Mario Andretti’s 100th career win — Flashback
For two decades Maurice Hamilton reported from the F1 paddock with pen, notebook and Canon Sure Shot camera. This month we are at the Phoenix Raceway, Arizona in 1993 with Mario Andretti, who has just taken his 100th career win
This image was unexpected, not because Mario Andretti had just scored his first IndyCar win in five years, but thanks to the manner in which the photo opportunity had arisen.
I was in Arizona in April 1993 to witness Nigel Mansell’s first IndyCar race on an oval. Having left F1 in a huff after failing to agree terms for another season with Williams-Renault, the reigning world champion had kicked off his new life with a very impressive win from pole at Surfers Paradise in Australia.
That dream turned into a nightmare during the first day of practice at Phoenix – round two – when Mansell lost it on the banked first turn and spun backwards with such force that the Lola-Ford’s gearbox punched a hole clean through the concrete retaining wall. It took 10 minutes for the rescue crew to extract Nigel from the car and remove him to hospital. With their story confined to bed, most of the expectant British newspaper reporters flew home. I stayed on, keen to make the most of a visit to this classic one-mile tri-oval. I was not to be disappointed.
The Indycars of the day – low, sleek, very fast – averaged more than 180mph while sometimes three abreast. It made for relentlessly spectacular viewing, particularly as the leader, Paul Tracy, was using his Penske-Chevy like a knife through back-marker butter as he put a lap on most of the 25-car field. Then he made a tiny misjudgement and finished against the same piece of wall Mansell had tried to demolish two days before. Irony was piled on the Penske team when Tracy’s debris caused the sister car of Emerson Fittipaldi to retire and hand the lead to Andretti. In his fourth decade of racing, Mario was not about to squander such a golden opportunity.
Having spectated from the roof of the main grandstand, I made my way trackside and prepared to cross to the pits. Accustomed to F1’s choreographed and slightly precious post-race routine, I was caught by surprise when American tradition had the winner park on the main straight, with his car nose-first towards the grandstand. This happened right in front of me.
The beaming Andretti was standing in the cockpit of his Newman/Haas Lola, receiving the crowd’s thunderous applause as TV crews and reporters closed in to ask about a long-awaited 100th career victory. The fact that Mario had also become the oldest man (at 53) to win an IndyCar race seemed an irrelevance as the afternoon sun slipped through a cloudless sky, adding to the warmth surrounding this ageless definition of a legendary racer.