Originally created 01/22/06

Youngest Andretti impresses



The Andretti brain trust - father Mario and son Michael - stood in the pits at Sebring International Raceway earlier this week and marveled at how quickly the young driver on the track was picking up the subtle nuances of driving an IndyCar.

Eighteen-year-old Marco Andretti apparently is a quick study - and he had better be. Come March, Michael's son will be racing against the big boys in the Indy Racing League.

The unexpected opportunity for the youngster to move up to a ride with the elite Andretti Green Racing team - winner of the past two IRL IndyCar Series championships with Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon - came when Wheldon left over the winter to join Chip Ganassi's team.

Marco split last season between the IRL's developmental Infiniti Pro Series - winning three of six races - and the low-level Star Mazda Series.

Suddenly, he finds himself in the seat Wheldon used to win an IRL single-season record six races, including the Indianapolis 500.

Michael, who will come out of retirement at the age of 43 long enough to race with his son at Indy in May in a fifth AGR entry, was just as impressed by Marco's runs at Sebring.

"He was on pace," Marco's father said. "He was very fast, and we got very good feedback and he held up very well physically and did very well on his practice pit stops. So, to be honest with you, I don't think we could have been any happier. Everybody on the team was impressed with him."

Mario, who retired after the 1994 season, could only laugh when asked if he'd like to join the other two on the track at Indy, where he and his family have had so much ill luck and been so much a part of its history.

"I'll tell you, I'd give my right arm to be able to do that, to race with Marco and Michael, but my racing days are over," he said.

"But I'm going to be there every time Marco is on the track."