Marco Andretti on IndyCar contract, Honda, vacation destinations
Marco Andretti is seventh in the Verizon IndyCar Series points standings heading into this weekend’s race at Mid-Ohio, not exactly the kind of season he was looking for. The third-generation driver – son of Michael, grandson of Mario — spoke about his current frustrations, and whether he’d ever consider leaving the family team, with Chris Jenkins, Special for USA TODAY Sports.
Q: So how would you assess your season so far? I’d imagine it’s frustrating, to some extent.
Andretti: “Oh, for sure, man. I just want a ‘W’ more than ever. Definitely it’s frustrating having both teammates win a race and not me. We’re super consistent, but we’re consistently a little bit off. We’re bringing home decent results when odds are stacked against us and stuff like that. But we need a win. More than ever. I felt the monkey on my back in 2011 and it’s just as big now, if not bigger. I’m trying not to drive any different because of that, because that can get me in trouble. But we just have to believe that it’s coming. We have a couple of podiums, but that’s been my average, a couple podiums. We need a few wins a year to be happy. I think a win at Mid-Ohio will keep our title hopes alive because you have double points at Sonoma.
“Still, I feel like we’re leading the team now in setup, and stuff like that. That was a big shift for me. And really setups across the board, not just on ovals now, which I’m really happy with that. It’s a good feeling to know that most places we go to, we’re rolling off with my setup, you know what I mean? Because I know what the car is, and I don’t have to learn it. Where last year, it was like, oh, we’re starting with Ryan (Hunter-Reay) or James (Hinchcliffe0, and I’ve got to learn the car. By the time you learn the car, you’re two tenths off. So our pace has been not bad. We’ve just got to keep at it. I’m not going to sit here and feel bad for myself.”
Q: A lot of, maybe even most of, the circumstances – whether it’s adjusting to Honda, or whatever else is happening right now – it’s stuff that’s outside your control. As you grow as a race car driver, do you come up with ways to handle that? Because the crew guys look to you to set a tone.
MA: “Yeah, that was our mentality, my engineer and my dad, for that. But going into this year, it was just like, if we’re a little bit off, let’s try to maximize everything.
“And I think (Graham) Rahal’s done a hell of a job with that. I don’t know what they found. Definitely, that team has an edge. But basically, I think they were developing things that were important when we were really messing around with the aero kit stuff in the offseason. And so I think we lost a little bit of ground in the offseason. Yeah, I think it’s having that don’t feel bad for yourself mentality. When you look at Rahal, it’s like, we need to be second before we complain about Honda.
“Pace-wise, there’s no doubt that there’s a deficit. But I’m not going to be the guy that’s sitting there saying that. Basically, I watch (Scott) Dixon do it, right? If Chevy was quick in ’12, that guy, they pulled it off. And they pulled it off by just working on little details. And right now, we’re working on, focusing on, little details. Little details that add up. And that’s what keeps us in it. And as soon as we get the overall package, I really, really think the 27 team is going to be tough.”
Q: Do you see signs that things might be turning around, even if it’s not this season?
MA: “Yeah, I think there’s some good stuff happening for the future, for sure. But I think it’s way too early to tell. I know Honda isn’t satisfied being at a deficit at all.”
Q: Obviously you drive for the family team, and that probably complicates things. But as you look at your future as a racer, do you ever explore other options? I don’t know what your contract situation is, but are you committed to these guys long term?
MA: “I’m actually a free agent right now. And I’m not going to hide it, even dad knows this, I’ve been talking to other teams right now. But obviously, results are at the top of my list, over money or anything else. So right now, I think continuity, just having the same team, I’m really, really happy with the 27 team across the board.
“I keep saying this, and I’m serious: My engineer, I think him and I really need a second year together. To come out of the gate with this guy and do what we did this year, it’s not been super spectacular but it’s been darn good, as far as the inner team workings, it’s been really, really good. My dad calls awesome races. And he did a lot for Ryan and hopefully we can reap some of those benefits. My crew have been awesome, really just on it. Everybody’s sort of firing on all cylinders. It’s just once we get that little bit of a missing element, I really think we’re going to be tough to beat. So yeah, I want to be here.
“And obviously if we’re going to win, I’d prefer it to be with dad rather than against him. So I think continuity with what I have going on here is ideal for me. But it’s pretty complex right now, we’re trying to put together a deal and we’re actually pretty close with Andretti right now. But there’s definitely some options.”
Q: Regardless of what your family name or your family history is, you’d be doing yourself a disservice as a driver not to at least look and listen to see what’s out there, right?
MA: “Oh, for sure. Number one, it’s nice knowing that you’re wanted elsewhere. I think the biggest thing in talking to other teams is like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe that you would even leave there,’ or ‘What would your dad say?’ and all this stuff. And it’s like, dad’s a businessman. And he’s not going to stand in my way. It’s not like I’m going to ruin his team if I leave. And I wouldn’t pull anything shady with dad. I’m a total open book. If I have something on the table, dad knows about it. So I would never pull anything like that. I’d want all parties to be happy.”
Q: So what timeframe are you on? When do you have to decide something?
MA: “The timeframe is more like, it’s just me being not happy not having a contract right now. That’s the biggest thing. I’m not under the gun yet.”
Q: Are you able to get away during the off weekend? And if so, what do you do?
MA: “Really, away from racing, I’m at my house, man. I don’t want to be at an airport. I get my friends saying let’s go on vacation. It’s like, I don’t want to be at an airport. Honestly, I like to just train, go to dinner, out with friends. They say I’m a pain in the butt because I always want them to come up to my house, I don’t want to go anywhere. But yeah, man, I love just being home. I like going to the family lake house, which is like an hour north of here in the Poconos. That’s always a fun one. I was up there for the Fourth of July.”
Q: So with the schedule being so compact, the last thing you want to do on an off weekend is travel?
MA: “Yeah, exactly. It’s definitely been pretty intense. Quite frankly, I think it ends too soon. I have to echo my grandfather on that one. Because I’ll drive a race car every weekend. I think it ends too soon. I think NASCAR is a bit long, and I think we’re short. So somewhere in the middle, I think.”
Q: I think people know you as a member of a famous racing family, but maybe they don’t know you, personally, as well. What should people know about you as a person?
MA: “I’m very reserved, very shy. Very intense. And I’m often misperceived with how intense I can be at the racetrack.
“I’ve been working on that, working on myself, trying to be better with fans and stuff like that. I catch myself being super intense, to where I almost need to make sure that I’m enjoying life and having fun. I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed. … You’re only as good as your last race, basically. It’s like I literally live off of that. Having a whole off week where you’re sitting seventh has been frustrating for me. It’s tough to really unwind. If you won the last race, maybe you could unwind a little better. Basically, if I haven’t won the last race, I can’t wait for the next race to start.”
Q: Favorite track you’ve ever driven on?
MA: “I have to say Indianapolis, just because of the history there and the feeling that you get just being there, let alone driving at the track. I think Pocono’s up there. It’s hard to really pick one. If I had to pick one, I’d say Indy, but Pocono, I think our cars are made for that track. It’s pretty cool. It’s nice to be able to stay in my own bed, too, for that one.”
Q: One track you’ve never raced on that you’d love to try?
Q: First street car you ever owned?
MA: “It was actually a Mustang Cobra. I got it, and I think I ended up selling it before I even got my license. I think I got it when I had my permit, and I sold it because I’m like, ‘This car, I’ll be locked up having this thing at such a young age.’ So I did the right thing and got a Denali after that.”
Q: Favorite city in the world?
MA: “I always say, it depends for what. Vacation, what do you want? There’s great destinations for beaches, there’s great destinations for cities. And then there’s cold destinations. If I had to pick one, it’s probably the family lake house just right here. Mainly because it doesn’t cost me any money. The rent’s pretty cheap up there. I like Miami, I like the Bahamas as like an easy bedtime trip. As far as cities, I really love L.A. In the offseason, that’s a really low-key place to hang out. I love the hustle and bustle of New York City but honestly, I can only be there for a couple of days. It’s overwhelming.”
Q: So you could probably live anywhere you want. You live in Nazareth (Pa.), right?
MA: “Yeah, so my rookie year when I signed with the team I had a condo in Indy for a few years. I think as a rookie, that’s imperative that you’re there. You put in your time and you get to know all the drivers, the way things work and all that. But then, once you mature, I don’t believe that that’s a great place for a driver to be. Number one, it’s the only place where they really, really know us by face everywhere. Here, they know me by face, but they almost don’t care, right? That’s what I like about it. I like it where it’s more laid-back. Home’s always home, that’s why I’m here. After Indy, I went to Miami for a few years. That’s just a really expensive lifestyle to sustain. So an opportunity came about, I wanted to keep this house in the family, because dad had it up for sale, he was going to Indy with the team full time in 2010. And we managed to work out a deal.”
Q: If you weren’t racing, what would you do for a living?
MA: “I’d be in some sort of real estate. I always say this, I’m not sure where I would get the initial capital. But I’d be in some sort of commercial real estate. Right now, I’m doing some stuff, picking up some buildings, apartment buildings, income-based property. I try to be smart about retirement because obviously, these careers don’t last forever.”