One of motor racing's true greats reached a special milestone at the weekend, as Mario Andretti turned 70 – and now the American legend's on-track achievements will be celebrated and honoured at the F1 2010 curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix in just under a fortnight's time.
From an Italian-American upbringing, Andretti went on to become arguably the greatest racing driver the States has ever produced, with twelve grand prix victories between 1968 and 1982, the 1978 F1 Drivers' World Championship crown with the iconic Team Lotus and – three years after he had been labelled as past his best, and rekindling an old love affair – a sensational return for Ferrari in the 1982 Italian Grand Prix, when he put a car he had never driven before on pole position at Monza and finished up on the podium in third place, to the evident delight of the adoring tifosi
thronging the crowds.
Andretti also won the 1967 Daytona 500, the 1969 Indianapolis 500 and four IndyCar titles, finished second outright with Courage Competition and at the age of 55 in the 1995 Le Mans 24 Hours round-the-clock classic and triumphed on three separate occasions in the Sebring 12 Hours – and those represent merely a handful of his career highlights.
In 2000, the Istrian-born hero was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in recognition of his outstanding success, and to this day he remains keenly involved in the sport, advising and closely following the fortunes of his son and IndyCar team owner Michael, and his grandson Marco, runner-up in the 2006 Indy 500 at his maiden attempt, and clearly now primed to continue the proud and illustrious family dynasty.
Now, the first driver ever to win races in five different decades will join fellow F1 World Champions and be reunited with an old friend – the Colin Chapman-designed Lotus 79 with which he claimed the 1978 laurels – at Sakhir as the top flight celebrates its 60th anniversary.
“In addition to the race, I'm looking forward to visiting the Kingdom of Bahrain,” Andretti is quoted as having said by the New York Times
. “I have followed the six previous races with great interest. It looks like a spectacular venue and I can't wait for what will certainly be a weekend of excitement on the track, as well as fun and reminiscing with good friends.”
On a personal note, this writer has been lucky enough to meet Mario twice, and found him to be one of the most interesting, engaging and charming people he has ever had the pleasure of interviewing.
Mario Andretti, from all here at Crash.net
, Happy Birthday!