Is the Andretti Curse Breakable?

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WARNING: This article goes all over the place with little to no transitions.

Is the Andretti Curse Breakable?

Andretti is a name known and respected throughout the entire motorsports world, not just in Indycar racing.The legendary Mario Andretti won 52 Indycar races, which is currently 2nd all-time, and his son Michael won 42 Indycar races, which is currently 3rd all-time.

Mario Andretti won 4 Indycar championships, which is tied for 2nd all-time behind the great AJ Foyt, and a Formula One championship, as well as the 1967 Daytona 500. But, being an Indycar legend and specializing in Indycar racing, the goal that all drivers have is to win the Indianapolis 500. Mario won it just once, and that was back in 1969. In 1985, Danny Sullivan spun out after taking the lead from Mario, but somehow managed to do a 360 and keep going. He ended up passing Mario later in the race and winning with Andretti in 2nd. Sullivan started the race from 8th, and broke the 68-year curse of starting in “the 8-ball position.” One curse trumped another and played on with yet another year of disappointment at Indy for Mario.

Michael Andretti won just 1 Indycar title but could not win an Indy 500 after 16 tries. Not only that, but with he and his son Marco running 1-2 towards the end of the 2006 Indy 500, the winner ended up not being named Andretti in one of the most disappointing (yet exciting) finishes in any sport’s history.

Marco Andretti has raced in the Indianapolis 500 for 10 years in a row. His results, starting in 2006 as a rookie, are as follows: 2nd, crash (not his fault), 3rd, crash (not his fault), 3rd, 9th, crash (his fault, but the car had issues as well), 4th, 3rd, and 6th. He has pretty amazing statistics with 7 top 10s and 4 podium finishes thus far in his Indy 500 career. But he has no wins, and at the end of the day, those are all that matter.

A 19-year old Marco had a lead over about 20 car lengths over Sam Hornish Jr. in 2nd place back in 2006 with 1 lap remaining, after father Michael Andretti failed to prevent Hornish from passing him for 2nd and Marco cut Hornish off when Hornish went for the lead with 2 laps to go. Hornish somehow reeled Marco in and regained his momentum after being cut off over the final 2 turns and the frontstretch to win the race by a margin that is now 3rd closest of all time.

Since then, Marco still has not won at Indy. And he only has 2 wins total in his 11-year career. So how in the world can the curse be broken? Or can it? Or is there even a curse?

So many drivers have tried and failed to win at Indy. JR Hildebrand, Takuma Sato, Will Power, Carlos Munoz, Ed Carpenter, and James Hinchcliffe are among those who have experienced recent heartbreak at the Brickyard. But no one talks about a Hildebrand curse or a Sato curse, when in reality, the ways in which they lost their races are much more devastating that the way Marco simply has not won his. So again, is there even a curse?

Let us do the math here. 33 drivers, so the raw odds of winning the Indy 500 on a given year are 1 in 33. So what are the odds Marco had to go 10 years winless, which he did? The odds of him not winning on a given year are 32/33, so raise 32 to the 10th power and divide it by 33 to the 10th power. In formula form, this is [(32^10)/(33^10)]. This means that there was a 73.5% chance that he wouldn’t win a race in 10 tries at Indy, so there was a 26.5 chance that he would. Meanwhile, the chances that JR Hildebrand would lose the race in the last turn with a 3+ second lead were probably less than 0.1%. Now, one could argue Marco’s chances of blowing the race he blew on the final straightaway back in 2006 were around less than 0.1% as well, which is probably true. This is also a contributing factor in why some people consider the Andretti family cursed at Indy.

Okay, let’s go further with this knowledge. The Andretti’s (Mario, Michael, and Marco), have combined to race in 55 Indy 500s, Mario with 29, Michael with 16, and Marco with 10. The odds that they would combine to win 0 out of those 55 is [(32^55)/(33^55)]. That comes out to 18.4%, meaning there is an 81.6% chance that in 55 attempts, an Andretti would win the Indy 500. The thing is, one of them did. Once. So these odds aren’t exactly being defied. So why label it a curse?

Here is why: For one of the most legendary names in all of not only Indycar, not only motorsports, but in the entire sporting world, winning the crown jewel of motorsports just 1 time out of 55 tries has every right to be labeled a curse when there is a 1/33 raw chance of winning each race, especially when that 1 and only 1 win was from one of the greatest drivers of all time, who, in his 29 tries, is statistically SUPPOSED to win at least one time. He had a [(32^29)/(33^29)]= 41.0% chance to not win it at all over his career, and he had a 59.0% chance to win it at least once. He achieved 1 victory just like the numbers predicted back in 1969.

Since Mario won his lone ‘500’ back in ’69, the Andretti’s have gone 0 for 50 combined at the Brickyard, 0 for 24 being from Mario, 0 for 16 being from Michael, and 0 for 10 being from Marco. Here is some more math:

-Odds that Mario loses all 24 of his Indy 500s after winning: [(32^24)/(33^24)]= 47.8% to lose all, 52.2% chance to win at least 1.

-Odds that Michael goes 0 for 16: [(32^16)/(33^16)]= 61.1% to lose all, 38.9% chance to win at least 1.

-Marco we already solved for using his 10 races, and we got 73.5% chance to be winless and 26.5% chance to win at least 1.

So there was a 47.8% chance Mario would go 0 for 24 after his win, a 61.1% chance that Michael would go 0 for 16, and a 73.5% chance that Marco would go 0 for 10 (0 for 50 in total for all 3). And that all happened despite odds of [(32^50)/(33^50)], (or .478*.611*.735),  which equals a 21.5% chance that none of them would have won any of those 50 races, while there was a 78.5% chance that at least one of those races would have been won by an Andretti. Those odds were defied. Still though, a curse?

21.5% may seem like a scenario that isn’t impossible to achieve, and that is correct. It is over 1 out of 5 times that something with a 21.5% chance occurs. However, the Andretti’s being the Andretti’s, were there odds of winning a given race each really 1/33, the same as everyone else in the field? Probably not. They were much higher. Clearly they were among the favorites in many if not all of the 55 combined Indianapolis 500s in which they drove. Let’s just throw in some numbers here. We’re going to say Mario had a 4x better chance to win an Indy 500 than the average driver, Michael a 3x chance, and Marco a 2x chance. The chance that they would go 0 for 50 after Mario’s victory in 1969 now can be modeled by the following:

(Mario chance of losing all*Michael chance of losing all*Marco chance of losing all)=chance of them losing all of those 50 Indy 500s.

The chance that they would win at least 1 of the 50 after Mario’s victory in 1969 now can be modeled by the following:

1-(Mario chance of losing all*Michael chance of losing all*Marco chance of losing all)=chance of them winning at least 1 out of those 50 Indy 500s.

Here is this formula with numbers plugged in:

{1-[(7.25^24)/(8.25^24)]*[(10^16)/(11^16)]*[(15.5^10)/(16.5^10)]} which equals 1-(.045*.218*.535), which equals 1-(.005). This simplifies to roughly.995, which means there was about a 99.5% chance that, after Mario’s win in 1969, an Andretti would win an Indy 500 with 24 attempts for Mario, 16 for Michael, and 10 for Marco. Those odds were again defied. This projects that if roughly 200 simulations were run, just 1 would result in 0 wins among these 50 races for the Andretti’s. Unfortunately for the Andretti’s, that simulation is called reality.

***If you would like an explanation as to why the numbers used are used, leave a comment or ask me on my Instagram (@sports_pressbox)!

But a curse?

Possibly. Mario and Michael are 2nd and 3rd all-time in Indycar wins, with 52 and 42, so they were both amazing at pretty much all venues except for Indy. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. Marco on the other hand has won only 2 races in his 11-year career, so him not winning at Indy isn’t some out-of-this-world possibility like it is for his grandfather and his father. In fact, Marco tends to finish better at Indianapolis than he does at most other tracks.

So if there is a curse, clearly progress is being made towards breaking it, since Marco seems to be the only one of the 3 that does not perform at an overall lower level at Indy when compared to other tracks. But is it possible that he just is not great at many other tracks, so him being better at Indy in relation to the other tracks does not necessarily mean a victory?

It definitely could be possible, seeing as how he has won just 2 races in his career and his father and grandfather combined for 94. But we won’t know for sure for a while. Or maybe we will, who knows. Mario and Michael both drove for longer than Marco has thus far, although Marco is still driving so he should still have plenty of opportunities not only to break this “curse” at Indy with a win, but to add to his overall win total. Maybe at some point, he’ll have added a few more victories at some other tracks, still be better at Indy than at other tracks, and use that to translate to a win at Indy.

Is that the key to breaking the curse? Is stringing a few wins together at a variety of different venues the key to winning the Indy 500 for Marco Andretti and breaking the infamous “Andretti Curse”? Is it the key to breaking a near (or possibly more than, depending on what year we’re talking about) 50-year streak of not having an Andretti get to Victory Lane at the Indianapolis 500?

So we end the article with the title question again. Figures. The answer?

Maybe.

-Asher Fair

 

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