MOTOR RACING DYNASTIES – THE ANDRETTI’S
For the first in a new occasional series focusing on motorsport dynasties, we reflect on Mario Andretti, 80 years old this year, and the Andretti family’s history in racing.
It all started with twin brothers Aldo and Mario Andretti who moved to the USA from their native Italy in 1955 and started racing on dirt Oval’s in their adoptive home of Nazareth, Pennsylvania.
Mario was determined to make his way in motor racing and after faking his driving license at the age of 21 he entered his first amateur race. He and his brother took turns racing an old Hudson they had bought and modified and by the early 60’s Mario was building a record of race wins. Aldo was not so successful and following a series of accidents, one of which put him into a coma, he retired from racing.
Mario continued to build his reputation with wins in USAC stock car racing and NASCAR and he also raced in numerous single seater series, including USAC Sprints, a similar formula to UK short track stock car racing, and Champ cars.
His ultimate aim was to get into the top tier of open wheel single seater racing, moving to IndyCars in 1964 when he started racing for Clint Brawner’s team. He made an immediate impact, winning his first race at the Hoosier Grand Prix and placing third at the 1965 Indy500. By the end of 1965 he had won the championship and was awarded Rookie of the Year. He repeated the feat in 1966 wining over half of the series races and taking P2 at the 1966 Indy500. He was runner up in the 67 and 68 seasons and then finally he achieved one of his lifelong ambitions to date by winning the 1969 championship and taking the chequered flag at the Indy500.
While racing in IndyCars, Mario also flirted with Formula 1. He had met Colin Chapman at the 1965 Indy500, and in 1968 Andretti competed in the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen driving a Lotus 49. He took pole but dropping down the field following a necessary bodywork repair. He also took to the F1 track on two occasions for Ferrari, achieving his first F1 win in South Africa and a second back in the US.
Andretti drove his first full F1 season in 1975 for the Parnelli team, but it was upon his return to Lotus in 1976 which proved to be his most successful, winning the 1978 World Championship in the fabled Lotus 79 Ground Effect car. This proved to be the peak of his career in Formula 1. Having left lotus in 1980, he made the podium in P3 with Williams at Monza in 1982 where he also took pole position, although he couldn’t repeat any consistent success and following a return to Ferrari in 1982 he left F1 for good, returning to IndyCar racing. He won the series two years later in 1984 and continued to race for the Newman Hass team in IndyCar until 1994 when he retired from regular racing.
Mario passed the racing baton over to his sons Michael and Jeff and raced alongside both in IndyCar as well as Michael and Mario joining forces on a number of occasions in endurance racing. Michael successfully competed in the Indy Car series, winning the title in 1991.
Michael also drove in Formula One for a season with McLaren in 1993 alongside Ayrton Senna. Michael has been even more successful as an IndyCar team owner, launching Andretti Autosport in 1994, his team has won nine drivers titles across CART, IndyCar, and RallyCross.
Michael’s brother Jeff also drove in IndyCar between 1985 and 1999. He achieved moderate success and was Indy500 and IndyCar Rookie of the Year in 1991, before a terrible crash at Indianapolis hospitalised the driver for the remainder of the season. Although he came back the following season and posting the fastest ever top speed for an IndyCar of 234.5mph, he never regained the form that had earned him his rookie accolades.
Michael’s cousin John raced in both NASCAR and IndyCars. Over his career he was unable to achieve the success of his cousin and uncle and sadly died from cancer in January 2020.
In 2020 the current custodian of the Andretti legacy on the track is Marco Andretti, son of Michael, grandson of Mario. Marco started racing as a 16-year-old and landed his first seat in IndyCar’s in 2006 and managed a P2 at the Indy500 missing out to Sam Hornish by 0.0635 seconds in his first attempt. He scored his first race win later in the year at Sonoma Raceway and became the youngest ever winner.
Since 2006 Marco has competed in 15 seasons of IndyCar but is yet to emulate his father and grandfather by winning the series. At just 31 he still has time to match their success.
Returning to the man who started it all, Mario now spends most of his time passing on his vast experience in motorsport, as well as public appearances for his long-time sponsors. Away from the track he has grown a thriving wine business based in California’s Napa Valley, and has other business interests in refuelling stations and automotive dealerships. With all of these business interests and media appearances it doesn’t look like the old racer is slowing down.
Over the coming months we will look at other racing families and the legacy they have built for their future racing protégé’s.