Season Review: Marco Andretti

At the start of every season, the word “Potential” is thrown around in an attempt to describe each individual rookie in racing. It is a word that puts a lot of pressure on young drivers to perform above and beyond expectations as they attempt to prove to the world that not only do they belong, but that they indeed do have the “potential” to become a champion.

But for Marco Andretti, the 19-year-old driver of the No. 26 ArcaEx Dallara-Honda, that doesn’t describe the half of it.

As the third generation driver of the famous Andretti clan, the same lineage that bred legendary grandfather Mario and father Michael amongst others, it wasn’t enough to show potential in his first season of IRL IndyCar Series competition – he had to demonstrate immediate results in order to keep the luster firmly on one of the premier racing families in America.

As the youngster learned early in his first season, that feat wasn’t going to be easy to accomplish.

Following disappointing races at Homestead-Miami, St. Petersburg and Motegi, the Nazareth, Pennsylvania native headed to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the hopes of recapturing some of his previous magic (in 2005, Andretti won the Indy Pro Series event on the Indianapolis road course) in order to silence his growing number of critics who did not see the family legacy extending down to him.

On May 28, He did just that.

In a sequence of events that can only be described as surreal, the Bombardier Rookie of the Year candidate found himself ahead of two-time series champion Sam Hornish Jr. and behind his father with only four laps remaining in the Indianapolis 500, the crown jewel event on the IRL calendar.

After staying behind his father Michael, Marco pulled into the lead of the prestigious event with less than five miles remaining.

Unfortunately, it was not to be on that day as eventual series champion Hornish was able to pass Andretti at the last possible second, winning the race by the slim margin of just .0635 of a second – the second closest finish in 90 years.

Although obviously bitterly disappointed at the final outcome, Andretti could take solace in the fact that his second place finish was the best by a member of his family in their rookie season - Mario Andretti finished third in 1965, Michael Andretti fifth in 1984, Jeff Andretti 15th in 1991 and John Andretti 21st in 1988.

By any measure, Marco’s driving at the famed venue proved that the family driving genes were indeed passed down to him.

From there, the remainder of Andretti’s freshman year was a mixture of positive performances and learning experiences – with the pinnacle coming at the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway.

With Rookie of the Year honors firmly in his control, Andretti went on to create even more history by becoming only the second rookie driver in series history (Jim Guthrie in 1997) to win a race, using fuel strategy to his benefit en route to the checkered flag. The records didn’t stop there, however, as he also became the youngest driver to win a major open wheel race at 19 years, five months and 14 days.

"I couldn't be happier because we fulfilled all the goals that we set at the beginning of the year," said Andretti. "Rookie-of-the-Year at Indy, the series. We got our win, you know. So definitely it's the best feeling all year for sure."

Although he stumbled to an 18th place finish at the season ending race at Chicagoland Speedway, Andretti’s victory at Infineon combined with four top fives and seven top-10s helped him finish seventh in the season points standings – ahead of perennial championship contenders Dario Franchitti (eighth), Bryan Herta (11th), Scott Sharp (12th), and 2005 ROTY Danica Patrick (ninth).

As Andretti prepares for his second season of competition in the IRL, he knows that he is beyond “Potential.” He is expected by both the media and his fans to improve while staying at his already high level of performance – anything less would be a disappointment.

Can Marco Andretti become a championship driver in 2007 like so many of his family members have been in the past? It all starts "under the lights" at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 24, 2007.

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