Motor racing hero Mario Andretti has conceded that he is 'tempted' to make a sensational comeback in the sport later this year, as he eyes the possibility of fleetingly re-emerging from retirement at the grand old age of 71 for one last roll of the dice in the 2011 IndyCar Series Las Vegas season finale.
The reason Andretti's interest has been stirred is the unprecedented $5 million prize pot on offer to any non-IndyCar regular who enters and triumphs at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in October – an initiative introduced by the championship's visionary new CEO Randy Bernard [see separate story – click here
The idea behind it is to boost spectator numbers and re-ignite IndyCar's dwindling fan base by attracting a clutch of high-profile names to compete at Las Vegas alongside the series regulars – and landing a driver of the calibre of former F1 World Champion and quadruple IndyCar Champion Andretti would undoubtedly be the greatest coup of all.
“You never know,” the American legend told motorsport.com
, albeit admitting that the likelihood of him lodging an entry for the race is slim. “Paul Newman was a similar age when he competed at Le Mans, and he was 80 when he raced at Daytona in the 24-hour race in 2005. I still love the sport so I am tempted, of course, and I'm certainly crazy enough! I have to be realistic and say that it might be too much, but who knows...”
Andretti's grandson Marco already competes for Andretti Autosport – the team owned by his father, and Mario's son, Michael – meaning there is the tantalising prospect of three generations of the same family racing alongside each other in the Vegas curtain-closing showpiece. The trio previously briefly shared the same piece of tarmac for a presentation run ahead of the 2006 Indianapolis 500.
What's more, with the sweeping regulation changes due to come into force in IndyCar in 2012, the Vegas outing will mark the final time the existing chassis and engines are put to the test in anger – leading Andretti to muse that putting a package together for himself and perhaps also Michael to compete would not be beyond the realms of possibility.
“He (Michael) has the team, so if he is interested in doing it, I think he could come up with another car and let's face it, it sure would be interesting,” he reflected. “This is, of course, the last race with the current chassis and engines, so it would be very cheap for any would-be-entrant to get the pieces together and make up a team to challenge for the $5 million pot. I think it's going to be incredible, and I think we will definitely see some good talent there.”