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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.”

IndyCar’s revised schedule gives Tony Kanaan an extra race in 2020

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
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Tony Kanaan got a bit of good news when the latest revised NTT IndyCar Series schedule was released Monday.

Kanaan’s “Ironman Streak” of 317 consecutive starts would have concluded with the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 15. That race was postponed, and the races that followed have been canceled or rescheduled later in the year. The season tentatively is scheduled to start June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is the reason for the tentative nature of this year’s 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule.

Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner, started the season with a limited schedule for A.J. Foyt Racing in the No. 14 Chevrolet. That schedule included all five oval races, including the 104th Indianapolis 500.

A silver lining for Kanaan is that this year’s trip to Iowa Speedway will be a doubleheader, instead of a single oval contest. His schedule has grown from five to six races for 2020, should the season start on time with the June 6 contest at Texas Motor Speedway and the additional race at Iowa.

“I’m really happy that IndyCar has been very proactive about the schedule and keeping us posted with the plans,” Kanaan told NBCSports.com Tuesday afternoon from his home in Indianapolis. “I’m double happy that now with Iowa being a doubleheader, I’m doing six races instead of five.”

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Kanaan’s “Last Lap” is something that many fans and competitors in IndyCar want to celebrate. He has been a fierce foe on the track but also a valued friend outside the car to many of his fellow racers.

He also has been quite popular with fans and likely is the most popular Indianapolis 500 driver of his generation.

Scott Dixon was Kanaan’s teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing from 2013-17. At one time, they were foes but eventually became friends.

“I hope it’s not T.K.’s last 500,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “I was hoping T.K. would get a full season. That has changed. His first race of what was going to his regular season was going to be the 500. Hopefully, that plays out.

“You have to look at T.K. for who he is, what he has accomplished and what he has done for the sport. He has been massive for the Indianapolis 500, for the city of Indianapolis to the whole culture of the sport. He is a legend of the sport.

“We had our differences early in our career and had problems in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 when we were battling for championships. We fought for race wins and championships in the 2000s. I’ve been on both sides, where he was fighting against me in a championship or where he was fighting with me to go for a championship. He is a hell of a competitor; a fantastic person.

“I hope it’s not his last, but if it is, I hope it’s an extremely successful one for him this season.”

Even before Kanaan joined Chip Ganassi Racing, Dixon admitted he couldn’t help but be drawn to Kanaan’s personality.

“T.K. is a very likable person,” Dixon said. “You just have to go to dinner with the guy once, and you understand why that is. The ups and downs were a competitive scenario where he was helping you for a win or helping someone else for a win. There was never a dislike or distrust. We always got along very well.

“We are very tight right now and really close. He is a funny-ass dude. He has always been a really good friend for me, that’s for sure.”

Back in 2003 when both had come to the old Indy Racing League after beginning their careers in CART, the two drivers were racing hard for the lead at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan on April 13, 2003. They were involved in a hard crash in Turn 2 that left Kanaan broken up with injuries. IRL officials penalized Dixon for “aggressive driving.” Dixon had to sit out the first three days of practice for the next race – the 2003 Indianapolis 500.

Kanaan recovered in time and did not miss any racing. He started second and finished third in that year’s Indy 500.

“We were racing hard and going for the win,” Dixon recalled of the Motegi race. “It was a crucial part of the season. Everybody has to be aggressive. I respect Tony for that. He was not letting up. That is what I always saw with Tony, how hard the guy will push. He will go to the absolute limit, and that is why he was inspiring and why he was a successful driver.

“Those moments are blips. You might not talk to the guy for a week, but then you are back on track. T.K. is very close with our family and we are with his.”

This season, because of highly unusual circumstances, T.K.’s IndyCar career will last for one more race than previously scheduled.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500