INDIANAPOLIS – So now prosperity comes knocking, and the world turns upside down.
Two cars on the front row for the Indianapolis 500 for Andretti Autosport.
The defending IndyCar series champ (Ryan Hunter-Reay) starting seventh, and the winner of two of this season’s first four races (James Hinchcliffe) starting ninth.
Five, count ’em, five, cars starting in the first nine: Marco Andretti, rookie Carlos Munoz, EJ Viso, Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe.
Five out of nine, Marco Andretti said on Pole Day after qualifying on the outside of the front row for his dad’s race team. That has to be some kind of record.
Or maybe it’s just some seismic turning of the mojo for a segment of American motorsports royalty that’s rarely known any mojo here that wasn’t sour. There was the patriarch, Mario Andretti, winning the Indianapolis 500 in 1969, and then Dan Wheldon and Dario Franchitti winning for Michael Andretti’s race team in 2005 and 2007. And that was it.
Everything else has been dashed hopes and broken chances.
Until now, perhaps.
Now Marco comes to Indy second in points and leading the IndyCar series in top-five and top-10 finishes and number of races running at the finish (four). Hinchcliffe has won twice and Hunter-Reay once, making Andretti Autosport three for four, so far. And Munoz has been one of the sensations of May, qualifying in the middle of the front row at 228.342 mph.
Right now I don’t have any words to describe how happy I am, Munoz said when Pole Day was done. I’m just a rookie. To be in the front row, (it’s) just a dream. But I have a lot of confidence.
As does everyone these days around the Andretti Autosport garages. And if Hunter-Reay winning the championship last fall on the season’s last day was the booster shot for all that, the real inoculation began in November 2009, when Michael Andretti bought out partners Kim Green and Kevin Savoree, and Andretti Green became Andretti Autosport.
Until that happened, a race team that had won titles with Tony Kanaan in 2004 and Wheldon in 2005 seemed to be coming apart. In 2009, for the first time since the team was formed in 2003, Andretti Green failed to win an IndyCar race. None of its four drivers – Marco, Kanaan, Danica Patrick and Hideki Mutoh – finished higher than fifth in the points. Something had to change.
Something clearly has.
I think we made a lot of great changes over the winter affecting the results we’re getting now, Michael Andretti said last month. I think one of the goals was to get all four cars competitive, more competitive. Ryan was the guy that seemed to stand out the most last year. So we wanted to get more consistency with the other guys.
I think we’ve improved there.
With Hinchcliffe and Marco in particular. Hinchcliffe had four top fives and eight top 10s for Andretti last year after coming over from Newman-Haas, but he also had seven finishes of 12th or worse and led just 37 laps all season. Marco’s season was even rougher: Three top 10s and 62 laps led, 59 of them in one race.
A year later, he comes to race day at Indy as the odds-on favorite.
It’s 500 miles, and a lot happens in that 500 miles, Marco said this month. Obviously I’ll be looking to be as dominant as we can. But I’ll just be focusing on the race car.
Easier to do these days.