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No. 4: Marco Andretti Wins Indianapolis 500 Pole

Editor’s Note: This is the seventh of a series of 10 vignettes in which IMS Senior Communications Manager Paul Kelly picks his top 10 moments of 2020 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Ask any member of the Andretti family, and they’ll tell you there’s no such thing as an “Andretti Curse” at the Indianapolis 500. They’ll sincerely say it’s an honor and a privilege to even compete in the world’s greatest race.

But facts are facts.

Drivers with the last name of Andretti have made a combined 75 starts in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” with Mario’s triumph in 1969 as the sole victory. Other wins have been snatched from the family in cruel fashion, whether it was Mario’s dominant 1987 car coming to a halt, Michael’s dominant car breaking in 1992 or Marco losing to Sam Hornish Jr. by yards as a rookie in 2006.

Marco Andretti had produced seven top-10 finishes in his first 10 Indy 500 starts, from 2006-15, including the unforgettable and heartbreaking runner-up finish to Hornish in 2006. But the last four years have been tough at Indy for the third-generation driver, with three starts outside of the first three rows and one top-10 finish.

So, expectations soared from fans when Andretti ripped off the fastest lap in Indy 500 practice since 1996 on “Fast Friday,” Aug. 14, turning a speed of 233.491 mph in the No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda.

Could the good times keep rolling during qualifying the next two days? Could Andretti endure the pressure and deliver the family’s first Indy 500 pole position since Grandpa Mario with that dominant Hanna Auto Wash Lola-Chevrolet in 1987?

He sure could – and did.

Andretti was fastest on the first day of qualifications Saturday, Aug. 15 with a four-lap average of 231.351, entering the Fast Nine Shootout the next day as the top seed for the run to the coveted NTT P1 Award for pole position. Andretti’s Saturday run was even more impressive because he was the 28th of 33 drivers to make his attempt in the first trip through the qualifying draw, blazing the top speed in hotter, more slippery track conditions than earlier qualifiers.

Anticipation and pressure escalated in equal measure during the Fast Nine Shootout Sunday, Aug. 16.

2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon set the speed to beat of 231.051 as the fifth car to go out in the nine-car competition for the pole.

As the top qualifier from the previous day, Andretti was the last car to enter the 2.5-mile oval to make his qualifying attempt. He produced a stirring run with a four-lap average speed of 231.068 mph to continue the Month of Marco with his first career Indy 500 pole.

Tears flowed freely, especially since the family lost Indy 500 veteran John Andretti – Marco’s cousin – to cancer earlier in the year, and his memory was on their mind throughout the month. Andretti’s teammates and other competitors rushed to his car on pit lane to congratulate him.

“I was emotional,” Marco Andretti said. “It's funny because I was screaming after the run, so I don't have a voice. Everybody is thinking I'm crying, but I just can't talk right now. I was emotional. We put so much into it. This place means so much to us as a family. We've just been through so many ups and downs at this place. Obviously, my cousin, John is riding with me, my grandfather from home. We know family is pulling for us. We live and breathe this sport, this race in particular.”

Sadly, Andretti’s pace in qualifying didn’t continue during the race, as he finished a disappointing 13th. But anyone who witnessed Andretti’s pole run seven days earlier felt the joy that one of the first families of racing deserved and appreciated this year perhaps more than any other.

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