Since there’s no actual racing to discuss the predominant conversation for IRL fans has revolved around the question “Who’s gonna replace Helio?” Many journalists are openly suggesting Ryan Hunter-Reay or Justin Wilson or Oriol Servia because they’re good drivers who are unemployed. Many fans are hoping, begging, pleading that that Roger Penske bring back Sam Hornish Jr because he’s been there and done that quite well. One word butcher even suggested that The Captain might be looking to hand-pick a driver named Vitor from another team.
This just shows there are lots of options for Team Penske, which means that (a) they’ll likely end up with a good driver and (b) whoever it is will be second-guessed the first time they faltered. Look how many people were suggesting Ryan Briscoe should be fired after his first few races in 2008. Come on, you know who you are – don’t try to act like that didn’t happen.
But forget the Briscoe Inferno for just a moment and allow me to express a personal opinion on who should be his teammate for 2009. (That is, the best driver other than Helio Castroneves, who IS the best driver available.) A premier team like Penske needs not just a replacement but THE BEST replacement, so after careful consideration I’d like to offer my two cents who would be the best option for everyone.
For real. I’m not joking. Seriously. I really think Marco is the guy.
Remember that for Roger Penske the primary goal every year is to win the Indy 500, or should I say yet another Indy 500. Winning that race brings everything else, and taking the checkers 14 times as an owner has allowed him to pretty much write his own checks in racing. It is the goose that lays his golden eggs.
Now consider how Marco Andretti has fared in exactly three Indy 500s.
2006 - Marco was passed for the lead between the final turn and the yard of bricks, finishing 2nd at The Brickyard at only 19 years of age.
2007 - Marco brief leads a rain-filled race, crashing while battling in the Top 10 right before the race is called.
2008 - Marco again leads 15 laps before eventually falling behind Scott Dixon and Vitor Meira, lock-stepping his way to 3rd.
In three races he’s got two Top 3 finishes and has led 30 laps, all by the age of 21. And, as John Oreovicz points out, he’s quite possibly still a free agent.
Unless the team chose not to publicize it, Marco still has not re-signed with Andretti Green Racing. Many observers believe Marco will not achieve his full potential until he gets away from AGR, the team owned by his father, Michael. And what an opportunity Penske would offer to the 21-year-old! Grandfather Mario drove Indy cars for Penske from 1976-80 and would certainly endorse this career move.I know, I know. You’re saying “Jeff, come on, we know why you’re doing this. You’ve already told us how you want to see Marco win the 500.” Yes, and thank you for mentioning that, because not only does it show you've been a frequent reader here but it’s also my next point.
Look, we’ve got a crisis on our hands with this Helio trial. One of the two most recognizable names from the series might be gone, which means we’re back to having Danica! as the primary representative of the sport. We need someone else to step up and garner some Q Ratings, and no one other than Mrs Hospenthal would bring more attention by winning at Indy than Young Marco. No offense to Vitor Meira, but if he wins it’s a week of interviews. If a guy named “Andretti” wins, it’s a lot more.
So you’ve got good driver at Indy and a marketable name – what could be better? Well, don’t forget the fact that he wouldn’t be racing for his dad anymore. The AGR team has at times turned into Comedy Central, what with Michael trying to figure out how to respond to incidents involving his son and other teammates, most notably at Infineon in ’07 and Indy in ’08. If Marco went to drive for Team Penske it would not only take away that conflict of interest, but it might also get Marco’s ever present grandfather out from hovering around and casting his long shadow over the AGR team. Allowing Michael to just be team owner and not family man on race weekends might actually add back the years to his life he’s lost watching Marco turn his cars upside-down.
And the cherry on top of this is the idea of seeing former combatants Sam Hornish Sr and Marco’s buddy Anthony Fedele chumming around at the Penske holiday party. This is such a win-win-win idea for Penske, for Marco, for Michael, and for the entire IRL that it can’t be ignored.
Unless of course you think it's completely ridiculous.
(Photo: Trackside Online)