100th start for Marco Andretti
Marco Andretti may have had the toughest task of any young open-wheel driver in history.
|Andretti's Dr. Pepper Ten sponsored car for Las Vegas|
The 24-year-old Nazareth, Pa., driver had to follow his grandfather and father in the sport. That may not sound too difficult unless your last name is Andretti.
Marco came to the IndyCar racing in 2006 after his grandfather, Mario, one of the world's all-time greatest drivers and a racing icon, and his father, Michael, an IndyCar legend and the third winningest driver in the sport's history, had established their prestigious careers.
Now, this Sunday, Oct. 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships, Marco will reach his own career accomplishment when he starts in his 100th IZOD IndyCar Series event.
The youngest Andretti will drive the new No. 26 Dr Pepper TEN car in the 200-lap season finale at the fast, high-banked 1.5-mile oval north of the famed Las Vegas Strip, as he seeks his second 2011 victory with Andretti Autosport.
"I've yet to win on a mile and a half, but we've run strong," said Andretti, currently eighth in the series point standings. "I think that's what really keeps us in it. We just came off a strong run at Kentucky. It was a tough situation to fall out that way [with a pit incident]. But my mindset is that we win right now. The series as competitive as it's ever been."
It is hard for both Marco and Michael to believe that the youngest Andretti has recorded 100 starts since he is just 24.
"It doesn't feel like 100," said Marco. "I've been having fun, so obviously time has been flying. I'm a little disappointed with just two wins. I was wishing I would have more to show for it. But it's making me work harder than ever. I was competitive last week, running right with Dario [Franchitti] for the lead. But things can happen during a race."
Team owner Michael can't imagine this will be Marco's 100th start, either.
"It's crazy. I can't believe it. It's 100 races already? It's amazing," said Michael, a 42-time race winner in IndyCar competition. "I'm very proud of what he's done. He's been very strong and it's been fun to watch him grow and learn. He's getting there. He is getting to the point where he's going to become a major factor in every race he's in, and you know, it's really cool to see it happening."
Marco knows that despite a victory at Iowa Speedway in June, it is more difficult to repeat a winner's circle appearance.
"The hardest thing to do after a win is to win again," admits Marco. "But just when you think everything is going well, then you come out next weekend and you're nowhere. But that's just because of how competitive it is (in the series). Everybody has to do their part on a given weekend. At the same time there's no magic, either. I think as far as the teams go, development-wise, you just have to keep up with the Joneses and then the driver just has to show up ready and be on his game, as well."
Marco believes he is working harder than ever to get back to victory lane.
"Leading laps and stuff like that, that's what keeps you in it, knowing that you can win," said Andretti. "Obviously it is tough to get a win after a win, but at the same time it definitely gives everybody confidence to keep moving forward, and actually as a driver, it's making me even hungrier."
Many in racing have seen the development of Marco as a driver, but no one as closely as three Andretti Autosport crew members who have worked on Andretti's car for all 100 starts. Don Skinner, Jason Richardson and Scott Marks have been a part of every Marco Andretti IZOD IndyCar Series race, and they have seen some exciting moments.
"Marco's first Indy 500  was the wildest for me," said Skinner, a longtime open-wheel veteran. "When Marco shut the door in turn three on Sam [Hornish Jr.] going into the final lap, I thought he had won it. It was only his fourth Indy car race. I'm not sure he would have let Sam pass him now with his current experience. But it was very emotional that day."
Marco had to pass Michael for the lead in his first Indy 500 and he later won his first IndyCar Series race that year at Sonoma, Calif.
"Sonoma was a big win because it was his first one," said Richardson. "But this year's Iowa race was the best for me. Seeing Marco drive to the front of the field and win the race. It just showed how he has developed as a driver."
"That first Indy 500 was a tough one," said Marks. "We thought he had the win. He gets some advice from his Grandpa and his dad and you can see how he has improved as a driver. Just last week at Kentucky, Marco was driving well and in position to win. But bad luck found us again. Marco drives hard and you'll see him more competitive with each race. That is great to see as a crew member."
Marco's primary sponsor, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, will unveil a special livery for Andretti's 100th start at Las Vegas with the introduction of the new Dr Pepper TEN, a 10-calorie soda geared toward men who want the full flavor of Dr Pepper without the calories.
A special presentation with Andretti, his crew and the No. 26 car will be held on Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. PDT in the Las Vegas Motor Speedway winner's circle of the Neon Garage area before the IZOD IndyCar Series championship final race.
For the first 100 fans at the Neon Garage presentation, Dr Pepper TEN will present a commemorative autographed hat from Marco to each fan as well as participation in a "100th Start" photo with Andretti and his crew.
A special media photo session also is set to commemorate Marco's 100th start. The media will have the opportunity to shoot Marco, his crew and the No. 26 Dr Pepper TEN car on Thursday, Oct. 13, at 10:45 a.m. PDT in the pit lane at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Practice runs for the season finale, the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships, begin at 11 a.m. Thursday with qualifying set for Friday afternoon at 3 p.m.
The IZOD INDYCAR World Championships will get the green flag Sunday at 12:43 p.m. PDT and will be televised live on ABC-TV.