Andretti starts in best possible way

The 18-year-old wins his Infiniti Pro Series debut, re-taking the lead after losing it briefly.

Published April 4, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - Believe the hype.

Marco Andretti, son of Andretti Green Racing co-owner Michael and grandson of racing legend Mario, lived up to his famous last name Sunday at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Making his debut in the Infiniti Pro Series, the 18-year-old Andretti became only the fourth driver in the series' four-year history to win his first race.

Andretti, Sunday's pole-sitter, led for 22 of the 40 laps. Driving the No.26 car, Andretti took the early lead, before second-place finisher Wade Cunningham passed him in Turn 9 on Lap 13.

"I was trying to slow down the race and conserve my brakes," Cunningham said. "I ran into a little brake trouble, so when Marco got the lead, there was no way I could stay with him through the heavy braking zones to make a pass."

On Lap 31, Andretti made a pass in Turn 2 to regain the lead. He crossed the finish line 1.4181 seconds ahead of Cunningham.

"I knew I had to make the pass on the turn," Andretti said. "We had two test days in the car. These things are fun to drive."

Andretti said he was confident of his team's chances once he heard Jeff Simmons and the No.24 car were no longer in the race.

Simmons, second in Saturday's qualifying runs, and Jamie Camara collided in Turn 1 on Lap 1. Camara's No.1 car didn't make it around the track, while Simmons managed one lap without his rear wing and wound up 12th.

"I just broke on Marco and was getting ready to turn into the corner and I just got clobbered from behind," Simmons said. "We're just really disgusted with this weekend."

Andretti said he hoped to fly back to Nazareth, Pa., on Sunday.

After all, he does have high school in the morning.

"Every step of the way he has impressed me," Michael Andretti said. "He is the real deal."