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Marco Andretti's talent is evident quickly as, in his Infiniti Pro Series debut, he tops qualifying for today's race.
By MEYLA HOOKER
Published April 3, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - Don't let Marco Andretti's baby face fool you.
The third-generation driver who looks 10, but acts 30, just turned 18 last month.
The son of IndyCar team owner and former driver Michael Andretti and grandson of Indianapolis 500 winner Mario Andretti, Marco makes his Infiniti Pro Series debut this weekend at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
And on top of that he earned the pole for today's race at 93.472 mph in Saturday's qualifying. At 18 years and 20 days he's the youngest pole-sitter in the series' four-year history. A.J. Foyt IV was the youngest at 18 years, 44 days.
This is also Andretti's first year in cars.
Having driven go-carts since age 10, Andretti is accustomed to the attention his last name attracts. He has answered just as many questions about continuing the legacy as he has about actual racing.
"There's obviously the added pressure," Andretti said. "I'm not going to be able to escape it, so I just try to block it out. If you put that much pressure on yourself you may as well give it up."
Andretti captured his first professional championship last year by winning seven times in the Formula TR 1600 Pro Series. He also won the Skip Barber Formula Dodge Southern Series championship and the Skip Barber National Series.
The 5-foot-6, 135-pound native of Nazareth, Pa., wasn't always sure racing was his calling.
Andretti was thrilled when Michael and Mario fully supported his decision to take some time off to consider his future.
"That's when I knew," the younger Andretti said. "They both said it was completely up to me. They gave me space and never pressured me into racing. They let me fall in love with it on my own."
Racing is the only thing on Andretti's mind these days.
He will race in the Star Mazda Series, the Barber Dodge Pro Series and hopes to run in several Grand Am endurance events.
Regardless of the event, Michael and Mario are always on pit road keeping a close eye on their prodigy. But unlike Mario's handling of his son's career early on, Michael has chosen the hands-off approach; he says he doesn't coach Marco though Michael co-owns his Andretti Green Racing team.
"Marco has a huge pressure disadvantage," Michael said. "Not only (is he) the son of somebody who is pretty good at the sport, but the grandson of a living legend. When I go to a race, you don't even know I am there."
The younger Andretti already has the respect of fellow drivers.
"He comes from a good background," said Jeff Simmons, driver of the No. 24 car in the Infiniti Pro Series. "He's obviously got talent and they're doing the right things over on that team. It doesn't surprise me. I welcome it."
Andretti - a fan of hip-hop, Japanese food, MTV's Punk'd, Chris Tucker and Ashley Judd - says he likes being a normal teenager away from the track.
He just happens to be a teenager with a famous last name.
"I was driving in my truck a few weeks ago listening to oldies," Andretti said. "When I got into my dad's car later he was listening to rap. I couldn't help but smile. I guess I'm getting older. That's not such a bad thing."