'I didn't miss this'
Andretti survives difficult weekend to get in field
Updated: Monday June 11, 2001 1:23 AM
INDIANAPOLIS (CNNSI.com) -- The "Andretti Curse" got a head start this year.
This time, Michael Andretti's car was too slow.
A bad qualification time had threatened his spot in the starting lineup for the race on May 27 -- the former CART champion's return to Indy for the first time since the open-wheel split began after the 1995 season.
"I didn't miss this stuff," Andretti said of the uneasy 24 hours between his first qualification run on Saturday and his team's decision a day later to withdraw the car and re-qualify a backup at a much greater speed. "I've never experienced this. I feel sorry for guys that go through this."
Andretti's first four-lap qualification average was at 220.747 mph, which would have put him third on the bump list for Sunday's final round of qualifications. All but one of the 33 starting spots have been filled, so that means Andretti might have been out of the lineup if just four more cars qualified at faster speeds.
He didn't want to take the chance.
"It's been tough. It's been draining," he said. "I was thinking, `What have I done wrong to this place? Geez, what's going on?'"
He has had plenty of reasons to wonder.
Since his father, Mario, won at Indianapolis in 1969, the family has endured an almost endless string of disappointments in the world's biggest auto race.
Mario crashed six times between 1971 and '92. In 1981, he thought he won the race after Bobby Unser was penalized for passing a line of cars during a yellow caution period, but four months later, a USAC appeals panel overturned the penalty and gave the victory to Unser.
In 1985, Mario led 107 laps but finished second to Danny Sullivan. Two years later, Andretti started from the pole and dominated for 170 laps before his car went dead with a bad ignition 20 laps from the finish. In his final race at Indy in 1994, a problem in the fuel system knocked him out after just 23 laps.
And the bad luck has crossed into the next generation.
Eldest son Michael has driven at Indianapolis 11 times without a trip to Victory Lane. His 382 laps at the front of the field are the most by any non-winner. In 1995, he led for 45 laps before he brushed the wall while leading the field. In 1992, he led for 160 of the 200 laps and was 25 miles from the checkered flag when he went out.
The year before, Michael was passed by winner Rick Mears with just 12 laps to go.
Michael's younger brother, Jeff, drove at Indianapolis three times, never finishing higher than 15th in 1991, when he was rookie of the year. But Jeff was seriously injured in a crash at Indy the next year and crashed again in his final race in 1993.
Even cousin John Andretti, who drove at Indy seven times from 1988-94 and is now in NASCAR's Winston Cup series, couldn't break the jinx.
John, the son of Mario's twin brother, Aldo, had four top-10 finishes at Indy but went out with engine problems his first two years and a spin in his third try.
No wonder Michael was relieved when his re-qualification on Sunday put him safely in the starting lineup at 223.441 for a tentative spot in the 27th position.
Andretti found the extra speed by putting the same setup on his car as the one driven by IRL points leader Sam Hornish Jr., whose Panther Racing Team is working with the new Motorola-Archipelago team run by Andretti's car owner, Barry Green.
"We would have done well [Saturday] if I'd have had this setup," Andretti said. "We wouldn't have been in this situation, but we had a miscommunication and put too much tape on the radiator and overheated the engine on the last two laps [Saturday].
"It was just a weird week. We never seemed to mesh. None of us could seem to get it right."
He said if the second effort hadn't been quick enough, the team would have called off the attempt and put another driver in the car to try to find enough speed while Andretti is in Japan for a CART race Sunday. If someone else qualifies the car, however, Andretti would have to start 33rd, no matter the qualification speed.
"We had plans B, C and D," he said. "But I didn't think I'd do a 223 [mph]. I was hoping for a 221. I know Sam is going to do a lot this week, and we trust what he is doing. We'll probably just be here on Carburetion Day [May 24]."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.