Third-generation Andretti shows promise

Updated: April 3, 2005, 2:15 PM ET
Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Marco Andretti won his Menards Infiniti Pro Series debut Sunday, grabbing the lead with a three-wide pass and pulling away to an easy victory in the St. Petersburg 100.

The 18-year-old, third-generation driver, racing after the death of a close friend in a car accident Saturday, started from the pole. He lost the lead to rookie Wade Cunningham on the 13th of 40 laps on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn downtown street circuit, but kept the pressure on the New Zealander and finally got back in front on lap 31.

``After I made the mistake, I knew I wasn't done,'' Andretti said. ``I thought, `No more mistakes.' We got lucky with lapped traffic.''

He got his chance when Cunningham was slowed by the lapped car of Marty Roth. Andretti squeezed beneath the other two cars and shot ahead. He was not challenged again, finishing 1.42 seconds -- about half the final straightaway -- ahead of runner-up Cunningham.

``I was having some brake problems and I just caught that lapped car in the wrong spot,'' Cunningham said. ``He slowed my momentum and Marco took advantage of it.''

Andretti won the pole Saturday, only to have it taken away for a technical violation. He was then restored to the top qualifying spot through an appeal.

He was able to put aside the turmoil Sunday as well as his grief. And he did it in front of his father, Michael Andretti, and grandfather, Mario Andretti, both former racing champions.

Marco, whose regular ride this season is in the Star Mazda Series, hopes to drive at least a couple more Infiniti Pro events. He said loves the Infiniti Pro cars, adding, ``They suit my driving style.''

His entry at this event was fielded by his father's Andretti Green Racing team.

``What a job,'' Michael said. ``With everything he's been through this weekend, he drove like a champion already. There's a lot more to come.''

Nick Bussell, another first-year driver, was third, followed by two more drivers with great racing bloodlines, Al Unser, son of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. and grandson of four-time Indy winner Al Unser, and Arie Luyendyk Jr., son of a two-time Indy winner. Both the younger Unser and Luyendyk are 22.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press