Marco Andretti comes into the Honda Indy Toronto race a winner – by both heritage and racing skills.
The 24-year-old Andretti has a name that is gold on the streets of Toronto. It's both a blessing and a burden. His father Michael holds the record of seven wins in Toronto Indy races and runs the Andretti Autosport team for which Marco drives along with high-profile Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway.
His grandfather Mario is a legend in car racing, with wins in Formula One, Indy cars, the world sports car circuit and NASCAR. He won 52 races in Indy-style open-wheel cars, the first about 22 years before Marco was born.
"Yeah, I've got big shoes to fill," Marco said. "There's nine wins in Toronto between my father and grandfather. It's pretty unbelievable. My dad has been dominant in other places, but here it really worked out for him and he was able to capitalize on so many victories. There's one thing to do here to impress people. … Actually, dad won't be too impressed until I've won eight out there."
Marco has won twice and had 24 top-five finishes in the Izod IndyCar Series coming into his 92nd start, on the bumpy Toronto course Sunday. Two weeks ago, he stopped a personal drought of more than four years by winning the Iowa Corn 250 on the Iowa Speedway oval.
It was the second win of the year for the Andretti team, the first coming in the streets of Long Beach, Calif., with Conway at the wheel.
That has lifted the spirit on team Andretti. Marco said the Iowa win didn't bring anything "too out of the ordinary" for him. But for any other kid who had grown up loving fast cars, it was a weekend in Disneyland, spent swapping victory stories at Mario's lake house in the Pocono mountains with family, friends and Conway.
"It drives me to keep going," said Andretti, who has purchased his childhood home in Nazareth, Pa.
Being close to family has helped Marco mature in the business. The third-generation racer graduated to the IndyCar Series in 2006 after running junior formula series and Firestone Indy Lights for three years. Marco bided his time waiting for his first IndyCar win. He was second in his inaugural Indianapolis 500 and made it into the winner's circle at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., in August of 2006. He was 19 years 5 months 14 days old, according to the Izod IndyCar guide, and instant success was almost an expectation for racecar royalty.
"To be honest, I've been dealing with [pressure of carrying the Andretti name] since I first stepped into a go-kart," Marco said. "It's been all eyes on me and that's a lot. It gets easier, I get better dealing with it as I get older, but the pressure gets heavier and heavier. I do what I love to do and that's drive race cars."
This week, he revels in the attention and pressure. Two weeks after winning in Iowa and breaking the drought, he says winning tastes sweeter after futility.
"This win feels every bit as good as my first one five years ago and hopefully we can start making this a habit," he after the win. Asked if his father Michael had any keys to success on the Exhibition Place/Lake Shore streets, he said the main secret was for everyone on the team to do his job to perfection.
"Best ask my dad for the key to success here, I've only got two top-10s," Marco said. "We have some decent street-course cars here. Our other win this year was at Long Beach, which is a similar, straightforward street circuit with 90-degree corners.
"The cars [driven by previous family generations] are different, obviously. The [alternating] concrete and asphalt surfaces are part of the key. You have to work with the shocks and dampers to get it right. There's time to be had there, for sure."