2006 Brickyard battleWritten by Dave Woolford | | email@example.com
It was to be an all-Andretti finish, father against son, a chance to erase some of the family’s annual anguish at their temple of gloom, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
With two laps remaining in last year’s Indy 500, Marco, a rookie 19-year-old third-generation Andretti, was leading his father, Michael, who holds the ignominious record of having led the most laps at Indy without a victory after 15 attempts.
An assortment of Andrettis with a total of 53 Indy 500s under their respective seat belts had only one victory among them, that belonging to the family patriarch, Mario, in 1969. But that was about to be appeased.
“You start to notice all the cameras and stuff,” Marco vividly recalls. “I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, this can really happen.’ Obviously we got the questions, ‘What if it came down to you two?’ before the race. I said, ‘It would be a fairytale, but, no, I’m not going to let him win the thing.’ And that’s what happened.
“Unfortunately, there was a third party involved.”
That third party was Defiance native Sam Hornish, and he was traveling first class. His red Marlboro Team Penske mount was tracking down the Andrettis in rapid order, first passing Michael then stalking Marco as time and distance played into the rookie’s hands.
Hornish got a good run off turn four on the last lap, dove down to the inside of the track and passed Marco about 500 feet from the finish line to win in the second closest finish in Indy 500 history. The official margin of victory was 0.0635 seconds. In layman’s terms that’s about 15 feet.
It has already reserved its place in Indy 500 history as one of the most electrifying finishes ever. Historians say it was the first time a pass had been made on the last lap to win the Indy 500.
And while Hornish had two Andrettis to deal with last year in winning for the first time in seven tries at the Brickyard, he’ll be facing a third Andretti May 27 in the 91st running of the Indy 500. After a 12-year absence, cousin John Andretti returns for his eighth “500.”
But back to the anatomy of the perfect pass at the precise moment that will forever accentuate Hornish’s first Indy 500 win and the Brickyard’s most unrivaled moments.
“I rolled into Turn 1 thinking: ‘I’m gaining on him. I don’t know if I’m going to have enough,’” Hornish said. “In Turn 2, ‘Well, it’s looking better.’ And when I went into 3, you know, ‘I’ve got this pretty close to where I need it to be.’ And coming off of 4, I had to actually get off just a little bit to keep the car from pushing out and to keep from getting too close to Marco. And it was really just waiting until the last second to be able to pull out so that he didn’t have an opportunity to make a move. He really didn’t know which way I was going to go until there at the very end.”
“I felt that if there was one perfect lap that I could run there, that was probably the one.”
Slowly squirming out of his car at the conclusion of the Indy 500 last year, Marco said, “I finished second. It doesn’t mean anything to me. First place is different.”
Marco has since tried to minimize the situation, but no explanations seem to work. Not even the fact that he became the fourth different Andretti to be named the Indy 500 Rookie of The Year.
“It’s going to bother me till the end of my career, even if I win this thing four times,” he said. “I lost the biggest race in the world by just a little bit. My feelings haven’t changed since I got out of the car last year.
“Would I have changed anything in the last 10 laps? No, I really wouldn’t.”
Michael Andretti, 44, like his son, can’t allow time to provide any solace in regard to last year’s outcome.
“I still think about it and it still ticks me off,” Michael said. “I know it does the same thing with Marco. As exciting and everything as it was, there’s still that pit in your stomach when you think about it. I’m not sure that will ever go away unless one of us wins.”
After finishing no better than 14th in six previous attempts, Hornish vanquished the cavity in his belly.
Photo: Associated Press