Monday, August 28, 2006

Let The Marco Era Begin!

Marco Andretti (19 years-old) notches his first win in a major open-wheel auto racing series Sunday in Sonoma (a road course). Father, Michael, and grandfather, Mario, were there for a special family affair. Image Credit: IRL

Marco was well on his way to becomming "Rookie-Of-The-Year" in the IRL after narrowly winning the Indianapolis 500 in May ... but it sure helps to win a race outright, and he did it in fine fashion. Marco Andretti sipped sparkling cider Sunday to celebrate becoming the youngest winner of a major open-wheel race ... ever!

The 19-year-old gambled twice on fuel, then benefited from a caution late in the race to hold off Dario Franchitti by 0.66 seconds and win the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway.

Marco won in front of his father, Michael, the co-owner of Andretti Green Racing, and his famous grandfather, Mario, winner of the 1969 Indy 500.

"Being able to bounce things off the two best in the business definitely helps," Marco Andretti said.

Let the Marco era begin!
(ht: AP)

Excerpts from the IRL -

Andretti: Unprecedented victory
Castroneves takes 1-point lead over Hornish heading to season finale
By Dave Lewandowski - indycar.com - Sunday, August 27, 2006


SONOMA, Calif. – The Infineon Raceway staff scrambled to get a bottle of sparkling cider into Victory Circle when it appeared Marco Andretti would win the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma.

At 19 years, 5 months, 14 days, the IndyCar Series rookie became the youngest winner of a major worldwide open-wheel race. Hence the bubbly non-alcoholic beverage for the winner instead of the traditional champagne. Either way, it tasted sweet.

The 0.6557-of-a-second victory over Andretti Green Racing teammate Dario Franchitti was the culmination of a season of dedication and education and a lifetime of preparation for the third-generation Indy-style car racer.

Grandfather Mario Andretti, the 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner, and his father, Michael, an open-wheel racing champion, were at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to console the youngster after he was passed on the frontstretch by Sam Hornish Jr. and finished second in the 90th Indianapolis 500 three months ago.

This day, they began celebrating when the No. 26 NYSE Dallara/Honda/Firestone appeared exiting Turn 10 on the demanding 2.26-mile circuit. It carried over with an emotional reunion in a confetti-strewn Victory Circle.

"I couldn't be happier," Mario Andretti said after hugging and being hugged by almost everyone in Victory Circle. "This is a perfect day, and he had a perfect weekend. That's what a big 'W' does for you.

"He drove well beyond his age, but he has all year.”

As it turned out, the main subplot on a beautiful day in the Sonoma Valley was the championship race. With one race remaining, Helio Castroneves (441) takes a one-point lead over Marlboro Team Penske teammate Sam Hornish Jr. heading to the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 10. Reigning IndyCar Series champion Dan Wheldon has 422 points, while Dixon, his Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, is fourth at 420.

It's the closest 1-2 race since Castroneves and Dixon were tied through 15 of 16 races in 2003. Dixon went on to win the championship.
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Andretti took the lead for good on Lap 51 when Dixon duck into the pits for tires and fuel under a caution period. A problem changing the left-front tire caused a delay, and the pole sitter lost valuable track position. Andretti had one challenge – on a restart following a brief caution for a spin by Bryan Herta’s No. 7 XM Satellite Radio car in Turn 7 on Lap 72.

But Andretti, who happily accepted the caution to conserve fuel, was able to remain in front of Franchitti, who recorded his best finish of the season.

“The guys were brilliant in the pits,” said Andretti, who clinched the Bombardier Rookie of the Year award. “They had a plan in the beginning. You know, everything worked.

“I couldn't be happier because we fulfilled all the goals that we set at the beginning of the year. Rookie of the Year at Indy, the series. We got our win. Definitely it's the best feeling all year for sure.”

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