that happens that, ‘Oh wow, this could happen.’ It’s been exciting. I know it’s been my grandfather’s dream. It’s putting years on his life for sure.”
While he might not share his ambition for team ownership, Marco will have one up on Michael this year – May 29 will mark his 17th Indy 500, one more start on the 2.5-mile oval than his father.
“Which is crazy to me,” Marco said. “So when he tries to tell me something, I say he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Though he was kidding, their father-son relationship often was tested years ago by in-race squabbling that eventually led to Michael removing himself from his son’s pit stand. They since have learned to work well together, and for the second consecutive year, Michael Andretti will be calling strategy for his son at the Indy 500.
“As a kid, we butted heads a lot,” Marco said. “Back then, we’d get animated on the radio – passionate on the radio – I think it really distracted a lot of people around us, and they would make mistakes because they were nervous. Now they laugh and smile when they hear us going at each other. Because they know we just want to win and are having fun and we know how to turn it off as quick as we turn it on, so we’ve been pretty good together, actually.”
Just like the Andrettis and the Brickyard. Indianapolis is virtually synonymous with the family name, and Marco was reminded on his first walk into Gasoline Alley this week that there is no place he would rather be in May.
“I actually thought it was going to take me a while, but I feel right at home,” he said. “I feel really comfortable, right up to speed. Now I’m learning to embrace everything because I think it can be a grind when (the Indy 500 is) a continuation of a season. But for me, I look forward to every part of it.”