BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Marco Andretti had an answer for everything crafty veteran Scott Dixon tried.
Andretti couldn’t catch up to Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay at Barber Motorsports Park’s permanent road course on Sunday, but nobody else overtook him either and he clung to second place for about the final 45 minutes of the timed race.
Andretti’s runner-up finish sends him to the new road course in Indianapolis on a good note after a rough start to the season.
“I actually think it was huge for him,” said Michael Andretti, the team owner and Marco’s father. “We had a little bit of a talk before the start of the race. He drove really well. I was proud of him.
“He was very aggressive when he needed to be aggressive, then he paced himself really well when he got in front of Will (Power). Will never was able to challenge him. He was under a lot of pressure from Dixon. Didn’t put a wheel wrong. In the end you could tell Dixon tried everything to get by him and he fell back because he used his tires to try. He did a really good job.”
Marco Andretti wound up with his first podium finish since taking third in Sao Paulo early in the 2013 season. It was pretty good timing, too.
Andretti headed to Indianapolis on Monday to begin preparations for the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis ahead of Wednesday’s testing.
“I haven’t done a lot yet on the circuit,” Andretti said. “I won the (2005 Indy) Lights race there, but I think it’s quite different.”
He had been knocked out with 28 laps remaining at St. Petersburg in a crash with rookie Jack Hawksworth on the first restart, then finished eighth at Long Beach.
Andretti finished the Barber race with his radio working sporadically. He didn’t express much confidence that he could have overtaken Hunter-Reay if the race hadn’t ended under caution, saying he would have risked using up his tires and getting passed by Dixon.
Andretti had his hands full holding off Dixon, who had finished second in each of the four previous Alabama IndyCar races.
“Going up there to eight, I knew I had to get to the bottom because I’m sure he was on the `push to pass’ there,” Andretti said. “They didn’t tell me he was, but the way he pulled out of five, I thought he was.
“I knew if I could hold him there, I could put my head down and try to gap him. We did, but he came back at the end.”
Michael Andretti said it was “fun to watch” his son’s race and that he made some terrific passes. Hunter-Reay monitored his teammate’s progress while driving to his second straight win at the Alabama track. Andretti started in the ninth position.
“He had to work for that one,” Hunter-Reay said. “He came from a ways back. I saw on the pylon (car No.) 25, 25, 25 moving up. He had to work for it, for sure. A very good job.”
Now, Andretti’s team is hoping for a strong encore in Indianapolis — either in the Grand Prix on May 10 or more significantly in the big one two weeks later. The team will have five entrants, including NASCAR crossover Kurt Busch, who is aiming to run the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s 600-mile race on the same day.
“You definitely would like to be the first ones to win the race,” Michael Andretti said. “I can’t tell you it would be the same if we win the Indy 500. We’re not going to kid ourselves. That’s still the granddaddy, the one we all still want to win.
“It sure would be fun to see Andretti in Victory Lane at the 500. That would be fun.”