2017 Edition: Does the Andretti Curse Exist, and if so, is it Breakable?

Photo Credit: Beyond the Flag

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

Does the Andretti Curse exist, and if so, is it 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 four 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 placing in 2nd. Sullivan started the race from 8th place, and he 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 Indianapolis for Mario.

Michael Andretti, Mario’s son, won just one IndyCar title, but he could not win an Indianapolis 500 race in 16 tries. Not only that, but with he and his son Marco running in 1st and 2nd place, respectively, towards the end of the 2006 Indianapolis 500, the winner ended up not being named Andretti in one of the most disappointing, yet exciting, finishes in the history of any sport.

Marco Andretti has raced in the Indianapolis 500 for 11 years in a row now. His results, starting in 2006 as a rookie, are as follows: 2nd, crash, 3rd, crash, 3rd, 9th, crash, 4th, 3rd, 6th, and 13th, respectively. He has pretty amazing statistics with seven top 10 finishes and four podium finishes thus far in his Indianapolis 500 career. But he has no wins, and at the end of the day, it is the lack of those that stings.

A 19-year old Marco had a lead of over about 20 car lengths over Sam Hornish Jr. in 2nd place back in the 2006 Indianapolis 500 with one lap remaining after Marco’s father Michael Andretti failed to prevent Hornish from passing him for 2nd place and Marco cut Hornish off when Hornish went for the lead with just over one lap to go. Hornish somehow regained the momentum that he had lost after being cut off, and over the final two turns and the frontstretch on the final lap, Hornish reeled Marco in to win the race by a margin that is now the 3rd closest of all time.

Since then, Marco still has not won at Indianapolis, and he only has two wins total in his 11-year IndyCar 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 Indianapolis. 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’s do the math here. In an Indianapolis 500 race, there are 33 drivers, so the raw odds of winning the Indianapolis 500 in a given year are 1 in 33. So what are the odds Marco had to go 11 years winless, which he did? The odds of him not winning on a given year are 32/33, so raise 32 to the 11th power and divide it by 33 to the 11th power. In formula form, this is [(32^11)/(33^11)]. This means that there was a 71.3% chance that he wouldn’t win a race in 10 tries at Indianapolis, so there was a 28.7 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 as to why some people consider the Andretti family cursed at Indianapolis.

Okay, let’s go further with this knowledge. The Andretti’s (Mario, Michael, and Marco), have combined to race in 56 Indianapolis 500 races: Mario has driven in 29, Michael has driven in 16, and Marco has driven in 11. The odds that they would combine to win 0 out of those 56 is [(32^56)/(33^56)]. That comes out to 17.8%, meaning there is an 82.2% chance that in 56 attempts, an Andretti would win the Indianapolis 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 one time out of 56 attempts has every right to be labeled a curse when there is a 1/33 raw chance of winning each race, especially when that one and only one win was from one of the greatest drivers of all time, who, in his 29 attempts, is statistically SUPPOSED to win at least one time. He had a [(32^29)/(33^29)]= 41.0% chance to not win the Indianapolis 500 at all over his career, and he had a 59.0% chance to win it at least once. He achieved one victory back in 1969, just like the statistics predicted.

Since Mario Andretti won his lone Indianapolis 500 back in 1969, the Andretti’s have gone 0 for 51 combined at the Brickyard, with 0 for 24 of that being from Mario, 0 for 16 of that being from Michael, and 0 for 11 of that being from Marco.

 

Here is some more math.

  • Odds that Mario loses all 24 of his Indianapolis 500 races after winning
    • [(32^24)/(33^24)]= 47.8% to lose all, 52.2% chance to win at least one.
  • Odds that Michael goes 0 for 16
    • [(32^16)/(33^16)]= 61.1% to lose all, 38.9% chance to win at least one.
  • We already solved for Marco using his 11 races, and we got 71.3% chance to be winless and 28.7% chance to win at least one.

 

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 71.3% chance that Marco would go 0 for 11 (0 for 51 in total for all 3). That all happened despite odds of [(32^51)/(33^51)], or  (.478*.611*.713),  which equals a 20.8% chance that none of them would have won any of those 50 races, while there was a 79.2% chance that at least one of those races would have been won by an Andretti. Those odds were defied. Still though, a curse?

20.8% 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 20.8% chance to occur 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 likely much higher. Clearly the Andretti’s were among the favorites in many if not all of the 56 combined Indianapolis 500 races in which they have driven. Let’s just throw in some numbers here. We’re going to say that Mario had a 4x better chance to win an Indianapolis 500 than the average driver, Michael a 3x chance, and Marco a 2x chance.

 

The chance that they would go 0 for 51 in Indianapolis 500 races after Mario’s victory in 1969 now can be modeled by the following.

(Mario’s chance of losing all)(Michael’s chance of losing all)(Marco’s chance of losing all)=chance of them winning at least 1 out of those 50 Indianapolis 500 races.

The chance that they would win at least one of the 51 Indianapolis 500 races after Mario’s victory in 1969 now can be modeled by the following.

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

 

Here are these formulas with numbers plugged in.

[(7.25^24)/(8.25^24)]*[(10^16)/(11^16)]*[(15.5^11)/(16.5^11)]} which equals (.045*.218*.503), which equals .005. This means there was about a 0.5% chance that, after Mario’s win in 1969, the Andretti’s would be winless in Indianapolis 500 races with 24 attempts for Mario, 16 for Michael, and 11 for Marco. Those odds were again defied. This projects that if roughly 200 simulations were run, just one would results in 0 wins among these 51 Indianapolis 500 races for the Andretti’s. Unfortunately for the Andretti’s, that simulation is called reality.

To verify these results, we will use the second formula. {1-[(7.25^24)/(8.25^24)]*[(10^16)/(11^16)]*[(15.5^11)/(16.5^11)]} which equals 1-(.045*.218*.503), 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 Indianapolis 500 with 24 attempts for Mario, 16 for Michael, and 11 for Marco, which means that there was a 0.5% chance that they would be winless in those 51 attempts, as stated in the previous paragraph.

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 Indianapolis. Coincidence? Maybe, but maybe not. On the other hand, Marco has won only two races in his 11-year IndyCar career, so him not winning at Indianapolis 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 three Andretti’s that does not perform at an overall lower level at Indianapolis when compared to other tracks. But is it possible that he is just not great at many other tracks, so him being better at Indianapolis in relation to the other tracks does not necessarily mean a victory?

It definitely could be possible, seeing as how he has won just two races in his career and his father and grandfather combined for 94 total victories. However, 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 the Andretti Curse at Indianapolis 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 Indianapolis than at other tracks, and use that to translate to a win at Indianapolis.

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 Indianapolis 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?

 

It could be. But none of this is certain. Maybe there isn’t a curse. Maybe there is. Maybe it’s breakable. Maybe it isn’t.

 

-Asher Fair

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