Monday, January 24, 2011

Take a Step Forward, Marco

In an interview on the Trackside radio show Thursday night, Marco Andretti told hosts Kevin Lee and Curt Cavin that he was feeling pretty confident about his 2011 season.

He has reason to be optimistic as 2010 was arguably the best of his five-season INDYCAR career. Though his best finish of the season was third (Indy, Texas, Chicago), he scored a career-high number of points with 392 and had just one DNF (Brazil) in 17 events.

And as he also mentioned on Trackside, his sponsor situation seems to be no longer up in the air, as Venom Energy drink has signed on for three more seasons.

So with all of that good stuff going on, and former teammate Tony Kanaan leaving Andretti Autosport for DeFerran Dragon Racing this winter, 2011 is a crucial season for the third-generation driver.

"We've been working really hard," Andretti told Trackside after a day of testing at Sebring. "My friend asked me the other day 'what do we look forward to, why are we more pumped this year than last year?'. I said that simply, there were four wins I should have had last year if everything had went right with the team where we lead outright and had the race in control, and for whatever reason the race slipped away.

"If we just check off those boxes and get what we did wrong last year right, without even gaining we are in contention."

He went on to say that with Kanaan gone he is prepared to take on the face of the team, and that he responds well when more is put on his shoulders.

Now, I still don't know if he is quite ready, as I mentioned in a post here about a month ago. That's a lot to ask of someone who turns 24 two weeks before the season opens at St. Petersburg, especially someone who has struggled with consistency in the past.
Who does that this season for AA, I don't know. Still, Marco can show for the first time that perhaps he might be capable of being the man for the job in the very near future.

Just like Graham Rahal, it's hard to believe that Marco is still very young, given his five years in the series and 82 career starts. His was just two months past his 19th birthday when he had that spectacular down-to-the-wire duel with Sam Hornish at Indy, falling just over a car length short of becoming by far the race's youngest winner when Hornish made a dramatic pass on the front straight to beat him to the stripe.

By contrast, his dad Michael was 21 when he made his debut at the Speedway, and grandpa Mario was 25. He had a lot put on his shoulders at a young age 1) because of his last name and the fact he drives for his dad and 2) his close finish at Indy in 2006.

The latter, in hindsight, might have been one of the worst things to happen to Marco, as that and his win at Infineon later on in the season set a bar that was probably too high for him to clear at the time. The spotlight has always been on him, and his wrecks, broken halfshafts and other incidents -- not to mention the drama and infightinig that has sometimes gone on in the AA camp between Marco, Kanaan and Danica Patrick -- have happened on one of open wheel's largest stages.

He definitely had the talent and success to come to the big leagues when he did, but that doesn't complete the entire equation. Patience and on-track maturity also figure into the mix, and those are two things he didn't always exhibit.

Last year was a growing-up year for Marco. He drove well and for maybe the first time took more interest in his role with fans, sponsors and the business side of the sport. He's certainly always had the talent, it was just a matter of time for the rest of the package to come to him. This year might be the year that it happens.

1 comment:

  1. You’re right—it’s easy to forget Marco’s only 24. A lot of times I catch myself thinking he’s in his late 20s.

    He’s got some maturation to do, but at the same time, he was close—very close—last year to winning multiple races. Does it happen this year? The dynamic on that team is different now, and I don’t hazard to guess how it’ll change things, but it should be interesting. I think he’ll be one to watch at Indy, as always.