Marco Andretti Becomes IndyCar's Youngest Winner in History

August 28th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Marco Andretti Becomes IndyCar's Youngest Winner in History

The Indy Racing League IndyCar Series championship will go down to the wire at Chicagoland in two week’s time, now that Marco Andretti has become the youngest IndyCar Series winner of all time and the youngest winner of any major open wheel race, at 19 years, five months and 14 days.

Andretti said after qualifying for the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway that he’d circled this date at the start of the year. “I’ve got a lot of laps here and the majority of my [road racing] success on this track. We did all the right things to make this happen,” Marco said in Victory Lane.

Marco Andretti – the third generation driver who admitted he’d been looking forward to this race all year – who snagged victory from second starting spot, driving a smart 80 laps and conserving fuel and tires like a veteran. He gained the respect of his competitors and a first IndyCar Series victory in only his 13th start.

“This was definitely a pretty adventurous race. We had to do what we did and I had to save fuel the entire race. After the last pit stop, when they told me I wasn’t going to see them for the rest of the day, that felt pretty good,” Andretti said. “It all came down to saving fuel” but still being aggressive to maintain his lead.

Proud father Michael Andretti, co-owner of Andretti Green Racing was “so happy for him. He totally deserves this because he’s driven well all year. Marco put himself in position to win this and he did.”

Marco Andretti “fulfilled all the goals we set for the year but this, well, this is the best feeling I’ve had all year,” despite a bout of flu symptoms all weekend. “It was the toughest thing, to go fast and save fuel because those are two very different things.”

One of Andretti’s great weapons is engineer Eddie Jones, who worked with Dan Wheldon last season when the Briton took the title. “Eddie and I clicked from Day One. He’s given me exactly what I needed all year,” the youngest Andretti explained.

The race began under sunny, moderate skies with a large crowd on hand to enjoy. Scott Dixon had a good jump on his pursuers and quickly put space between himself and Andretti with Helio Castroneves, Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan in hot pursuit.

Kanaan reeled in Franchitti on the third lap and passed him for fourth, even as Dixon pulled out 1.6 seconds by the fourth tour of the 2.26-mile circuit. Dixon was, by that point in another time zone, putting more than 2.5 seconds between himself and the youngest Andretti on the sixth lap.

By the seventh lap it was apparent Sam Hornish Jr was holding up a Rahal Letterman Racing train of Danica Patrick and Buddy Rice from his 10th place vantage point. Patrick and Rice were having their own personal battle, coming to a head when Rice attempted a pass on his teammate in the final horseshoe turn. Lap after lap he tried to get her but there was no way.

Jeff Bucknum brought out the first full-course caution on the 10th lap when he spun in the final turn after Jeff Simmons tried an overtaking move on AJ Foyt’s driver. Simmons continued but Bucknum lost power, requiring a bump start from the IRL’s Delphi Safety Team. He would pit with suspension damage and retire on the spot.

Back to green flag racing after completing the 14th lap, Dixon got the proper jump after balking Andretti into the final turn and continued to run away, emerging on lap 15 with a near-one-second lead. Bryan Herta and Kosuke Matsuura moved by Ryan Briscoe and allowed Vitor Meira and Wheldon to follow through.

Scheckter pitted on the 17th lap with right-front tire damage from the close-quarters running, his second stop; he quickly rejoined in 17th and that’s where he finished.

Dixon meanwhile, had pulled out more than two seconds by the 19th lap, still leading Andretti, Castroneves, Kanaan and Franchitti. Herta lay sixth, Matsuura was seventh, while Meira, Wheldon and Briscoe completed the top ten.

Herta pitted from sixth on the 24th lap and Briscoe followed from tenth on lap 26. Matsuura and Meira called on the pits on lap 27. By the time he made his first pit stop on lap 28, Dixon had 3.7 seconds in hand. His pursuers followed the Kiwi into the pits as Andretti, Kanaan and Franchitti came in for service.

Wheldon took over the lead on lap 29, withy Dixon, Patrick, Andretti and Hornish Jr. holding the top five spots. The 2005 champ had nearly seven seconds in hand after stopping on the initial caution but Dixon began reeling him in, taking away tenths at a time.

Andretti began to challenge Patrick for third on the 32nd tour, but last year’s Bombardier Rookie of the Year held off the newly-crowned rookie leader’s thrusts. Dixon was closing the gap to Wheldon, 4.8 seconds in arrears by the 34th lap.

Sharp pitted from 13th on the 34th lap, taking four Firestone tires and a full load of methanol fuel in his Panoz. Dixon appeared to be picking up a full half-second each lap as he hounded Wheldon, making it only a matter of time before he had the Brit’s number.

Both Patrick and Hornish would pit on lap 40, giving second to Andretti and third to Simmons. Kanaan and Castroneves filled the top five. Andretti lagged Dixon by more than 10 seconds with 42 complete, Kanaan, Castroneves and Franchitti completing the top five, as Simmons called on the pits.

The track went to full-course yellow a second time as Dixon completed his 44th lap when Rice and Matsuura tangled in the final horseshoe turn. Rice would continue with damage to his right front wing but the Japanese ace needed a bump start. So much for Dixon’s 11-second gap to Andretti.

Andretti, Kanaan, Wheldon (fuel only) and Matsuura would pit on the next lap (45), as did Rice, whose crew fit a new nosepiece. Wheldon got the advantage off pit road on Andretti and Kanaan by not taking new tires.

Under caution on the 45th lap, Dixon led Castroneves, Franchitti, Herta and Meira in the top five. Green flags flew again on lap 47 and Dixon pulled out 1.2 seconds on Castroneves a lap later. Hornish Jr. had moved to seventh just ahead of Andretti, hounding Briscoe in sixth.

Yellow flew again when Wheldon and Simmons made contact in the back chute fighting for ninth place, Wheldon getting the worst of it and needing a stop he could not make on the 50th lap with the pits closed. The pits opened on lap 51 and Dixon, Castroneves, Franchitti, Herta, Meira, Briscoe, Hornish Jr., Carpenter and Wheldon took advantage, giving the point to Andretti.

Dixon’s crew couldn’t get the left front tire secured, making a standard stop into a 22-second nightmare. They went green on lap 52 as Hornish pitted another time, taking fuel only because of a poor fit on the nozzle. Hornish spun out of the pits at the second turn on cold tires, losing precious track position and landing in 13th.

Andretti drew out a second on Kanaan on the 53rd lap, followed by Patrick, Franchitti and Castroneves. 2004 Indy 500 winner Rice reported a gearbox problem on his Panoz. The Arizonan continued to deal with the problem from his 12th place perch.

With 60 laps complete and only 20 to go, Andretti had more than five seconds on Patrick and Kanaan. Franchitti lay fourth and Castroneves held fifth, followed by Wheldon, Briscoe, Meira, Dixon and Herta in the top 10. The top seven were within ten seconds.

Green flew on lap 75 and Andretti took off, shaking Franchitti and Kanaan, who held up Castroneves, Dixon, Meira, Wheldon and Simmons in turn. Franchitti was the only driver with a chance to unseat his teammate, but the gap increased on lap 78 to over a second and Marco would earn his first win by a margin of 0.6557 seconds over Franchitti.

Meira finished third after conserving his brakes throughout the contest in anticipation of a final thrust, Dixon battered his way up to fourth and a very happy Castroneves took fifth. Wheldon, Simmons, Patrick, Hornish Jr. and Herta completed the top ten as Kanaan faded to 11th at the close, ending his championship hopes.

Franchitti said his ‘race came alive on the last stop, which was one of the best pit stops I’ve ever been involved in.” He said there were no team orders to stay behind teammate Andretti and “I tried to chase Marco down. He was in trouble with fuel and we weren’t so this [result] was just luck of the draw. We struggled with traction all weekend long so I’m pleased with this result,” the Scot said.

New championship leader Castroneves is looking forward and also behind him as he prepares for the finale on Chicagoland Speedway’s 1.5-mile oval. “This was a very interesting race and Marco did a really, really good job. I came here to take as many points as I could and succeeded in that. The good news is I know what Sam’s got and the bad news is he knows what I’ve got so we’ll take it down to the wire.”

It will be the driver of a red car who takes the title, but who knows whether it will be Helio Castroneves, leading by a single point over Sam Hornish Jr? Or will it be Dan Wheldon, 19 behind Castroneves or his teammate Scott Dixon, 21 points back? Meira and Kanaan are out of the equation.

While the title chase continues to Chicagoland Speedway at Joliet, Illinois on September 10th, this afternoon’s excitement belongs with the Andretti clan.

Michael Andretti put it all in perspective: “When Marco was three and a half years old, I knew he had ‘it’. It was just the way he drove his toys, you know? And I recall on his first day of school, Marco drove the golf cart out to catch the school bus. When the bus came, Marco turned it around and wailed he wasn’t gonna go, scooting the golf cart back toward the house.”

Andretti made it to his first day of school that morning, after all. Today, well, Marco Andretti passed all exams with flying colors.

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