26 July 2011
Mario 'salute' unites three generations of Andrettis
A charity event celebrating the life and racing career of Mario Andretti will unite three generations of motor racing drivers from the most famous family in the sport.
Motor racing legend Mario Andretti will be the guest of honour at a charity 'Grand Prix Salute' in August, celebrating his astonishing career in the sport that has spanned five decades and every top-level series.
Mario will be joined at the Salute by his son - former IndyCar and F1 driver Michael Andretti - and his grandson Marco Andretti, current IndyCar driver and winner of last month's race at Iowa Speedway. It makes the Salute a rare public occasion when all three generations of the Andretti motor racing dynasty will be in attendance.
The event is being staged by the charitable Michael Andretti Foundation with proceeds going to The Boys & Girls Clubs of Napa Valley, Hanna Boys Center and Valley of the Moon Teen Center. Also confirmed for the event are the other current Andretti Autosport IndyCar Series drivers - Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway.
Mario Andretti's life and career in motor sports is unparalleled, covering IndyCar, NASCAR and Formula 1 and including victories in some of the most iconic motor races around the world.
Mario was born in Istria, Italy in 1940 and when the region became part of Yugoslavia at the end of the Second World War, he and his family moved to the United States. Even before then, he and his twin brother Aldo were fans of motor racing and so it was no surprise when Mario took up stock car racing when they found a dirt track near their new adopted home in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. From there he went on to race midget cars and sprint cars before making his IndyCar/Champ Car debut in 1964, recording his first win on a road course at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 1965.
Mario would go on to compete in every Indianapolis 500 from 1965 to 1994 with one exception (1979), but he would win only once in 1969 - a statistic that has come to be dubbed the "Andretti Curse" compared to the four Indy 500 victories that his contemporaries AJ Foyt Jr. and Al Unser managed in similarly long and successful careers. However, Mario was series champion two years running in 1965 and 1966 and runner-up in the next two seasons before triumphing a third time in 1969.
His success in the Indianapolis 500 caught the eye of legendary Lotus boss Colin Chapman, who encouraged him to try his hand at F1. In 1968 Mario made his debut in the United States GP at Watkins Glen in a Lotus 49, but although he recorded his first GP victory in South Africa in 1971 in his debut for Ferrari he didn't make a full-time move to F1 until 1975 when he raced for the short-lived Parnelli team: despite that success, he continued to race in IndyCar, even dropping out of two Grands Prix to do so.
Finally in 1976 he returned to Lotus and worked with them on developing new "ground effect" technologies, which ultimately led to him becoming world champion in 1978 with five race victories during the season including the Dutch Grand Prix. That event turned out to be the last time he - or indeed any American driver - won an F1 GP, and the next three seasons were unproductive ones for Mario in F1 before he decided to return home to the US and rejoin the Champ Car series, where he won a fourth championship in 1984 with Newman-Haas.
Although being primarily an open wheel racer, Mario also won races in sports cars, sprint cars and stock cars, and on ovals, road courses, drag strips, dirt tracks and on pavement: he competed in NASCAR in the 1960s and despite entering only 14 races, among them he managed to win the famed Daytona 500 in 1967. He also won the historic Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 1969, was a three-time winner in the Sebring 12 Hour Race (1967, 1970, 1972) and raced eight times in the Le Mans 24 Hour Race, coming first in the WSC class and second place overall in 1995 in a Porsche.
In all, the career that will be honoured by next month's 'Grand Prix Salute' spanned five decades and took 111 chequered flags, saw him awarded the title of "Commendatore" from the Republic of Italy in 2006 and added to the Library of Congress' "Living Legends" list in 2008.
Although now most commonly working as a corporate spokesman and successful businessman, Mario still appears at many IndyCar race weekends and this season along with Al Unser Jr. he has been driving the two-seater IZOD IndyCar demonstration car for the winner of the "Fastest Seat in Sports" promotional competition arranged by Honda, the car setting the pace for the starters before the green flag, allowing a whole new generation of race fans a chance to see Mario Andretti lead the field at historic race tracks across America.
The 'Grand Prix Salute' in August will be held at the family's Andretti Winery in Napa, California on August 26.
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