SONOMA, Calif. – Another Andretti. Another milestone.
Marco Andretti is set to make his 200th consecutive Verizon IndyCar Series start in today’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, fitting since it is also the site of his maiden win in 2006. The mark is the third longest active streak behind Tony Kanaan (who today will reach 282, the all-time Indy car record) and Scott Dixon (224 today). Andretti's string also marks the most consecutive starts to begin a career in Indy car history.
GOPRO GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA: Warmup practice results; Combined practice results
At 30 years old, that figure is certain to grow closer to the number of total starts made by his father, Michael (317), and grandfather, Mario (407). Marco, who will start 11th in today’s season finale at Sonoma Raceway, just wishes he had compiled some of the gaudy statistics at this point that his legendary family members accumulated by the time they had made 200 starts.
“The only thing that comes up, unfortunately, is negative thoughts because of how many wins I don’t have,” Marco said when asked what the milestone start means. “So I can’t put a lot of positive to that. There’s a lot of positive flashes, but it’s my goal to turn it into being strong consistently moving forward.”
His father, CEO of the Andretti Autosport team for which Marco has driven his entire career, was surprised that his son had reached that number of starts.
“It’s amazing,” said Michael. “I didn’t really think about it and didn’t know that. Two hundredth – he’s been around a while, I guess.
“I guess, he’s considered a real veteran. Hopefully, his next 100 will be better than his first 200 and gets some more wins.”
Marco will complete his 12th season today driving the No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda. Next weekend, he will marry longtime girlfriend Marta Krupa. But that milestone achievement can wait. For now, he is motivated to close out 2017 on a high note – and begin 2018 even better.
“I think we have a good shot at ending strong, and I have to do it,” said Marco, the 2006 Indianapolis 500 runner-up and rookie of the year who was seventh in this morning's final practice prior to the race, with a best lap of 1 minute, 17.8859 seconds (110.238 mph) on the 2.385-mile permanent road course.
“I have to do it for me, otherwise I won’t sleep the entire offseason. I’ve been really struggling with this aero kit in the high-speed corners. That’s not an excuse, that’s just what I’ve been struggling with.
“I have a feeling that next year’s (universal) aero kit will play into my strengths again, because I used to be really good at the short ovals and really good at getting up to speed. I lost a lot of my strengths in the last two years with just lacking feel from (the current aero kits). Actually, just having too much downforce and not really knowing what I have.”
With his three teammates currently in the top 10 of the championship standings compared to one from a year ago, Andretti Autosport has ascended as a program. Marco, however, sits 13th and in danger of finishing outside the top 10 for the second straight year.
Still, Michael Andretti was quick to acknowledge how critical his son has been in the team’s progression.
“He’s done a really good job this year,” said Michael, who owns 42 wins as a driver (third all time) and 57 as a team owner. “Unfortunately, his results don’t show it. He’s had a lot of stupid things happen to him, but he’s definitely been a big part of the team (turnaround) this year. Especially in practice and things, it’s gone well.
“He’s just had bad luck in the races.”
Rahal leads GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma final practice
Graham Rahal, who was officially eliminated from championship contention when Josef Newgarden won the pole position on Saturday, led the 30-minute practice this morning with a lap of 1:16.9608 (111.563 mph) in the No. 15 United Rentals / SoldierStrong Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
Newgarden, who holds a four-point lead in the championship with the bonus point earned from winning the pole, was fifth in the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet (1:17.8073, 110.350 mph). Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing is second in the championship and was third in practice in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda (1:17.6849, 110.523 mph).
Other championship contenders and how they fared in the final practice before today's decisive race are: Helio Castroneves, third in points, ran fourth in practice in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet (1:17.7481, 110.434 mph); Simon Pagenaud, fourth in points, was 16th in practice in the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet (1:18.3529, 109.581 mph); and Will Power, fifth in points, was 19th in practice in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet (1:18.7726, 108.997 mph).
A special pre-race preview program will stream at 6 p.m. ET on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. Live race coverage begins on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network at 6:30 p.m.