Who Is Mario Andretti?

Read about the career of the great Mario Andretti, who was successful in many types of motor sport, including Formula One and the Indy 500.

It is a tribute to Mario Andretti that the legendary British racing driver, Stirling Moss, rates him only alongside the Maestro, Juan Manuel Fangio, not only for the sheer brilliance he has shown behind the wheel, but for the manner in which he accepted defeat and victory. He was a true sportsman.

Born in Montana, Italy, in 1940, Mario Andretti endured an obviously difficult childhood, as was the case of the majority in war-ravaged Italy. The policies of the fascist Mussolini had severe economic and social consequences long after he had been deposed and the war had ended. Before the Andretti family decided to emigrate from Italy though, Mario got the opportunity to see the fantastic yet superstitious Ascari compete in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. It is highly likely that this Italian legend proved a great inspiration for him in the years to come.

The family chose the United States of America as their home, moving to Pennsylvania in 1955. Four years later, Mario and his twin brother were competing on dirt ovals. They took it in turns to race in the same car, a Hudson, and were both extremely competitive. Aldo pushed himself too far though, and as a result of a racing accident, fractured his skull. It was enough to put him off racing completely.

Undaunted, Mario Andretti continued and his success began to be noted by many of the talent spotters around at the events. By 1964 he had earned drives in both Indy Car and USAC sprint car championships. A year later he competed in his first Indianapolis 500 race, finishing third and being named rookie of the year - no mean feat. His meteoric rise continued when in 1967 he won NASCAR's Daytona 500.

A year later, the call of Formula One beckoned. At his first race, at Watkins Glen, he claimed pole position in a Lotus 49B. Unfortunately the car was particularly unreliable and he failed to finish the race, a scenario that was to repeat throughout the season. He compensated that disappointment by winning the USAC Championship for a fourth time and also winning the Indy 500. He won his first Grand Prix in South Africa in 1971, when he drove a Ferrari for the first time. Hopes for a World Drivers Championship were tempered that year though when a string of poor results followed. It is probable that his insistence to combine the USAC championship with Formula One caused this mediocrity, due to the high amounts of travelling and racing.

It wasn't until 1977 that he turned his full attention to Formula One. A year later this choice coupled with him being able to drive the fantastic Lotus 79, enabled him to win the World Drivers Championship. His celebrations at the final race at Monza were dampened somewhat by the news that his teammate Ronnie Peterson had broken both his legs in a crash. His disappointment turned to mourning, when a day later Peterson died, a result of blood clots forming in his damaged limbs.

Four years later Mario Andretti retired from Formula One, but he continued racing and had the pleasure of pitting his wits against his son Michael in Indy Car races. Mario's last Indy Car victory was at Phoenix in 1993, and a year later he retired from full time racing.

Many people consider winning the Indy 500 to be Andretti's greatest achievement. 1969 would be the only time he would win the race, although he assumed he had won it in 1981, after Bobby Unser had been penalised a lap post-race, thus promoting Andretti to first place. The race officials thwarted him however, by reversing the decision some months later.

Throughout his career, Mario Andretti built up a reputation for being able to race in anything with four wheels successfully. He also gained the respect of fellow professionals and the public alike through his "Ëśnice guy' mannerisms, and by behaving like a true gentleman, both on and off the track. He is one of the all time greats of motor racing.

© High Speed Ventures 2011