It’s Time For Marco To Grow Up

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One of the more confounding on-track issues in the Indy Racing League is the underwhelming performance of Marco Andretti, who was once tabbed to be a future star of the league. After a strong rookie season in 2006 that saw him win a race, almost win the Indianapolis 500 and finish seventh in points, there was no reason to think that those predictions were very far off base. However, as Marco is now about to head into his fifth season in the IndyCar Series, we are still waiting for his second win and even a glimpse of the promise he showed as a rookie.

The experts continue to say give him time, as they point to the fact that he is only twenty-two. Well, that excuse is wearing thin as he will turn twenty-three the day before the green flag flies (supposedly) in Brazil next March. The novelty of his youth has worn off as quickly as the promise he once showed.

He literally burst onto the scene in the different development series. Marco made his way to the Indy Pro Series (now Firestone Indy Lights) in 2005. He won three of only six starts, which is an impressive stat in any series. Although still a teenager, he was deemed ready to move into the IndyCar Series – filling the seat of the departed 2005 IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 champion, Dan Wheldon. The problem was, the person that was making that assessment was his father and team-owner, Michael Andretti – not a totally objective viewpoint.

The first two races made those that doubted Michael’s decision become more vocal that the kid simply wasn’t ready. At Homestead, he broke a half-shaft on a pit stop – something that would become emblematic of Andretti’s rookie season. He crashed at St. Petersburg after an altercation with an old family foe – Eddie Cheever. He stayed out of trouble at Motegi and finished a respectable twelfth.

Then at Indianapolis, he had what has been his career-defining moment to this point. On the last re-start of the race, he passed his father who had come out of the retirement to race against his son at Indy, just as he had done with his father Mario so many times. Michael was a sitting duck as Marco blew by him. It appeared that the infamous Andretti curse at Indy would finally be put to rest, as a teenager was about to drive off with the biggest prize of all. Then, with two laps to go, he found himself in a duel with Sam Hornish who had seemingly come out of nowhere. Heading into turn three, Marco slammed the door on Hornish as he attempted to pass on the inside. At first glance, it appeared that Hornish had lost all necessary momentum as he backed out of the throttle.

As they came around for the white flag, it seemed that Hornish would have to settle for second, as a rookie was about to break Troy Ruttman’s fifty-four year old record as the youngest driver to win the Indy 500 by three years. Instead, Hornish got one of the strongest runs coming off of turn four that I’ve ever seen. Hornish literally gobbled him up as they approached the checkered flag. It was the first time in the ninety-year history of the race that a pass for the lead was made on the last lap. Everyone always says that nobody remembers who finished second – but in this case, they would.

Marco and Michael had acquitted themselves in the court of public opinion. After Marco’s win at Sonoma that year (with a little help from teammate Bryan Herta), the sky seemed to be the limit for the talented rookie. The league banked on the success of this young American third generation star with the famous last name. Little did we know then that this would be as good as it would get.

The next season started rather ominously for Marco. He mysteriously parked his ill-handling car midway through the first race at Homestead. When asked what the problem was, he said that he was scared to drive the car. Uh-oh. No matter if we’re talking the 1950’s, the 1980’s or 2007 – it is an unwritten rule that drivers don’t park cars because they’re scared. Marco would ultimately suffer ten DNF’s that season while only completing seven races. Instead of another blazing finish at Indy, he ended up on his hat on the backstretch as he locked wheels with Dan Wheldon and took a tumble. He did manage a second place finish at Michigan, but there was tremendous attrition in that race. Overall he finished eleventh in points, in a season that featured only eighteen full-time drivers.

For 2008, things started much better as Marco led most of the season-opening race at Homestead and finished second. His next two races were DNF’s but he then had a fifth at Kansas and a third place finish at Indy. The inconsistency continued with two more DNF’s and then a third at Iowa. Before Iowa, Andretti drove an excellent race at Texas. He was one of the few drivers that could make his car work on the outside. But his impatience showed as he moved up on Ryan Hunter-Reay late in the race and took both of them out. Marco continued to run hot & cold for 2008 but managed to finish seventh in points – this time in a season that normally had 24-26 drivers per race.

The 2009 season was more cold than hot. The entire team struggled and Marco pretty much fell into oblivion, yet still finished a surprising eighth in points. He placed himself in a position to get taken out by Mario Moraes after the first turn at Indy. The incident was not Marco’s fault but he probably knew he shouldn’t have placed himself in that position at the beginning of the race. At the season finale at Homestead, he had brake problems but the Versus crew chose to not even pursue an interview with him after he fell out of the race. There is a rumor going around that he hopped into his Ferrari while still wearing his driver’s suit, and left the grounds immediately after his retirement.

Along with his diminished results, Marco is often criticized for his lack of skills in dealing with fans and the media. Robin Miller is fond of saying that Marco is doing better lately in that regard, but he still has a way to go before he’s on the level of his grandpa Mario. I’ll probably catch some flack for this, but I’ll submit that he already deals with fans the way his grandfather does.

Over the years, I’ve encountered Mario, Michael and Marco in the garage area and the parking lots at Indy, Nashville and Barber. I’m not normally an autograph or picture hound, but I generally attend races with friends and kids who are. That entire branch of the Andretti family tree has mastered the art of the brush-off. When the cameras aren’t present, they all have a look on their face like they are about to visit a proctologist.

During pole day at Indy one year, my group came across Marco and Danica near the motor homes behind the garage area. Danica was by far the bigger name of the two, yet she surprisingly signed autographs and posed for pictures. Meanwhile Marco ducked out and left Danica to fend for herself before anyone could even blink, all the while with a frustrated sneer on his face.

That DNA doesn’t seem to have gone down Aldo’s side of the tree. His son John acts nothing like his arrogant and aloof cousins. He is one of the most open and friendly drivers you’ll meet in the paddock. Not only can you count on him for the usual picture/autograph, he’ll generally carry on a conversation with you.

But getting back to Marco – I always got the impression that he thought he was doing the IndyCar Series a favor by stopping off here for a couple of years, before he moved on to his entitled seat in Formula One. Now that he has under-performed his way out of that possibility, I’m quite certain that he’ll claim that the IndyCar Series dumbed-down his amazing talent and caused his skills to erode.

I don’t begrudge Marco for the opportunity he got in 2006. It’s what he has done with it that bothers me. Although he was a little young, his resume and credentials certainly justified his opportunity to have a seat in the series. I wish some of the top owners would pay more attention to the results of young Americans in the varied ladder series. But if anyone else had been as forgettable for four seasons and not been driving for their father’s team, they would have been kicked to the curb long ago.

I’m not sure all of his problems can be blamed on age. Graham Rahal is almost two years younger, but his maturity level seems years beyond Marco’s. From what I read and hear, Marco is very interested in the lifestyle that comes with being an IndyCar driver, but his work ethic and dedication is sorely lacking.

Marco Andretti has more pressure on him than most young drivers simply due to his lineage. That means he must work harder to live up to the expectations that will always follow him. It may be unfair, but that is the name of the game when you carry a famous last name. He knew that from day-one. Michael Andretti learned to deal with it. So did Al Unser, Jr. Others within the sport have had varying degrees of success carrying the burden of their last name. But until Marco Andretti starts living up to the legend that seems to be in his own mind, he will continue to have no credibility while he continues to wallow in mediocrity on Daddy’s team.

George Phillips

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27 Responses to “It’s Time For Marco To Grow Up”

  1. Ken Riehl Says:

    George, you make several salient points, however, you are dead wrong about Mario… I have repeatedly watched Mario sign autographs when the rest of the AGR team ducked into tent. Not only autographs either by the way, but group and individual photographs, hugs from old ladies and men alike. In fact, if not for Marios considerable effort at placating the public, I believe that the at the track PR for AGR would be zero…. BTW…. Not only does Mario go out of his way at the track to sign autographs, he is equally generous whilst out in public traveling, even when he is repeatedly interupted while dining with friends and family, he continues to be generous to his still considerable admiring public. Sometimes what people forget is that when at the track the teams, including the drivers are trying to focus on getting cars set up to race, I don’t know if you have noticed, but that has been a major difficulty for AGR this season, and for several seasons previous. Perhaps you might consider the degree of concentration, focus and effort required to run not a one or two car team, but what it takes to run a four car team, one of which had Danica as a driver. I am not saying there is ever a good excuse for arrogance or poor behavior, but sometimes its best to keep ones distance and let people work…. Nuff said.

    i

  2. Oliver Paul Says:

    George
    I totally agree with you. Each year I keep hoping Marco’s driving and attitude will improve and every year I am disappointed. I am tired of hearing he is young or he is shy. He really does need to grow up and be a man. TK has tried to help from what I hear but he can only do so much with a kid who has had everything handed to him on a silver platter. I hope the fact US F1 has said they are basically not interested in him at all will open his eyes a little. I also hope that maybe his sponsors will pull him aside and let him know he needs to not only improve on track but off.

    What ne needs to do is buckle down, balance fun and work, do some charity work, stop chasing playmates and maybe then he will fulfill his potential. If he doesn’t show improvement next year I can’t imagine anyone even his dad keeping him around.

    In many ways I feel sorry for Marco because in 10 years when he looks back likely all that will be written about him is that he was a so so driver from a famous family with a bad attitude. Very sad.

  3. I think Marco can push a car, but he has no skills to set one up and given the defection of Bryan Herta and Dario from AGR that is the source of everyone’s problems there.

    I have some faith that Graham will represent the traditional names well in the upcoming years, though I would still place him in the “Silver Spoon” American club.

    The series really needs to get to the point where the Americans aren’t all women, in laws or offspring. But of course that all gets back to what we discussed a few days ago. Money is the lacking ingredient in the league today. With enough team secured sponsorship, rides would be awarded based on merit or potential, not driver based sponsorship. Perhaps guys like Bell, RHR, Hildebrand, Summerton or Edwards would respresent the face of american open wheel racing and gen 2 or gen 3 drivers would not carry the burden of being the great white hope.

  4. Great article, George. I can’t say it better. It’s gotta be toughing living up to the Andretti name when you’re only 25% Mario, genetically. I also find it interesting that he seems to have a hard time landing a really good sponsor. You would think that some big corporation would try to hang on the Andretti name. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Marco TV commercial, now that I think about it.

  5. It’s strange to look back that less than three years there were whispers that Dietrich Mateschitz was considering bringing him to F1 when there was originally talk of making Toro Rosso the US F1-type outfit.

    Even though Marco is only 22, all that talk has gone away and given the last few seasons, he may now never reach F1.

  6. Marco’s basicly wasted a bunch of great opportunities most people would give anything for. In 07, AGR was the top team, and what was Marco? If USGPE won’t take you, your screwed. Look, PW wants KYLE BUSH, who’s never drove an open wheel car, over him! That’s because even though Kyle’s whinny, he’s dedicated to racing, unlike Marco seems often

  7. I’m not quite satisfied with the poll choices. I think
    A) he’s got the “it’s my name on the door” syndrome and the personality to support it
    B) he does need more maturing as a driver, but he does seem to be getting the car through more often than the last couple years. We’ve seen him in some tight spots this year where he kept running, whereas in previous years there would have been contact.
    C) he’s being anchored by the same down-cycle that hampered all of the AGR drivers this year. If AGR had been competitive with Ganassi and Penske this year, I think he would have had a couple wins at least.

    I’m a fan of Mario, who seemed like a class act. I thought Michael was too agressive and usually blamed everyone else for his problems, right or wrong, when he went out. Marco seems to have picked that up. But Michael had wins and it’s harder to argue with his record. Until Marco starts consistently winning races, he’ll come off as a brat.

    Frankly I think he ought to leave AGR and spend some time elsewhere and learn how the other half lives. I think Graham Rahal *not* racing for Bobby R was an excellent decision, and will pay off for him later. You don’t live wholly under your father’s shadow, and you learn how to get along without his full protection.

  8. I have two words for Marco “Don’t you know who I think I am?” Andretti:

    Spoiled
    Brat

  9. I would LOVE to meet the 9 people who voted for #2. Marco is a “great” driver (who will mature one day) ? :) :) :)

    The Andretti name is “great” when Mario & Mike are in front of it. Marco’s one win hardly makes him great. His obvious contempt for the fans hardly makes him “great” with the public either.

    No GREAT mystery why sponsors seem to avid him as well. Meijer is a midwest-only chain & WTF do I find Venom… perhaps at Meijer :?: I find Snapple but not much Venom… not GREAT news :) :)

  10. Don’t let Mike represent the whole family, yeah he’s a jerk but Mario is a saint. I’ve had at least three 30 min conversations with Mario and he actually remembers my name when I see him. He always asks how I’m setting up my sprint/midget and always tells me I don’t cross weight enough (Mario must have liked his dirt cars loose as hell!!). Marco and Michael are fame fiends and would rather hang out at the playboy mansion than prepare for a race (not a horrible way to not prepare), but Mario, Jeff, Aldo and John are great guys.

  11. Cowboy Racer Says:

    Don’t be too hard on Marco just yet. I agree he needs to grow out of the spoiled brat image, but I’d say that goes for most 22 year olds that grew up in a rich family. As for racing, remember Michael was 23 and Mario was 25 before they won at the Indy Car level. Marco won at 19 and will only be 23 when next season starts. I say let him mature a couple more years as a racer and if he isn’t a consistent winner by then, well then he may never be one.

    • Hey Cowboy… Graham Rahal also won at 19 (he’s the youngest winner in Indycar history). He is also from a RICH family, & he is the complete opposite of Marco :idea: I ran into Conor Daly @ different races… he’s 17, from a pretty wealthy family & NOT a jerk. I could go on with many examples to why Marco has had plenty of time to grow up & get a clue :idea: :idea:

  12. S.S. Minnow Says:

    Apparently, several are applying the theory that one shoe size fits all with regards to Marco, Michael & Mario.

    Are their shoes comfortable on your feet?

    Please place me in the column of those who differ with your opinions unless you have experience on the other side of the fence actually in their shoes.

    Thanks.

  13. Marco reminds me of a family business…. The first generation works their tails off to build the business and make it a success, the second generation maintains it, but nothing else, and the third generation pisses it away…

  14. tim nothhelfer Says:

    I saw Marco up close wearing the Indiana Jones driver’s suit. What may have seemed like a great promotional idea was a disappointment in person because it looked like a cheap Halloween costume on kid that was obviously too old to trick or treat and knew it. I couldn’t think of him as a successful well placed and paid driver…I felt bad for him.

  15. Great piece, George, as always! You make some great points. Some I have a hard time coming to grips with as an “Andretti” fan! I do, however, agree with many points and wish that some of the ills could be turned around to make an even better driver and a face of the league. In my opinion, its a lack of discipline and structure. Graham Rahal has been in a situation where he has driven for a team not owned by his father and been in a situation where he has had to perform to get paid and is in an environment with a presumed amount of structure and responsibility. Was he a better driver than Justin Wilson in 2008 and deserving of being the #1 driver at NHL, no. Did he and Doornbos work as a team – They appeared to be worse than most of the AGR battles of the past. However, when it counts – with the fans it appears given your poll and the comments that it is clear that Marco doesn’t put that face on, and unfortunately we are at a time with the league that needs it. Maybe a new structure at AGR could provide some more discipline and structure, maybe not. Hire Mario to be in charge of the drivers and public relations!

  16. I usually find your writing to be thought provoking and interesting. Unfortunately, this article appears to be nothing more than a long winded mashup of the highlights of indystar comments from the past 5 years.
    How on earth did you leave out the incident with TK at Indy?

    What I find particularly amusing are the kid gloves used to handle the popular Rahal. If Graham trashes his teammate nobody cares… probably because his teammate wasn’t TK or Danica. When Marco snaps a half shaft it’s emblematic of his season and worthy of comment in a hatchet piece… when Graham does the same thing it is obviously just a youthful mistake. When Marco gets too close to a Hunter-Reay or Moraes he’s impatient, right? Then what is Graham when he piles his car into the wall in 4 two years in a row because he doesn’t have the brains to wait until he has a safe opportunity to complete the pass?

    And seriously, your comment about Marco taking both himself and Hunter-Reay out at Texas just cements the fact that you are showing bias and blind eye toward reality and knowledge. First of all.. there were 6 laps left no move for position at that point can possibly be a sign of impatience. Second of all, no driver besides RHR will ever watch a replay of that crash and put any blame on Marco. Go back and watch the video and watch where RHR puts his left side tires. I want you to explain to me how a driver can maintain control of an indycar when he puts his tire more than 12″ off of a 24 degree bank. Two things happened when he did that… he lost almost all contact between his tires and the asphalt and he lost almost all of his downforce by opening up a relatively massive gap between the undertray and the track. It did not matter whether Marco was 2″ to his outside or 20′. Once RHR made his left side tires smoke by driving them off the bank he was destined for the outside wall.

    There is a reality distortion field that runs rampant among race fans. It is as popular to dislike and smear Marco today as it was for race fans to smear his immigrant grandfather. It doesn’t matter that Marco was closer to beating both TK and Rahal in the points than Dixon was to beating Dario…. Marco is going to be remembered as barely squeaking out an 8th place points finish. Nevermind the reality that his average finishing position was both more consistent and closer to the front than that of either TK or Rahal… Marco is the one who will be remembered for falling into oblivion and his diminished results. Don’t let fact or reality get in your way.

    My favorite part is how you capped this piece off with outstanding anecdotes about Marco’s off track personality. I’d like to counter your anecdotes with an interesting factoid. Over the course of 2009 there is one AGR driver who made double digit voluntary appearances for out of town sponsor events and trade show autograph sessions. Meanwhile the one driver who speaks little English tallied up fewer than 4 such events and the two top billed (and always available to their fans) combined for a whopping ZERO non-contractual events that required jumping on a plane for a day or two to benefit the race team.

    As I’ve said, I find most of your posts to be intelligent and thought provoking, but not this one. It is obvious that he hasn’t been gracious enough to appease you with an actual conversation, so I wonder how it is that you seem to be an expert on how he sees himself in his own mind? Further, how is it that you judge him for failing to live up to that very same fictitious level of self-assigned legendary performance that you attributed to him?

    Perhaps the problem is that your personal bias allows you to measure Marco with a different stick than you use to measure others in the series. Obviously TK has been granted a pass from having his 2009 performance measured with the same stick that was used to define Marco’s performance as wallowing in mediocrity. It makes me truly interested in how Helio’s performance over the past season would measure up on the George Phillips-O-Meter. For now I will assume that he will get the same pass as he receives elsewhere despite his diminished performance on an outstanding team and further revelations of his egomanaical behavior.

    • Whoa, Scott! Back away from the crack pipe and chill dude. You almost sound like Marcos mom, being so defensive.

      You said George did a hatchet piece on Marco. He’s just telling like it is, bro. Maybe you need to go read the article again. I don’t think he has an axe to grind with Marco. He just tells it like he sees em. Settle down dude.

  17. I assume Scott you are a friend of Marco’s as defensive as you are. Everyone has the right to their opinion and should not be attacked for it. I respect your opinion of Marco but no reason to attack George or others for their opinion.

    I don’t know Marco personally but have encountered him at the track and have not been very impressed with his behavior. He was aloof, rude and disinterested. This was my observation. I don’t think he is a terrible driver but he isn’t great and certainly doesn’t deserve a top ride. I don’t expect anything to change since he is driving for his father. Again this is my opinion.

    Maybe for those folks who know him personally he is very different all I know is what I have experienced. I hope he succeeds and maybe his friends (like you Scott) can encourage him to show his true self to the rest of us.

    • Do you judge Marco’s need to mature based on the fact that he was disinterested in mingling with fans at the track? You’ve mentioned that you observed rude behavior from him, would you like to describe his actions or do you feel it is acceptable to engage in unsupported character defamation?

  18. Scott. Easy, dude. This is a blog, not a hard news site. As far as that goes, George is entitled to his opinion, as it’s HIS site. And as far as some of the stuff that you posted in there, you’ve got some opinions that you’ve masqueraded as facts. Marco blameless in the RHR crash at Texas? I don’t agree, and apparently neither does George. In my opinion, you swapped cause and effect in what happened there, and substituted Marco in as an innocent victim. I’m allowed my opinion on that, same as George is, same as you are. As far as claiming that no driver ever would blame Marco at all for that crash (or any of his other crashes, possibly)…I’ll again disagree. Again, my opinion, though I’d happily change it, pending a full survey of the IndyCar paddock.

    I’ll just close with this: given the fact that George (though the same could be said for me, or Jeff Iannucci, or Meesh, or Chris Estrada, or Pressdog, or…) is a blogger with a site that may occasionally air bits of news but is largely a non-professional (no slam on you or any of the rest of us, George, just a simple fact in that none of us is actually getting paid) writing outlet, does that mean that he can’t air his opinion? George addressed this nicely in his Oct. 26th post, but given your post, I think it bears asking again.

    • Marco was not holding the wheel of RHR’s car. Marco’s line did not force RHR to choose between touching wheels and putting two wheels off the bank. Which one of these statements is not a fact? Please refer to the following video prior to answering.

      We officially have input from one driver and so far 100% interpret the event in the same manner as I do.

      • Hey, wow! This thread’s still alive, and as usual, I can’t resist!

        The statement that’s not 100% fact is that Marco’s line did not force RHR down on to the apron. That’s open for debate. To my eye, Marco left RHR about one car width plus 2 inches of space down there, i.e. a pretty narrow gap given that they were going about 218 mph at the time. How come Marco couldn’t have given RHR a car width plus a foot or two, like most other drivers respectfully do when racing side by side? Expecting a driver that’s beneath you on the track to be able to either A) thread the needle like that or B) abruptly lift, when there are other cars running right behind him who may then run into the back of him (or at the very least, lifting will unsettle the car, possibly causing a spin)…both of those scenarios are pretty presumptuous on Marco’s part. RHR instead (and remember, this is blink of an eye type stuff) tried to edge as far down the bank as possible, misjudged by a foot (again, remember, going 218 mph or so; this is not exactly easy stuff to do at those speeds), and wound up taking them both out. Marco gets at least part of the blame, in my book, for forcing the issue so emphatically.

        Well, one driver agrees with you. I guess that means that the other 20 do as well. I can’t argue with that logic…

  19. Hey Marco’s Mom… eh I meant “Scott” :!: How do you expect that there be a HUGE demand for the Japanese AGR driver :?: WOW he barely speaks English, brings his $$$ from a Honda “Scholarship” program & you think there is some conspiracy about him getting a pass when it comes to sponsor appearances :idea: :idea: Be a bit more bias, eh :?:

    As for Marco making the MOST “voluntary” out-of town PR visits… he’s the only AGR driver with the LEAST STABLE sponsorship :idea: TK & Danica have got strong deals. Its the least he can do for Dad running him.

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