For decades, Mario Andretti was a highly competitive driver who competed in many forms of motorsport beginning in the 1960s until his ‘official’ retirement in 1994 (four further attempts to win the Le Mans 24 Hours were unsuccessful, his final entry being in 2000).
Born in Italy in 1940, his family immigrated to the USA when Mario was 14. Both he and his brother began racing in stock cars and midgets where he learned the art of car control and basic survival, racing wheel-to-wheel on dirt tracks. He left his job as a mechanic and turned professional in 1964 to race in the USAC Championship. Mario did enough to retain his drive the following year when he finished an impressive third in the Indianapolis 500 before going on to win the championship in his rookie year, a feat he repeated in 1966. In 1967 he finished a close second to an even harder driver, AJ Foyt, but by then he had signed to drive for Ford in NASCAR and sports cars. In the former category he won the Daytona 500 in impressive style, backed up with a win at Sebring co-driving with Bruce McLaren in a Ford GT40. A potential win at Le Mans ended when he crashed heavily shortly after leaving the pits and being hit by other GT40s which almost eliminated the Ford challenge that year. With his time divided between races in the USA and Europe, as well as becoming a relucatant team owner, he was busier than ever but accepted an offer to drive for Lotus in 1968 whenever his schedule allowed. His debut in the United States GP made the racing establishment take notice when he became the first driver to take pole position at the first attempt. His primary focus was winning the USAC title so his F1 career faltered but in 1971 he accepted an offer to drive for Ferrari which, for an Italian, was the highest compliment. Mario responded by winning the first grand prix of the season in South Africa which was also his first victory. The following year, 1972, he entered a limted number of races but also found time to partner Jackie Ickx and win the World Championship of Makes driving a Ferrari 312PB.
The photograph above, taken on 15th April 1972 shows Mario Andretti driving his 312PB, shared with Jackie Ickx, in the Brands Hatch paddock during practice for the BOAC 1000km. He had just driven from the pits via the tunnel into the paddock and it required several loud applications of the throttle to clear a path through the many spectators that had gathered around the very basic open ‘garage’ that housed the other two 312PB entries. In the 1970s, even the most famous race car drivers were capable of parking their own cars and dealing with the attention. The following day he won the six-hour race, one lap clear of another 312PB driven by Tim Schenken and Ronnie Peterson.
From ‘Moments in Motorsport’ by Trevor Legate.