Michael Andretti will compete in next year's Indianapolis 500, ending a two-year absence from the driver's seat and taking another shot at a victory that so famously eluded him during a great career. His son, Marco, will become a third-generation Andretti driver with a full-time spot in the Indy Racing League for Andretti Green Racing. The team is co-owned by Michael Andretti. The team won this year's race with English driver Dan Wheldon, who also took the 2005 IRL championship. But he said last month that he's moving next season to Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
Once Wheldon announced his decision, Michael Andretti said on Tuesday he knew it was time to come back. "Ever since that time I've been very pumped about it, very excited," he said. "Then I thought, heck, what a neat idea that I would be driving with Marco." Marco, who will turn 19 in March, will replace Wheldon. Andretti has three other full-time drivers, Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta, returning next year. He thanked the team for giving him a shot.
"This team's record the last three years has been unbelievable and it's going to be tough to keep it going," he said. "We'll see how it goes." Michael Andretti, whose father Mario won the 1969 Indy 500, was one of several second-generation drivers who joined the circuit in the 1980s and 1990s. He retired after the 2003 Indy 500 with the dubious distinction of leading the most laps, 426 in 14 starts, without winning at least once.
His return is a major boost for the IRL, which has been trying to gain fan support over the past decade since its split from CART, now known as Champ Car. The IRL made headway this year with the emergence of Danica Patrick, who finished fourth in the Indy 500. The Andretti family has long evoked passion among Indy fans. During the 1960s, '70s and '80s, many were either fans of Mario Andretti or four-time Indy winner A.J. Foyt. While Foyt's career was defined by Indy wins, the Andrettis' fate at Indianapolis has long been associated with extreme disappointment.
Mario Andretti spent much of his career chasing an elusive second trip to Victory Lane, a trip that never came before his final Indy run in 1994. Talk of a possible Indy return in 2003 ended with a spectacular crash during testing when his car flipped end over end after hitting debris on the track. While Michael's final Indy race ended with a golf cart ride after yet another mechanical failure, Andretti Green Racing has become the IRL's top team since he took it over after the 2002 season, reports the AP. N.U.