Ford Q&A: Mario Andretti reflects on Sebring win, 50 years later

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Mario Andretti’s 1967 season was something memorable, having won that year’s Daytona 500 and then following up with another win at the Twelve Hours of Sebring later that year.

Ford checked in with Andretti for a cool Q&A. The full version of that is below:

By 1967, Mario Andretti had been involved in the development of the original Ford GT40s for some time. Andretti was happy with the way the program was progressing and especially pleased with the then-new Ford GT40 Mk IV. At the Mk IV’s debut at Sebring, Andretti and co-driver Bruce McLaren drove to the win. Fifty years later, he talked with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing about the experience.

Ford: What do you remember about the win at Sebring?

Mario Andretti:  “We tested only briefly and it was the first race for the Mk IV. The car was competitive right from the start because we had very good mechanical knowledge and they had used much of the chassis of the Mk II, with some mods, but with a new aerodynamic shape it proved to be quite good. With Bruce McLaren, we just pulled it off. It was a hard-fought race.  The Chaparral was the favorite, but we were competitive. That yellow No. 1 Mk IV is now on display at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. Sebring was actually very important from the standpoint of Ford’s effort for the Le Mans 24.  At Daytona earlier that year, we had some issues and Ford felt they needed to come up with a different model car, a little slicker and quicker in a straight line, especially for Le Mans, and Phil Remington was given the task of designing that car quickly.  He did it and that car won Sebring and Le Mans.”

Ford: Was there anything you didn’t like about the Mk IV? 

MA:  “No.  When you win, you fall in love with a car. It was a very, very good car. And I was part of almost all the testing and development of the Mk II and Mk IV. The cars proved to be winners and that’s what it’s all about. We did a lot of work and we were well-prepared and those cars were the envy of Ferrari, Porsche and all the other manufacturers. I honestly think they were all slightly intimidated. We had one issue, which was not the fault of the car. It was a windy day and somehow some paper debris got caught in the air intake of the cockpit. It was a closed cockpit so Bruce and I both suffered the excessive heat. We were really beat up, but looking back at it now, it probably makes for a better story.”

Ford: Talk about your relationship with your co-driver, Bruce McLaren.

MA:  “Our relationship was really, really good. On the personal side, he was great to be around and I enjoyed spending time with him. It was easy to be friends with him. On the racing side, I had a real interest in developing my skills in road racing because I was eyeballing F1 at that time, and Bruce was a very technical driver and he taught me a lot and I observed him a lot.  It was real peachy for me to be his teammate. It was a very enjoyable experience all the way around.”

Ford: What was the development process like for the GT40s?

MA: “Development was intense. Ford left no stone unturned. Once they committed, they were all in.  They did a great deal of testing, including some 24-hour-consecutive running in Daytona. That’s really fun, when a company makes that kind of commitment. And that’s why they won. And that’s what I loved about it.”

Ford: Have you been following Ford Chip Ganassi Racing progress with the all-new Ford GT? 

MA: “Absolutely. And Chip Ganassi is a good friend of mine. Ford made an excellent choice to have Chip lead this new effort and so far he is making everybody proud. That’s no surprise since Chip has been successful so many times before in everything he’s championed.  That’s true-blue Chip.”

Ford: Would you want to drive the new Ford GT?

MA:  “Yes, I accept the invitation. When and where?”

Ford: When you saw the all-new Ford GT for the first time, did you see the connection to the GT40s? 

MA:  “Yes, I did see the connection in some of the design. It looked to me like they tried to maintain some of the nostalgia of something that was successful. And even with the naked eye, aerodynamically, it looks very vicious. I loved it 50 years ago and I love it now. Ford has done a helluva job.”

SuperMotocross: Ken Roczen urgently needed change

Roczen change
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
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Change can be frightening, but it is often exhilarating and Ken Roczen, a rider in his ninth season on a 450 bike, it was urgently needed.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with his worst performance in five years. After finishing outside of the top five in seven of his last eight rounds in the stadium series, well down the points’ standings in ninth, he decided to put that season on hold.

How it ended was in stark contrast to how it began. Roczen’s 2022 season got off to the best possible start. He won the Supercross opener at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California by more than seven seconds over the 2021 champion Cooper Webb.

That would be his last podium and he scored only one more top-five in the Glendale, Arizona Triple Crown.

MORE: Ken Roczen sweeps top five in Anaheim 2 Triple Crown

Before 2022, Roczen was a regular challenger for the championship despite being plagued by major accidents that required surgery in 2017 and 2018. On his return, he was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, which presents with symptoms of heavy fatigue, muscle weakness and loss of appetite and last year he tested positive for COVID-19.

Against those odds, he finished second in the outdoor season in 2019 and third in 2020. In the Supercross series, he finished third in 2020 and second in 2021.

But the abbreviated season of 2022 signaled a need for change for Roczen.

“I needed the change urgently,” Roczen said in last week’s post-race press conference at Angel Stadium. “I did a pretty big change in general.”

Those comments came three races into the 2023 with him sitting among the top three finishers for the first time in 10 Supercross rounds. It was the 57th podium of his career, only six behind 10th-place Ryan Villopoto. It was also the first for Suzuki since 2019 when Chad Reed gave them one in Detroit 63 rounds ago.

Taking time off at the end of the Supercross season had the needed effect. He rejoined SuperMotocross in the outdoor season and immediately stood on the podium at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. Two rounds later, he won at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado. The relief was short lived and he would not stand on the podium again until this year.

Roczen Motocross Round 3
Ken Roczen won Round 3 of the outdoor season in 2022 at Thunder Valley after finished second in Moto 1 and first in Moto 2. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Winds of Change

Roczen’s offseason was dramatic. Citing differences over his announcement to compete in the World Supercross Championship, he split with Honda HRC and declared himself a free agent. It wasn’t a difficult decision; Roczen was signed only for the Supercross season.

That change had the desired effect. Roczen won the WSX championship in their two-race, pilot season. More importantly, he proved to himself that he could compete for wins.

Late in the offseason, Roczen announced he would also change manufacturers with a move to HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki. He won the 2016 Pro Motocross title for Suzuki with nine wins in 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second. He easily outran the competition with an advantage of 86 points over second-place Eli Tomac.

“I just think change overall made it happen – and these overseas races – it’s really just a snowball,” Roczen said. “You start somewhere and you feel like something works out and I got better and had more fun doing it. Working with the team as well and working on the motorcycle to get better and actually see it paying off. It’s just, it’s just a big boost in general.”

The return to Suzuki at this stage of his career, after nearly a decade of competing on 450 motorcycles, recharged Roczen. He is one of three riders, (along with Cooper Webb and his former Honda teammate Chase Sexton), with a sweep of the top five in the first three rounds of the 2023 Supercross season.

But last week’s podium really drove home how strong he’s been.

“I think we’re all trying to take it all in,” Roczen said. “I wouldn’t say it came out of nowhere really, but before the season starts you think about – or I thought of how my whole last season went – and it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium.”

Roczen’s most recent podium prior to Anaheim 2 came at Budds Creek Motocross Park in Mechanicsville, Maryland last August in Round 10 of the outdoor season. His last podium in Supercross was the 2022 season opener that raised expectations so high.

Supercross Round 1 results
Ken Roczen raised expectations with his season opening win at Anaheim but did not stand on the box again in the Supercross series. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

The change Roczen needed was not just a different team and bike. More importantly, he needed the freedom to set his own schedule and control his training schedule.

“It’s long days, but I’m really into it at the moment,” Roczen said. “Overall, I felt [that] throughout this off season and now my health has been really well, really good, so that helps. It’s needed to get to the top. I’m pretty confident that we’re, we’re doing the right thing – that I’m doing the right thing.

“I’m doing all my training on my own and I’m planning out my entire week. And I feel like I have a really good system going right now with recovery and putting in some hard days. Right now, I don’t really have anybody telling me what to do. I’m the best judge of that.

“It’s really hard to talk about how much work we’ve put in, but we’ve been doing some big changes and riding a lot throughout the week, some really, really late days. And they’re paying off right now; we’re heading in the right direction. We’re all pulling on the same string, and that helps me out big time.”