In the hot seat - Mario Andretti

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

A champion who straddled the Atlantic, he worries about how drivers in the US will break into F1. Mario Andretti responds to your questions on oval racing, Penske, Ronnie Peterson and pet pigs!

I understand that spectating at a Mille Miglia inspired you: where did you watch from and what do you remember of the day? Alan Davidson, Angus

My elder brother Aldo and I watched on the Abetone Pass, near Florence, which was very far from where we were living. We saw the one won by Stirling Moss and ‘Jenks’ [1955] in the mighty Mercedes. What I remember most is the anxiety of waiting for the cars to come by: all of a sudden there was a big roar, the big moment, and then they were gone. It really sparked something inside me.

Why did you always seem to take the hard way on team choices? For instance, how come you didn’t drive for Penske more? Hugo Doyle, Wimbledon

An excellent question, and I agree with its assessment. A lot of it was a question of timing. Often there wasn’t a seat available at a team that I perhaps should have been with, and instead I’d opt for a choice that gave me a little more control of the team, more scope for my ideas. Sometimes we have unrealistic expectations, but I’m of a gambling nature and so I went for it. That doesn’t always pay off, but it can help to motivate you. I drove for Roger on a part-time basis when I was still doing Formula One, and we had some good results. His cars were always fast and reliable — but like I said, it was a question of timing.

Just how dangerous was Langhorne? Peter Davey, Cobham

It was considered the most dangerous of all ovals in the mid-Sixties; it had claimed even more drivers than Indy at that point I drove it at the end of its life as a dirt track and during its short life as a paved track: both were difficult, because you hardly ever went straight It was shaped like a big D, but the straight was short and you were always busy. With a dirt-car you could put the tail out and steer with the throttle; you couldn’t keep hanging it out in an Indycar, but you were always drifting. The trick was never to think how good everything was feeling — because it was then that the corner tightened and you’d run out of room. It was a very peculiar track in that there were no decisive back-off points. A little further, a little further — oops.

You were recently pipped by Moss in a poll to decide the greatest all-round driver… Alan Collier, Aylesbury

I wouldn’t pretend to be better than Stirling: he had such mastery. I hold him in the highest regard, and there’s no question that he should have been world champion many times. But I wonder how people decide such things. Your record has to speak for itself — but it’s when you really delve into the details that it becomes difficult. Plus guys like Stirling and Jimmy Clark didn’t get to complete the whole cycle of their potential careers.

Is there very much difference in the set-up demanded by a tri-oval compared to a conventional speedway? John Wing, Brighton

No, the basic set-up is the same. At a tri-oval what we call the kink is usually a non-event, and so you do the set-up for the corners with the highest loadings. But no two ovals are the same, and when it comes to damping and the final tweaks, each circuit has to have its own fine-tuning. I consider Pocono to be the most challenging of the superspeedways we ran. I loved its diversity; it required an absolute compromise in the set-up. Its first corner was a high banking and so you had to have the car stiff to deal with it; the kink, if everything was really right, could be taken flat in qualifying; the last turn has no banking but a long radius a great corner, in which you really got a feel for the car.

What kind of reception did you get from the NASCAR drivers when you won the Daytona 500 at your first attempt in 1967? David Cox, Preston

I felt very much at home with the drivers there. It was the beginning of a time of exchange; it was me who encouraged Cale Yarborough and the Allisons to come to Indy. Yeah, sure, if one of them had won Indy, none of us guys would have thought it a good thing, but deep down, once the initial emotion had vanished, there would have been respect. That’s how it was for me. Remember, it was not a win that I fell into; I fought hard all day for it. I really went out and won it and they all knew it.

What are your views on the CART/IRL battle? M Baird, New Cross

More than ever, if American open-wheel racing wants to regain the status it enjoyed back in the ’90s, it needs to be pulling in the same direction. Parallel series create confusion among the fans; I also believe that it has diminished the mystique of Indy. An all-oval series is wrong, too: five ovals would be perfect, with the rest of the races run on road and street circuits. I don’t see how IRL can groom anyone for F1. [Champion] Scott Dixon is a fine road-racer, but if he doesn’t get the chance to hone these skills, which F1 team is going to look at him? None.

Did the McNamaras you drove at Indy in 1970 and ’71 have some unlocked potential? Peter Stanley, Canberra

Theoretically, its offset cockpit gave more aero effect to the inside, which is where you want it on an oval but this was never proven. The car understeered incredibly; I don’t think the suspension geometry was right. Designer Joe Karasek was good at research, but didn’t have enough practical knowledge. Some of his questions had me thinking, uh-oh, we’re in trouble’.

Do you think that your Lotus team-mate Ronnie Peterson could have passed you at Zandvoort in 1978? Gordon Morison, via e-mail

I thought he was going to pass me, and I did everything to prevent that. One of my exhaust systems had burned away my righthand venturi, which cost me 40 per cent of my downforce: through the corner onto the straight I was all over the place and he was easy flat. It was the hardest I fought all year.

Have you read the quotes attributed to Peterson that he was driving ‘one-handed’ behind you throughout 1978? Tom Clark Weymouth

I just wish Ronnie were alive so that he could say these things himself. We were really good friends and I never heard him say that. It would have been a real feather in his cap if he could have passed me, and then pulled over and let me pass with two or three laps to go. That’s why I drove my butt off in Holland; I knew that’s what he had in mind, but I just wouldn’t allow it. And anyway, if he wasn’t ‘allowed’ to pass me, why was he trying so hard? There was nobody pushing him, he had his second place. I wish he had pulled back that way I wouldn’t have had to drive so hard.

What’s the story of your crash helmet design? Peter Balsio, Hendon

I always appreciated the European way of keeping a recognisable design, the fact that you can spot some driven instantly. I’d always had a silver helmet, and then, in 1972, [team sponsor] Viceroy wanted a red stripe down the middle and I kinda liked that. When I was no longer with Viceroy, I kept the red stripe, but changed the trim lines to blue.

Picture it: Audi has an R8 with your name on it at Le Mans would you accept the drive? Tim Clark Bristol

Sign me up today; I’ll start training tomorrow.

What is it exactly that your wife doesn’t like about your pet pig, Martini? Pam Bryce, Southend

He doesn’t respond like a dog, and he only obeys me; I think Dee Ann is just jealous! I’ve had lots of pets and I’ve always loved them, but he’s my favourite.