As planned, final Indy 500 practice ‘uncomfortable’ for Marco Andretti


Indy 500 pole-sitter Marco Andretti gritted through his Carb Day in a thoroughly unenjoyable final practice Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Which was precisely the plan for the Andretti Autosport driver.

After leading the speed charts for the past three days of on-track activity at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (including Fast Friday and two days of qualifying), Andretti’s No. 98 Dallara-Honda team worked to ensure they knew which setup adjustments to avoid making during Sunday’s 104th Indy 500.

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“Today the goal was to put myself in the most uncomfortable circumstances possible because we’re not planning on leading 200 laps,” Andretti told hosts Mike Tirico and Danica Patrick in an NBCSN interview after the two-hour session. “That would be beautiful. But we know there’s going to be a state of adversity at some point in the 500 miles, so that’s what I put myself into today.

“It was just as uncomfortable as we thought it was going to be!”

He ranked 28th of 33 drivers with a best lap at 221.314 mph, which left him last among his six teammates and the second-slowest Honda.

The third-generation driver, who will be the first member of his famous racing family to start first at Indy in 33 years, said his team worked through about “10 to 15 different things, not necessarily big items” (which he declined to specify because “my engineers would be pretty mad if I repeated it”).

After they “found some things that the car really doesn’t like,” Andretti said the benefit was realizing what changes to avoid for the 200-lap race.

“We needed to confirm, and I’d rather learn that today than on Sunday,” he said.

Marco Andretti final practice
Marco Andretti turned the 28th fastest lap in the Carb Day practice for the Indy 500 (James Black/IndyCar).

Starting from the pole for the first time at the Brickyard will afford Marco a great view of a special moment Sunday.

During the pace laps, his father, Michael, and grandfather, Mario, will ride in front of the field in a two-seater Indy car (with Mario behind the wheel). It’s the first time all three generations will be on track together at the 2.5-mile oval where Mario made his debut 55 years ago, beginning a tradition of speed that only has been lacking checked flags on the iconic layout.

Michael Andretti never counted the Brickyard among his 42 career victories despite leading 431 laps at IMS (more than any other winless Indy 500 driver). Mario Andretti won only once in 1969 despite leading nearly 20% of his laps in 29 starts,

When Marco Andretti lost the 2006 Indy 500 to Sam Hornish Jr. off the last corner as a rookie, it renewed the focus on whether the “Andretti Curse” was real.

But entering his 15th start at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing with perhaps his best shot yet, Marco is relishing the attention.

“I think everybody asks is there a lot of pressure being on the pole,” he said. “I think that’s a good type of pressure. Bad pressure is what I’ve been going through before. When it’s not going right, that’s the pressure. When it’s going right, that’s the good part, so I’m in a good place mentally.”

Andretti chuckled when the interview on the speedway’s pagoda briefly was interrupted by his grandfather turning warmup laps below in the two-seater.

“What this place means to motorsports, it just casts such a wide web,” he said. “So (the pole) feels like a win even though it’s just qualifying. That’s how big this race is. It’s been a fairy tale so far. We just have to keep it going.”

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”