BRANDS HATCH, UK --The honors keep piling on for Mario Andretti, consensus Driver of the Century. Last week the 1978 Formula One World Champion had a Champ Car race he virtually brought back from the dead named for him: CART will contest the...
BRANDS HATCH, UK --The honors keep piling on for Mario Andretti, consensus Driver of the Century. Last week the 1978 Formula One World Champion had a Champ Car race he virtually brought back from the dead named for him: CART will contest the Mario Grand Prix of Road America this August 3rd, thanks to Andretti's efforts to restore the previously cancelled contest.
On Monday, Andretti will be the co-grand marshal of the London Champ Car Trophy on the 1.192-mile Brands Hatch Indy circuit outside London, sharing those duties with another former world champion, Briton Damon Hill. "I was last here in 1978 for the Formula One race," during his championship year.
"The track hasn't changed much," Andretti noted after taking a few laps in a pace car Saturday morning prior to CART's first practice for the Monday, bank holiday contest. "I'd never driven the short circuit until this morning," he laughed.
Mario, fully recovered from his spectacular aerobatics demonstration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway a week and a half earlier still has a great love for the challenges of racing and believes the 165-lap Champ Car race will be "very tough for the drivers. It's a long race" and the short circuit "will keep you pretty busy" in the cockpit. "You've got to be very physically fit to do well here and a good finish will be very satisfying."
In the headlines after his double flip along the short chute while practicing in Tony Kanaan's #11 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda at the request of son Michael, Andretti spoke a great deal about his eventful day in Indianapolis.
The Indy test was held "under very special circumstances. I normally take things on the fly but it took me quite a while to make the decision" to drive Kanaan's car while the Brazilian recovers from injuries sustained in the Indy Racing League contest at Twin Ring Motegi in April.
Had Michael Andretti chosen another driver to shake down and possibly qualify Kanaan's car, "an active driver would have to step down and not race. Most drivers wouldn't have done that." Mario insisted he wouldn't have acceded to this exercise if it had been "anywhere but Indy."
Mario admitted he "felt the speed" over the first few runs in the Dallara/Honda. "Then I got confidence in the car and I was really having a grand day. I really felt I could be productive and when the other guys were turning laps in the 227-299mph range, I thought I could do that" by the end of the day.
"Poor Kenny [Brack, in the #15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda] unloaded bigtime and I connected with his debris. It sure felt different in the cockpit than on the film," he laughed. "I'm not trying to rekindle my career, although I still want to win Le Mans," one of the few trophies Andretti doesn't have in the warehouse where he surely stores his numerous trophies. "I'm up for the challenge and I still have passion about the sport."
Mario agrees with CART's decision to have single car qualifying at the short and quick Brands Hatch circuit this weekend, with each driver taking four flying laps to turn a quick time. "It's awesome that the drivers have four clear laps to do their thing. We always feel our quickest laps are robbed from us when there's traffic on the circuit, you know?"
An eloquent spokesman for his sport, Andretti has an "ultimate wish that the Indy Racing League and CART come together. Creative minds need to come up with suggestions" to end the civil war between the two groups," he believes.
Regarding his resuscitation of the Road America race, Andretti is compelled to cite history. "Road America has been part of this series and enjoyed immensely by everyone for such a long time. Fans all over the country were devastated by the cancellation" of the race. "I asked Chris [Pook} for permission to rekindle talks. All of this makes me think of how wars get started," he went on.
Andretti believes that it's talent, not money that gets rides for good drivers in any series. While there are a larger number of foreign drivers in the US-based Champ Car World Series, "remember that the Masters [golf tournament] was dominated for 12 straight years by foreigners before Tiger Woods came in. Why shouldn't racing be that way?" he asks the nationalists. "There's always going to be more drivers than cars and that's why talent wins out."
Mario Andretti is looking forward to his shared duties with Graham Hill's son Damon during the London Champ Car Trophy event on Monday and to his work promoting the race that's named for him later in this 19-race season. He's not slowing down for anyone or anything these days, even at the age of 63. As one of the US's living national treasures, why should he stop enjoying the life he loves?