Andretti: Quietly Confident
March 21, 2007 | 2:00 P.M. EST
Heading into the Indianapolis 500 last season, Andretti looked like a mere rookie driver – not like the third link in the legendary family that bred 1978 Formula One World Champion Mario Andretti (his grandfather) and 1991 CART (now Champ Car) champion Michael Andretti (his father).
But then came that infamous race in May, where he finished just .0635 seconds behind winner Sam Hornish in one of the most thrilling closing laps in the history of the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing."
It was not only his first top-10 finish of his IRL IndyCar Series career, but it offered a glimpse of what the young driver could accomplish.
"I didn't have that many until the whole month of May," said Andretti. "Before the race I said the NYSE car can be a potential winner. I won't just say that to make me look good, it's really what I felt. That proved it. So that gave me more confidence, too, finishing second. From then on, it was just getting more experience and getting more comfortable."
His new-found comfort definitely showed following Indianapolis. The remainder of Andretti’s freshman year was a mixture of positive performances and learning experiences – with the top accomplishment being his victory in the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway, where he became only the second rookie in IndyCar Series history to win a race in his first year of competition.
It is a boost of self-assurance that he carries into the upcoming 2007 IRL season, which begins this weekend with the running of the XM Satellite Radio 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
"Well, in my mind, I just have a little more of that quiet confidence because last year. You know, I just kept an open mind. I had no idea what to expect. I mean, that's the beauty of being a rookie. Having raced at those particular tracks in an IndyCar is going to help me substantially. I just can't wait," said Andretti, who celebrated his 20th birthday on March 13.
"I think Andretti Green is going to be pretty good across the board on short ovals and road courses. I don't want to speak too soon, but I think we might have found it on the bigger ovals. I'm definitely looking forward to the championship."
Even with his championship aspirations, the driver of the No. 26 NYSE Dallara-Honda has his sights set firmly on one event in particular – the one that started it all for him last season.
"I think (my priority) it's the 500 really. I think both of them are a reality this year, I really do," said the Nazareth, Pennsylvania native. "I think we found, I don't want into speak too soon, but I think we found a little bit of what we needed on the bigger ovals. I think a championship is definitely possible, if we find that consistency. In Indy there's one thing left to do."
The future holds many great things for Andretti – including a possible seat in Formula One like his grandfather and father before him – so keep an eye on him in 2007 and watch how big a difference one race made.
"This year I just come back with even more confidence," said Andretti. "We'll put ourselves up against anyone. I wish I could guarantee we won't be chasing red cars (Penske Racing and Target Chip Ganassi Racing) this year. I think if you ask me, it's going to be the most competitive year in IndyCars. It's not just going to be three teams in my mind. I think anybody out there is going to be able to win a race. It's going to be very tough."