Andretti aims to lift 'curse' at Indy 500

Indianapolis (AFP) –


Marco Andretti will aim to end half a century of futility on Sunday when he takes to the track at the 103rd Indianapolis 500, 50 years after his iconic grandfather Mario swept to victory in the US motorsport showpiece.

Despite his status as a legend of the sport, Mario Andretti's win in the 1969 race remains the lone victory for the Andretti family name, a fact that has led to talk of an "Andretti Curse."

Since Mario Andretti retired in 1994, his sons Michael and Jeff, nephew John and grandson Marco have all tried and failed to win at the Brickyard, a record of failure that encompasses 73 starts.

Marco Andretti, who was famously pipped for first place just 450 feet short of the finish line when driving as a rookie in 2006, is hoping to lift the curse this weekend in front of 250,000 fans at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"It's hard to put into words what (winning) would mean," Andretti said. "Even before this 50-year thing, this race meant the world to us. It would be the big cherry on top if we were able to bookend 50 years.

"It would be amazing. We'll try to go out there and do our job and hopefully if we're in the right place and the right time it could be a great day."

The 32-year-old, who races for the Andretti Autosport team, will start on the fourth row of the grid after qualifying 10th quickest.

"I really like our chances," Andretti said. "We're on a nice trajectory to do exactly what we need to do. We've been competitive in the past here, we're well within striking distance starting 10th.

"The car is good, we just have to go and do it and hopefully the unknown circumstances are in our favor."

While the Andretti Autosport has won the Indy 500 five times with other drivers, they are comfortably eclipsed by the mighty Team Penske, which has won the 500 on a record 17 inclusions.

- Penske power -

This year Penske drivers will again feature prominently, with France's Simon Pagenaud starting on pole, and 2018 winner Will Power of Australia just behind him on the second row of the grid.

A formidable Penske quartet of racers is completed by Josef Newgarden and Helio Castroneves. Newgarden qualified eighth fastest, with Castroneves 12th.

Pagenaud, the 2016 IndyCar champion, warned however that the gruelling nature of the spectacle could act as a leveller.

"We have the best car but at the end of the day there is a lot that can happen," Pagenaud said. "It's a long race."

Brazilian veteran Castroneves meanwhile is on a mission to claim a fourth win at the 500, which would put him in elite company with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only men to win the race four times.

"This is my favorite race of the season and favorite track," Castroneves said. "Ever since that first win (in 2001), I fell in love with coming here."

The unique challenge of the Indy 500, and the difficulty of claiming victory, is highlighted by the fact that the last eight years of the race have produced eight different winners.

Often, victory can come down to a question of luck. Even simply qualifying for the race can be a victory in itself, as Fernando Alonso knows only two well.

The two-time Formula One world champion will be a frustrated spectator this weekend after his attempt to qualify last weekend ended in disappointment.

Alonso was pipped for a place on the grid by underdog Kyle Kaiser, the 23-year-old Juncos Racing driver claiming the 33rd and final place on the grid from the Spaniard with an average speed of 227.372 mph, fractionally ahead of Alonso's 227.353.