Marco Andretti, part of an Andretti Autosport team that has had Iowa Speedway wired from the first race here in 2007, is looking for his second win at Iowa and career win Number 3.
I talked to Marco on Friday about his evolved approach to racing that includes a sustained effort to not overdrive and to control his "grab the car by the throat" natural urges, the impact of heat and wind on drivers and cars, how he handles fan expections and much more,
pressdog: About Milwaukee, what goes through your head as a driver when you know something is screwy with your car? After the F bombs …
pressdog: You’ve driven well at the last few Indy 500s and just been a little bit short of a win. Is Indy the illusive thing that you’re trying to grasp and can’t quite get a full grip on it?
Marco: Especially this year was frustrating. It was similar to Dallas this year for me because my finishing positions were probably as far back as I ran all day. You never like that as a driver, especially when you are able to lead some laps.
The way I look at it is the end of the races (Indy 500s) have been different than in the past. It’s almost been a shootout every time, and you can blame yellow flag, yellow flag, whatever, it’s circumstances. In my career, as long as I am competing, if it’s going to be a shot out, as long as I am a part of it one or two has to fall my way eventually. That’s why I was joking with my grandfather (Mario Andretti) saying ‘Why would we lobby to get the yellow flag, red flag deal (some type of Green-White-Checker rule for IndyCar) changed?’ Because as soon as we lobby for a change it will bite me the other way. You know how that goes. If it’s going to be a shoot out, I might as well be in it.
pressdog: You seem to do well at Iowa, you seem to like Iowa and Iowa seems to like you. What is it about Iowa?
Marco: First and foremost, Andretti Autosport rolls off with great race cars here so that always helps. Since we’ve been coming here I think Dario and I put together a great baseline setup in 2007, but obviously things have changed drastically with the aero rules and such and the tire. I think we have adapted well and I think that’s all you can ask for.
pressdog: Is there something about the track configuration that plays to your strengths or something?
Marco: I don’t know. I like that it’s a challenge race track, physically and mentally, because if the car is off a little bit you’re off a lot, if you know what I mean. It’s like Milwaukee (in that way), but having said that it’s one that rewards you if you get it right.
pressdog: How you deal with the wind as a driver? (It was windy Friday when we talked.)
Marco: If it’s gusty you kind of just have to be on your game and be ready to catch something. But if you feel something in your car, you need to know it’s that (the wind) and not chase it in the setup. If you get a loose moment, don’t come in and start changing the back of the car. Deal with it, basically. The gusts are when It gets tricky. If it’s a normal, steady wind you study it and you kind of expect what the car is going to feel like in every corner.
pressdog: You’re P3 in the championship and you have some teammates up there with you, so first of all does your position in the championship affect how you approach a race or how you drive?
Marco: I don’t think so because I’ve always wanted to win every race I got in. It never pans out that way, but … Right now even me being third in the championship and being somewhat in contention I want to win more than ever and I think that would be the case whether I was leading or last in points.
pressdog: Are you more aggressive, less aggressive, same Marco as always or …
Marco: Well, you have to be sensible. And it’s easier to tell you that in an interview right now than then when you have to make split second decisions.
pressdog: I notice you don’t have your helmet on as you say that …
pressdog: I’ve read about your offseason efforts with coaching and fitness and all the difference that’s made. What’s the main improvement this year?
Marco: The thing about my approach this year … it’s not more commitment; it’s not working harder, it’s knowing where to work. So people say ‘Well he’s decided to drive this year.’ No. I’ve pushed harder than anything in my past years but that’s actually worked against me. I think overdriving was killing me and my career just because I was asking for something that was not there. In order to get it done there’s no magic. You gotta pull the time out of the car and the tires and everything that it’s going to give you and I was just reaching too far. It’s not harder work, it’s knowing where to work. I think it comes from experience.
pressdog: Was that a difficult adjustment for you that sort of patience, get-what-the-car-will-give-you kind of approach?
Marco: It is, because as they are taking downforce away and Firestone is doing a good job of making a tire that goes off so we produce good racing at the end of the stint. If there is less grip nowadays it works against my aggressive, grab-the-car-by-the-throat style. Instead of having one problem (less downforce and degrading tires) I have two (that plus overdriving or over-aggressive style). I always used to chase the two problems when, if I would slow myself down and chase the problem Ryan (Hunter-Reay) is chasing (lack of grip) I would be more in the ball park. I would go this way and he would be the right way, just because I was chasing something (an overly aggressive style) that shouldn’t have been there (late in the stint).
pressdog: You mention Ryan and he’s in the championship hunt and Hinch as well, is there going to be a point where you guys aren’t looking at each other or some friction there?
Marco: Honestly, I don’t think so. I think we both see the bigger picture. I knew right from race one I was going to have to race this guy (RHR) for the championship. He won last year and Helio has gotten off from a good start but we knew the first day of the month of May we (Andretti Autosport driver) were all going to be racing each other at the end of the race. I have to credit his (RHR’s) 2012 to my 2013 because I was able to really put my stuff right up there with the champ and figure out how he was beating me and come back and try to beat him.
pressdog: The first race after a mechanical problem like Milwaukee is it more tempting to overdrive or put more pressure on yourself for a great result this time?
Marco: There’s definitely pressure but I don’t think I am going to alter my driving. I think I am going to do what I’ve done here for six years. We’ve run well here. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel chasing something that’s not there -- that’s kind of been the key for me -- so I just want to get whatever the weekend wants to give me. But, like I said, I’m definitely jonesing for a win right now.
pressdog: How does the heat affect the driver (race time forecast is humid and 90+ degrees).
Marco: Physically, I think we are up to the task. But the track temp will be the telling story. Once we get through practices and see how the car is going to react to that, we are going to get a better understanding of it. Under the lights (last year’s race here as a night race) we can get away with a lot of stuff we can’t when it is windy and hot. We’ll see how the tires are going to react to that.
pressdog: Iowa seems to love Marco. Big ovation when you are introduced ..
Marco: That’s cool
pressdog: … and people show up to see you. Do you feel the love from Iowa?
Marco: Oh absolutely, yeah. This is one in the schedule that has been nice to, honestly, the whole series because we draw a great crowd here. They are very passionate about what we do which makes us feel good. I got a very important win for my career here for sure.
pressdog: When you go to appearances -- I ask this of a bunch of drivers -- but when fans show up do you try to anticipate what they want you to be and kind of give them what they expect or how do you handle it.
Marco: No, I don’t let the fans mold me into being a particular person, however I think from the first few years of my career to now I’ve evolved such that I more relaxed around people because I know when to take my mind out of the race track. I would get very misconstrued because of how focused I was. I understand how they could easily interpret that as me stand-offish or whatever. Honestly, I’m a shy guy. I don’t mean to come across that way.