Mario Andretti made history on this day in 1971 when he scored his first Grand Prix victory in the South African Grand Prix at Kyalami (see video below).
Fittingly, the Italian-born American’s first victory came at the wheel of a Ferrari. Andretti cemented his position in the team’s history by winning on his debut for them.
Team mate Clay Regazzoni led the early running having passed pole sitter Jackie Stewart’s Tyrrell. But Denny Hulme was working his way through the field, passing Emerson Fittipaldi, Jacky Ickx. He took the lead off the Ferrari driver on lap 17.
Meanwhile Andretti had moved up from his seventh place on the grid to hold second. Hulme’s lead looked secure until a suspension part failed with four laps to go, allowing the flat-12 engined Ferrari 312B to sweep by.
This was a double American triumph, for Andretti’s victory came on Firestone tires. The Ohio company, prior to its purchase by Japanese giant Bridgestone, had won all bar two of the previous year’s races.
But it was to be Andretti’s only victory for the Scuderia. At this stage in his career he only competed in world championship events sporadically, prioritizing competitions in America. His greatest F1 successes including his 1978 championship triumph came with Lotus.
However he returned to Ferrari in their hour of need in 1982 when the team had lost both its drivers during the course of the season. On his comeback at Monza he was quickest in qualifying, and so Andretti’s first victory and last pole position both came with Ferrari.
We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.
And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.
After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.
In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.
Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.
“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.
“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.
“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”
Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.
“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”
Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.