Featured: Andretti and Ferrari: The Right Driver With the Right Car

Andretti and Ferrari: The Right Driver With the Right Car

By Yoav Gilad
June 27, 2014

Mr. Mario Andretti’s name is synonymous with speed and racing in the United States. Exposed to racing at a young age, Mario saw Messrs. Alberto Ascari and Juan Manuel Fangio race when he was just a boy. It so captured his imagination, that he began racing in Italy when he was thirteen years old but really intensified his efforts after moving to the US. At the age of nineteen, in 1959, he discovered a half-mile dirt track close to his home in Nazareth, Pennsylvania and went racing with a second-hand, ten-year-old Hudson that he and his twin, Aldo, worked on.

He was always focused on his ultimate goal though, “Aldo and I were winning in the modifieds. But my objective was to get into open-wheelers.” And he chased his goal like the checkered flag in every race he entered. He was so determined in fact that he entered over one hundred races in 1963! Additionally, he kept moving up into consistently more competitive classes. He ultimately won the Daytona 500 in a stock car in 1967 followed by the open-wheeled Indianapolis 500 in 1969. And while he was already a seasoned veteran when he joined Scuderia Ferrari in 1971, his association with the vaunted racing team helped to cement his reputation as a household name.

He began racing off-and-on in Formula One in 1968 with a few teams. When Mr. Enzo Ferrari signed him, Mario’s job with Scuderia Ferrari was intended as a sort of utility role. Unlike today, Ferrari didn’t concentrate on one series alone, they competed aggressively in a range of series. And Mario’s proven record in a variety of automobile types made him well-suited to Ferrari’s needs.

But his pairing with the Ferrari 312PB was particularly fortuitous and timely. The previous generation 312P (an entirely different car based on the 612/712 Can-Am) was impressive in its debut, wherein Mr. Chris Amon drove it to a second-place finish at Sebring in 1969, the pole position having been secured by Mario (when he was still a journeyman), followed by a second-place at Spa-Francorchamps.

The results when Mario was brought on full-time and strapped into the 312 PB (with a flat-12 based on the F1 car) were astounding. In 1972, he and Mr. Jacky Ickx won at the Daytona 6 Hours, the Sebring 12 Hours, the 1,000 km at Brands Hatch, and Watkins Glen. Needless to say, Mario and Jacky helped capture the 1972 World Sportscar Championship. Despite some wins in the 1973 campaign, Ferrari abandoned the series to focus on F1 the following year.

Still, Mario’s reputation was established and he remains to this day, the last American to win a Formula One race (the 1978 Dutch Grand Prix). Not only is he the last American to win in F1, he is also the only person to win an F1 World Championship, the Indy 500, and the Daytona 500 (he also won his class at Le Mans in 1995). Mario Andretti’s illustrious racing career spans decades, and he won in all of them.

Images Courtesy of Ferrari North America

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Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay

At a recent event (Long Beach Grand Prix), Mario Andretti buzzed by us on a scooter. Recognizing him as he flashed by, I turned to my eight year old son and his friend and told them that it was Mario who just clipped us. They immediately tore off after him and began the chase. Seeing them in pursuit on foot, he played a good game of cat and mouse with them for about 100 yards, weaving in and out of the crowd, and when they were closing the gap, he would turn it up and gain some time. Ultimately, he… Read more »

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange

Personally I reckon Andretti’s greatest Ferrari sportscar drive happened in 1970 Sebring 12 hours in the mighty 512s. It was the only time the 512 got the better of the works Porsche 917s in a world championship race. Some archive footage found on youtube.