Will changes in his personal, professional life translate to changes in results for Nazareth Indy car driver Marco Andretti?

Special to The Morning Call

Quick quiz.

Who was the last Andretti Autosport driver to finish in the Top 5 in the Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings?

Ryan Hunter-Reay?

James Hinchcliffe?

Marco Andretti?

Alexander Rossi?

Hunter-Reay has most recent series championship for Michael Andretti’s team, in 2012, and Rossi took Michael to victory circle at the Indianapolis 500 for the fourth time in 2016.

“It was me [in 2013],” Marco Andretti said candidly and without bravado via phone interview earlier this week.

Really?

“Yep, nobody talks about that. I keep getting measured against dad and [grandfather] Mario winning like every other race back in the day,” Marco said with an acceptable bit of hyperbole – but not much, considering the two older Andrettis combined for 94 Indy-car victories.

When it was suggested that his father and his “nonno” established really high standards, Marco said, “It doesn’t matter if other people see it or not, but I have really high standards for myself, too.”

He admitted that there have been many times in his career that he let the not winning races thing “get to me; I’ve been frustrated. It’s not that I let the critics get to me; it’s as a competitor; I know I’m hungry; I don’t need to explain that to anybody.”

The Nazareth native, who has won only twice in 200 career starts in the IndyCar series and takes a 110-race “losing” streak into this weekend’s 2018 opener in St. Petersburg, Fla., said he plans to “go back to the old me, having fun at the race track, doing it for me.

“In my rookie year [2006], I never worried about anything; nothing shook me. I’m going back to the mentality that [other competitors] will have to come through me.”

Marco very nearly walked off with an Indianapolis 500 win in that rookie season, being edged by Sam Hornish Jr. in the last hundred yards. He also won a race later that year. His second win came in 2011.

Three factors are giving Andretti, who will be 31 years old on Tuesday, a motor racing back-to-the-future feel: a significant change in driver-owner relationship; a new aero kit on the cars that is more suited to his driving style; and, a new personal life centered around his marriage last fall to long-time girlfriend Marta Krupa.

Andretti will be driving the No. 98 Honda-powered, Ruoff Home Mortgage-sponsored Dallara owned by Bryan Herta in partnership with Andretti Autosport. Herta was Marco’s race strategist last year, but it was on a car connected to the Andretti side of the arrangement.

For 2018, Marco Andretti said, he will be able to talk to Herta about issues with the car, and Herta will carry to concerns to Michael Andretti for resolution.

“One thing I was up against driving for my father is perception,” Marco said. “It’s a fine line whether I’m just the son who is complaining or whether it is me really being passionate and wanting to push the team and wanting to win.

“I’ve had a lot of times in my past where I did exactly what Ryan Hunter-Reay did and what he was commended for doing and I’m not perceived the same way. Bryan has dad’s ear … but he’s definitely more diplomatic than me.”

A Herta-owned car took the late Dan Wheldon to an Indianapolis 500 victory in 2011, and Alexander Rossi won the Memorial Day weekend race in 2016 in an Andretti-Herta car.

Marco said the new aerodynamics package, which he said takes between 1,200 and 1,600 pounds of downforce off the car, gets him excited because it brings the driver back into the equation “100 percent.”

“I definitely prefer it this way; I prefer a car that’s on the edge,” Andrertti said. He referred to a test at Phoenix International Raceway where “we did a long run and it was back to slippin’ and slidin’ like the old days and put a good emphasis on getting the car balanced and taking care of it through the entire stint [from one pit stop to another]. I really prefer that.”

Other benefits of the new package, he said, are “an established grip limit so it’s easier to drive to the limit … a longer brake zone which will create passing … the ability to suck up better on the draft that will allow us to stay closer in traffic and bring racing back to the old style.”

Marco and his wife dated for more than five years before finally tying the knot after the 2017 season in a ceremony that took place at Marco’s home.

“She’s awesome,” he said of Marta. “She’s super supportive and she takes a lot of everyday pressure off me. I can go play with race cars and she deals with the day-to-day, real-life stuff. I’m very fortunate with that. I feel like I’ve been married to her for years. Nothing really changed except for the ring. That’s a good thing.”

Andretti wasn’t expected to leave for Florida until Thursday, but when he heard about the expected Wednesday-Thursday snowstorm, he got out of town early.

Practice for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg begins Friday on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course. All practice sessions and the qualifying for Sunday’s events will be streamed on www.YouTube.com/indycar and on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. The race will be live on ABC-TV at 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

Retired sports columnist Paul Reinhard is a freelance writer.

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