When he announced that he was cutting back from racing IndyCars full-time this year to pursue other interests, Marco Andretti specifically mentioned sports cars as a possibility.
That prospect took a big step toward reality when the third-generation driver tested alongside cousin Jarett Andretti last week in a Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) at Sebring. Admitting he had “a lot of fun” driving a prototype for the first time in nearly a decade, Marco Andretti indicated that he and Jarett may be sharing the Ligier JS P320 in at least a couple of IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races later this season.
“Right now, they’re looking at The Glen and Road America,” Marco said. “I may jump in for another test before then, but that’s what they’re looking at. I don’t know if they’ve made a final decision on it yet, but I’m kind of letting Jarett run the reins on it. If he calls me up and I’m free, I’ll go drive.”
Jarett is already set to run the No. 18 Andretti Autosport Ligier with co-driver Tristan Herbert for the full IMSA Prototype Challenge season. They finished fourth in their debut at the Daytona International Speedway season opener on Jan. 24.
Since the Prototype Challenge is a development series open only to Silver- and Bronze-rated drivers, Marco’s Gold rating makes him ineligible to drive in that series. Instead, they’re looking to the WeatherTech Championship, which added LMP3 as a fifth competition class this season.
Prior to last week’s test, Marco hadn’t been in a prototype since racing a Daytona Prototype in the Rolex 24 At Daytona nine years ago. He also drove an Acura-powered Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) for three races in 2008 and made his sole 24 Hours of Le Mans attempt in a Le Mans Prototype 1 (LMP1) in 2010.
He said he’s always adapted quickly to prototypes, and the LMP3 test was no exception.
“It’s almost about slowing myself down a little bit and driving to the limit of them,” he said. “You kind of find yourself right at the limit pretty quick in those things so I was able to be pretty quick relative to the others.
“(The LMP3 has) a little less grip from the Acura that I drove but they (LMP3s) are super underpowered, so the biggest difference from IndyCar is they’re even more of a momentum car,” the 2006 Indianapolis 500 runner-up and 2020 Indy pole sitter said. “It’s all about keeping the minimum speeds up and keeping the momentum up. That’s where I was able to find a decent chunk of my time. In the high-speed corners, it still takes a lot of commitment.”
Speaking of commitment, Marco said his top priority remains winning the Indy 500 – “the big one,” as he put it. It’s a life-changing accomplishment that his grandfather Mario reached in 1969 but his father Michael was unable to achieve despite numerous close calls.
Aside from that continuing desire, Marco admitted he’s enjoying his newfound freedom.
“I’m actually loving life,” he said. “I’m kind of in control of my own destiny from a racing point of view. I can still win the big one and kind of be more diverse from there. I’m at my own will, whatever I feel like driving.”
He’s already signed up for good friend Tony Stewart’s Superstar Racing Experience (SRX), a six-race, prime-time series this summer putting greats from multiple racing disciplines – including Stewart, Bill Elliott, Bobby Labonte and Michael Waltrip from NASCAR, Willy T. Ribbs from sports cars, and Tony Kanaan, Paul Tracy and Helio Castroneves from IndyCars – in identical high-horsepower, low-downforce cars at short tracks around the nation.
“I couldn’t say no to (Stewart) on that,” Marco said. “That’s going to be too fun.”
The SRX event at Stewart’s Eldora Speedway in Ohio conflicts with the WeatherTech Championship weekend at Watkins Glen International in late June, but Jarett Andretti told his cousin to “double duty it” since the SRX race is at night and Marco could make the short private flight between the tracks. And Jarett Andretti knows all about double duty, as his father, John, was the first to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 in the same day back in 1994 when Jarett was a year-and-a-half old.
Marco feels added incentive to drive with Jarett, who’s five years his junior and worked his way up through the dirt-track and GT racing ranks. In the span of a year, Jarett’s father – the versatile NASCAR, IndyCar, drag racing and 1989 Rolex 24 At Daytona winner – died after a lengthy battle with colorectal cancer and Jarett’s grandfather Aldo – Mario’s twin brother and a talented racer as well until sustaining serious injuries in the 1960s – passed away in December at age 80. Something Jarett told Marco recently provided all the motivation the latter needed.
“It meant a lot to me when he said, ‘We’ve got to make these races happen because it’s the closest thing I’m going to get to driving with my dad,’” Marco recalled of what Jarett said. “I was humbled to hear that. It would be my pleasure to co-drive with him.”
The next IMSA Prototype Challenge race, in which Herbert and Jarett Andretti are slated to compete, is March 13 at Sebring. It also falls on Marco Andretti’s 34th birthday.