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Marco Andretti establishes high hopes at Indy 500

Sat., May 19, 2012, midnight

INDIANAPOLIS – Maybe Marco Andretti can make good on his vision of going from last to first at Indianapolis.

The 25-year-old American with the well-known surname and the long racing legacy put himself atop the list of Pole Day favorites by becoming the only driver in Indianapolis 500 practice this week to post a lap over 227 mph.

Before that, he was the first driver to go faster than 226. Now, one year after making the Indy 500 on the last qualifying run of the weekend, he could become the first Andretti to win Indy’s coveted pole in a quarter century.

“I showed up this month to win the race, and I still believe we could do it from 33rd,” Andretti said after Friday’s practice. “If we could do it from first that would be fantastic. They told me it (an Andretti on the pole) hasn’t happened since my grandfather did it in 1987 and that was the year I was born, so it would be cool to be able to be on the pole (today).”

Andretti’s incredible move up the speed charts this week comes in the midst of what has been an extremely trying season.

He hasn’t qualified better than 10th in the last three races, hasn’t finished in the top 10 yet and has replaced his most recent radio caller, father and team owner Michael Andretti, with Kyle Moyer.

Race organizers couldn’t have scripted a better story line for Pole Day.

Last May was easily the worst of Andretti’s six career starts at Indianapolis, and without a wave off from James Jakes, he may have missed the race. The Andretti Autosport cars struggled all month with speed and two of the five cars failed to qualify for the race. Andretti only made it because of a courageous last-minute run that bumped teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay out of the field. Andretti wound up starting 27th.

This year Andretti is leading a pack of 20-something Americans who have been at or near the top of the speed charts most of this week, setting up a Pole Day classic of young guns vs. the old guard.

“They’ve been impressive for sure and certainly guys to keep an eye on looking forward,” said Team Penske driver Ryan Briscoe, who was No. 2 Friday at 226.835. “But there are a lot of drivers here with a lot of experience and a lot of teams. You’re talking about Andretti being a five-car team, (Target Chip) Ganassi a four-car team and Penske being a three-car team, I think that’s what 12 cars? So some of them will be out of the top nine tomorrow.”

Three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves was third fastest Friday at 226.716.

Ten other drivers surpassed 225, including three-time defending IndyCar champ Dario Franchitti, two-time IndyCar champ Scott Dixon and last year’s 500 runner-up JR Hildebrand – the 24-year-old American.

The top 24 spots are expected to be filled today. Drivers with the nine-fastest four-lap qualifying averages will advance to a 90-minute shootout late in the afternoon.

The winner claims the biggest pole of the IndyCar season.

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