Marco Andretti has been in a race car all his life.
But only now has he learned to listen to it.
He understands now if he has a car that can win a race, it’ll tell him. And if he doesn’t, he doesn’t need to act like he does. Knowing the difference has him off to the best start of his career in the IndyCar Series.
“I’m driving more with the championship in mind, with the big picture in my mind, instead of like, ‘I’ve got to win that race,’” he said. “If you don’t have a car to win that race, you’re not going to. So finish where the car can finish.”
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That’s a big change in approach for the 26-year-old son of Michael Andretti and grandson of Mario Andretti.
“Finesse was not a part of Marco Andretti’s style in the past,” he said with a smile Monday at Campisi’s original location in Dallas, where he made pizzas to promote the Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway next month. “So I think that’s really helped me so far this year.”
There’s no doubt about that. Andretti is off to the best start of his career with finishes of third, seventh, seventh and third in the four IndyCar Series races so far. It has him second in the points standings as the drivers prepare for the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.
It’s a bittersweet time for him. He is driving better than ever. He qualified on the front row for Indy. But it is Indy, the track where his family, perhaps the most famous in auto racing, has suffered heart-breaking failure.
“It’s my eighth go at it, and we’ve had a chance to win this race numerous times,” he said, noting his runner-up finish as a rookie seven years ago, the second-closest in the history of Indy. “And I’ve never, in all those years, felt what I feel in this year’s race car so far. I feel we’ve improved last year’s car ten-fold. Last year’s car wasn’t great, and we led the most laps.
“We just need to lead the right lap. I don’t care if I lead half a turn — I just want to lead that lap.”
Andretti said the difference comes from a “driver coach” his father suggested. Marco said he immediately agreed — “There’s no denying I hadn’t been winning,” he said — and it immediately paid off.
He said the coach helped him analyze his habits and techniques, compare them to other drivers such as teammate and series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, and they discovered Andretti was simply trying too hard.
“I was creating problems for myself, just turning three times in the corner, where Ryan’s turning once,” Andretti said. “He really helped me hit on where I was going wrong.”
Already, the evidence is clear. On the street and road courses, Andretti’s self-described “weaker points,” he has not been out of the top 10.
“To be able to have two podiums on two street circuits out of the gate, I’m quite pleased,” he said. “I’m not where I want to be, but I’m in contention now, and I think if we keep driving the way we are, the wins are going to come.
“Five hundred miles is a long way. There are going to be a lot of elements that can take us out of it. But if we execute, we win. It’s our race to lose.”