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.
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.
.@MarioAndretti will be behind the wheel in @Honda's Fastest Seat in Sports with son @MichaelAndretti just behind.
For the first time in @IMShistory, three generations of racing royalty will lead the field to green on Sunday.
Read: https://t.co/UpXyZQOLS5#INDYCAR // #Indy500 pic.twitter.com/NyJsQ2IhAM
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) August 21, 2020
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.”