Joe Robbins/US Presswire
Marco Andretti came in looking cool but then set down the hottest lap on the first full day of Indy 500 practice, with an average speed of 226.599 mph.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Last we saw Marco Andretti
at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he was flying through the backstretch upside down in a spectacular crash at the end of the rain-shortened 2007 Indianapolis 500.
Once he realized he was unhurt, he wanted to redeem himself right away. Of course he had to wait a year to return to the Brickyard, but Tuesday he began the redemption process pretty well. Andretti's draft-aided lap of 226.599 mph was by far the best on a very busy first full day of practice for the 92nd Indy 500 (ABC, May 25 at noon ET)
"We'll take it. It was a very big tow [behind Graham Rahal's car], but you need the mechanical balance to be able to stay flat [on the throttle] to get the time, so I'm very pleased with the guys so far this year," said the Andretti Green Racing driver. "It's a good start, but this place changes."
He knows that as well as anyone. Last year his day ended in a crash and his 2006 rookie race ended with a different kind of agony, being passed by Team Penske's Sam Hornish Jr. on the last straight of the last lap.
The crash, he could forget. The runner-up finish sticks with him.
"For a 19-year-old rookie it was great, but any other [time] you're second place, on the podium, you've got points, it's a great weekend -- but not leading out of Turn 4 of the Indy 500," Andretti said.
This season he arrived in town with a better start to the season under his belt, seventh in points with a fifth-place finish at Kansas on April 27 and a second in the season-opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway. A year ago he came to Indy in an oval-track funk, having bowed out of those races early with what he called dangerous cars.
Returning to the 2.5-mile oval at Indy, whether it's the family genes or something else, has always suited him. No better evidence than Tuesday, when his Dallara-Honda's tow-assisted lap bettered his Andretti Green teammate Tony Kanaan
(225.269 mph) by over one full mile per hour.
"We definitely know how to get around this place," said the now 21-year-old. "Patience is the key word around here, you have to get to the end to be able to get yourself into a position to even have a go at it. It's a long race, but it's a long month, too."
The long month of May began with its busiest opening day in nine years. After two days of rookie orientation, 31 drivers in 33 cars (Helio Castroneves
and Vitor Meira
drove backups in addition to primary cars) completed 1,385 incident-free laps of work, creating traffic not seen since 1999 when 33 drivers in 38 cars practiced. Last year, 25 drivers in 27 cars turned laps on opening day.
Quick reflexes by Rahal
Tuesday's practice wouldn't have been accident-free had Newman/Haas/Lanigan's Graham Rahal
not saved his Dallara-Honda in the south short chute midway through practice. He had a significant bobble before gathering it in.
"I think I had the save of the month," said Rahal, son of 1986 500 winner Bobby Rahal
and a rookie at Indy. "I came out of Turn 1 and the car had understeered there every single lap except for this one and the thing snapped on me. It was close. I had a full lock on [the steering wheel] and it just came back to me."
Rahal, a winner last month at St. Petersburg, Fla., was 19th on the speed charts at 222.552 mph.
John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.