At age 60, American racing legend Mario Andretti returns to challenge the 24 Hours of Le Mans in an attempt to capture the only major motorsport victory that he has yet to capture. Andretti will drive with Atlanta-area based Panoz Motorsports,...
At age 60, American racing legend Mario Andretti returns to challenge the 24 Hours of Le Mans in an attempt to capture the only major motorsport victory that he has yet to capture. Andretti will drive with Atlanta-area based Panoz Motorsports, in its Panoz LMP Roadster S, powered by a Ford V8 engine.
During his storied career, which included wins at Daytona, Indianapolis and championships in Formula One and CART, Andretti returns to France seeking another trophy for his mantle, one which he covets very, very much. Andretti's greatest triumphs - Indy 500 win, Daytona 500 win, Formula One title, CART title -- have all come with Ford power.
Mario Andretti - Panoz LMP 1 Roadster S -
YOU HAVE WON THE DAYTONA 500, INDIANAPOLIS 500, FORMULA ONE CHAMPIONSHIP AND CART CHAMPIONSHIP, NOT TO MENTION ALL THE SINGULAR RACE WINS OF YOUR CAREER. YOU RETIRED FROM RACING BACK IN 1994. WHY DECIDE TO GO BACK AND RUN LE MANS AGAIN?
"I have run Le Mans three times since I retired - 1995, '96 and '97 - and I always kept my options open to do it as long as I feel I can still be competitive. The bottom line is that the love of driving is taking me there. There is also the carrot - the potential to win it. We have been close before and that kind of justifies me going and risking what I have to risk at this stage in my life. But the deep love I have for the sport is still there and I just have to keep scratching that itch."
IS IT AN ITCH YOU ARE GOING TO KEEP SCRATCHING UNTIL YOU WIN LE MANS?
"Well, no. Here's the way I look at it. If I was to win Le Mans this year and next year I feel the same I do now, both physically and mentally, I would do it again. It's not like if I win I would feel like I accomplished what I set out to do and then I leave. It's not like that at all."
HOW WERE YOUR EARLIER TESTS WITH THE CAR?
"They went well. We are now a lot better off than we were during the pre-practice thing that we had in April."
WHO WILL BE YOUR BIGGEST COMPETITION?
"It's Audi, no question about it. They will be the yardstick that we need to measure up too."
WHAT'S THE KEY TO WINNING?
"Obviously in a race like that the key is to minimize mistakes. You need to try to run into a good pattern of stops and maintain a good, hot pace. Today, that's what's required. We hope we will strong enough to handle it."
IF YOU WON, WOULD YOU VIEW YOUR CAREER ACCOMPLISHMENTS ANY DIFFERENTLY?
"Yeah, it's another trophy on your mantle - but a very important one. This could be potentially be one of the most satisfying trophies of my career because of the stage of my life I am in. Yeah, it would be huge. No question."
YOU HAVE NOT DRIVEN A FRONT ENGINE CAR IN COMPETITION IN QUITE SOME TIME, WHAT'S THAT LIKE?
"It's interesting. The Panoz Roadster is a very modern, well designed and well balanced front engine car. As a driver you are looking for a feel of balance. The feel of balance, when it's there, it doesn't matter where the engine is. In modern times the trend had been for the engine to be in back, and I agree with that, but you know, you can't argue with some of the success they have had with this car. From a driver's standpoint I thought it would be an interesting challenge. When I first tested the car I noticed the visibility isn't as good because you are looking so far down the front of the car and the airbox is big. But I got in the car and after a few laps I was clipping my apexes just right and it really wasn't any big deal. As a driver, you adapt."
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU DROVE A FRONT ENGINE CAR IN COMPETITION?
"It was a front engine roadster in USAC competition in 1965 in Atlanta."