WEST ALLIS, Wis. – Given his family's checkered history in the Indianapolis 500, Michael Andretti understands better than anybody why his son, Marco, was so frustrated during Sunday's race.
And as a race car driver, Andretti knows there's only one way for his son to get over a growing sense of frustration at Indy. It's something Michael wasn't able to do himself as a driver: Win it.
"You're still human," Michael Andretti said Tuesday, during a test session for the June 15-16 IndyFest at the Milwaukee Mile. "And until it happens, he's going to be that way. And once it happens, I think you'll see a different person. It's just that way. I know it was that way with me. You can talk until you're blue in the face, but that pressure and everything that you have there is just going to be there."
Marco Andretti led 59 laps Sunday, more than any other driver. But he got shuffled back in the field by an ill-timed caution flag after a pit stop. Then he crashed on lap 188, ending his day.
Before the crash, he spent much of the afternoon venting frustration to his crew on the radio.
"He gets a little excited still," said Michael, whose Andretti Autosport team fields cars for Marco. "I think he felt that it was slipping away."
It was the latest example of rotten luck for a member of the Andretti family at Indy, something many have come to call the "Andretti curse."
Marco's grandfather, Mario, won it in 1969 — and never won again in 24 more tries.
Michael led 431 laps in 16 career starts but never won.
"I was never able to do it as a driver, but finally was able to do it a couple times as an owner," Michael Andretti said. "Now I know how Marco's feeling. I know, better than anybody, how Marco's feeling. And I feel so bad for him, because he had the car to win. Bad luck, gets a vibration, comes in the pits one lap early and the yellow comes out, he loses a lap and his race is ruined. That place, it's frustrating. Keep plugging along, keep pushing it. We're going to win it soon."
Marco came close in his first try, finishing second by a nose to Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006. He has led laps in five of his seven Indy starts and finished third in 2008 and 2010.
Michael says his son's frustration might go beyond Indy. Marco has two career wins in IndyCar. But given his talent, should he have more?
"I think the pressure is on him to perform, and he's led so many races and stuff but he hasn't gotten the job done enough," Michael Andretti said. "I think he's feeling that pressure more than anything right now. He's ready to have that breakout. He just needs to have that. Indy, for instance. I know that if he would have won Indy, he would have followed up with three, four wins in a row."
Marco Andretti was not among the 19 drivers at Tuesday's test at Milwaukee. Teammate James Hinchcliffe said Andretti was "a little sore" after the crash but otherwise handled his frustration well.
"He got in Indy cars when he was 19, so he's been doing this a long time," Hinchcliffe said. "At 19 years old, he lost the Indy 500 by half a carlength — and I think handled it very well, well beyond his years. For him to have led as much as he did (Sunday) and have as strong a day as he did and to end the way it did, yeah, it's bitterly disappointing. But Marco's been around long enough to know that you race on."
And Hinchcliffe doesn't get the sense that having the Andretti name — and all the baggage that comes with it at Indianapolis — weighs too heavily on Marco.
"It's something that he's had to deal with his whole life, whether it's at Indy or Milwaukee or Toronto," Hinchcliffe said. "Every time he gets in a car, his grandfather's still Mario and his dad's still Michael. ... Indy means so much to all the drivers, and everybody's got a different sort of personal connection with that race. And while fans may try to add pressure because of the name, I don't think it's something that weighs on him too, too much."
Michael Andretti said he hasn't had to console his son, who is focused on the IndyCar series' race in the Detroit area this weekend.
"I didn't really even see him much," Andretti said. "I mean, you don't have to. He's been there long enough. He's seen it with me, and he just knows. His focus is on Detroit."