Mario Andretti: Last IndyCar win 25 years ago at Phoenix ‘seems like it was only yesterday’

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The Valvoline 200 on April 4, 1993 marked the 52nd and final win of Mario Andretti’s illustrious IndyCar career.

It came at a track – Phoenix International Raceway (now ISM Raceway) – that was one of the most significant tracks in Andretti’s life.

It was in 1964, when the Italian-born driver first embarked upon an IndyCar career, that Andretti began a love affair with the one-mile oval that continues to this day.

Mario Andretti celebrates his last IndyCar win at Phoenix in 1993. (Photo: Dan R. Boyd/INDYCAR)

And now, in fitting fashion, the legendary Andretti will be honored today and throughout the weekend at ISM Raceway, paying tribute to his career and his final win there 25 years and one day ago.

That final win is something that has stuck with him throughout the years. And tonight, he’ll help the track kick off the race weekend with a dinner in his honor, paying tribute to all he did not only for racing in general, but for ISM Raceway in particular.

It will be a start to three days of memories of Andretti’s career, including a display of the four Indy cars he won races in at the former PIR.

More importantly, Andretti will be feted by a number of peers he raced against in that memorable race in 1993, including such luminaries as Emerson Fittipaldi, who is traveling from his native Brazil to attend, as well as Paul Tracy, Bobby Rahal, Al Unser Jr., David Kudrave, Lyn St. James, Jimmy Vasser, Arie Luyendyk and Mario’s son, Michael.

“(ISM has) been running a number of interviews of all these greats on Twitter and man, they’re all kind to me, I don’t know why,” Andretti said to MotorSportsTalk with a chuckle. “But they’re really nice, which is so neat. Our racing family is relatively small and very tight, but there’s so many things you just don’t expect.

“I have a very special appreciation for that. I don’t know how I can ever repay that. That’s the part that has the biggest value, just to hear these guys reminisce and talk about it. They’re too nice. Next time I’m going to have to buy them a beer (he said with a laugh).”

Mario Andretti makes a pit stop in what would be the final win of his IndyCar career, April 4, 1993, at Phoenix International Raceway (Photo: Getty Images)

When asked how much he remembers his last win, Andretti continues with another laugh.

“One day it seems like it was 100 years ago, the next day it seems like it was only yesterday. It all depends on which side of the bed I get up on,” he quipped.

But drawing serious, Andretti added, “It’s a great reminder and I’m totally flattered that they’re using this to promote the race.”

When Andretti came to the world of Indy car racing in 1964, little did he know how much Phoenix and PIR would play in his development as a race car driver.

“Phoenix meant so much to me throughout my career,” Andretti said. “I was part of the Firestone group and the development of the (Indy car) tires back in the 60’s when I graduated to IndyCar.

“Phoenix as a venue was golden for a lot of testing during the winter and a lot of it, believe it or not, was related to Indianapolis tires, as well. We did all the construction work at Phoenix which was pertinent to Indy, and Indy was just compounds.

“The bottom line is I spent a lot of time there and the team I joined as a rookie in IndyCar in 1964 was based there in Phoenix. So, that was my second home and I probably have 100,000 miles on that track.

“Each test was thousands and thousands of miles. To have the track showcasing or reminding me and giving me this kind of platform, I think it’s awesome. … They’re going all-out and I’m totally flattered. I can’t wait for it to happen. I’m just totally elated and proud.”

Three generations of Andretti familly racers: Mario, grandson Marco and Mario’s son Michael. (Getty Images)

In just a few years, NASCAR and Darlington Raceway turned their annual Throwback Weekend into one of the more popular race weekends on the schedule.

Andretti would like to see other tracks on the IndyCar circuit do something similar, honoring other great drivers that had unique ties to those facilities.

“Yes, why not? Why not show the appreciation from where we came from in the series,” he said. “It seems like IndyCar lost some ground when there was a split (with CART after the 1995 season), but we need to remind our fans that we’re the oldest racing series (Indy car racing) in the world. We’re older than Formula One and NASCAR, and never forget that.

“We have a rich, rich history to be proud of. When you look at our race records, they go back into the ‘20s when race records were first to be followed and saved, like when we go for all-time wins and things like that.

“That’s all meaningful and many of the champions of relatively recent decades that accomplished so much are still around, like me, to enjoy the moment. Why not showcase that and show the fans that there’s lots of history and the young lads of today, that’s what they’re trying to measure up to.

“When they start compiling wins, they’re looking at those overall records. They have a lot of life and it didn’t just start 10 years ago, it started a century ago. So yeah, I think all that is very important. We’re proud of all that and we definitely should showcase it. I would encourage that, for sure.”

Everybody loves Mario, including Lady GaGa. Photo: Getty Images.

All those days and weeks of tire testing set Andretti on a course that led to one of the most successful records any individual driver has compiled:

* Four Indy car championships (two in USAC, two in CART)

* A win in the Daytona 500

* A win in the 12 Hours of Sebring

* Became only the second American to win an F1 championship – and the last one to turn the feat – in 1978.

* Became the oldest driver to win an IndyCar race, a mark that still stands. The place? Phoenix 1993, when Andretti was 53 years old. He also became the first driver in Indy car history to win races in each of four decades (1960s through 1990s).

Now 78, Andretti continues to race around tracks from Pocono to Sonoma in a specially-built two-seat Indy car, giving exhibition rides to fans and celebrities in his role as an official ambassador for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

But don’t think for a minute that Andretti wouldn’t love to turn back time and compete in Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway.

“If my son was crazy enough to give me a ride, I’d probably be in it Saturday,” he joked on a national teleconference on Wednesday. “But I’ll have to do with that two-seater, which I’m enjoying very much by the way. Quite satisfied with that.”

Vasser, who finished third to Andretti in that memorable 1993 race at PIR was literally just beginning his IndyCar career (started in 1992) as Andretti was closing in on the end of his own career (he’d retire at the end of the 1994 seas

Vasser recalls what it was like to not only race a living legend, but also just to hang out with one of the sport’s most popular drivers ever.

“Wow. I mean, we don’t have enough time to talk about all the things,” Vasser said on Wednesday’s teleconference. “Everybody looks up to Mario. The biggest thing, he’s the king of cool, like Steve McQueen or something for me.”

Unser Jr. told The Arizona Republic recently what Andretti meant to both him and the sport, back in the day as well as today.

“When Mario walks into a room, his aura walks in first,” Unser Jr. told the Republic.

Unser Jr. is back in the IndyCar world as a consultant to Harding Racing, making its first full-time foray into the sport this season. He saw first-hand less than a month ago in the season-opening race weekend at St. Petersburg, Florida, just how beloved Andretti still is to fans.

“I was walking through the crowd, and all of the sudden I hear this big roar and cheer,” Unser Jr. said. “And who goes by me on a scooter? It’s Mario.”

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Andretti’s final win in 1993 was prototypical of his entire career: never give up, try to get yourself in contention and be ready to quickly jump at an opportunity as soon as it arises.

During Wednesday’s teleconference, Andretti recalled how he came to win his last IndyCar race in the No. 6 Newman Haas Racing Kmart/Texaco Havoline Lola Ford.

“Well, I recall it was a little bit of a nice little gift to some degree because I was probably at that point (late in the race) running third,” he said. “I started on pole in that race, I think (actually, he started second).

Mario Andretti heads to the checkered flag in the 1993 Valvoline 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, the final win of his legendary open-wheel career. Photo: INDYCAR/Dan R. Boyd

“I led at the beginning a little bit (first 10 laps), but then the Penske cars seemed to be on a planet of their own. They were running 1-2.

“First Paul Tracy crashed (on Lap 161 of 200, after leading 151 laps, and had a two-lap lead at the time of the crash), which was unusual, out of the lead.

“Then 10 laps later (Lap 171, after leading the prior 10 laps), Emerson Fittipaldi did the same thing.

“All of a sudden here I’m leading the race. I figure how sweet this is. I saw both guys walk away. That was it.

“But it was certainly welcomed, as you can imagine.”

All told at PIR, Andretti compiled an outstanding record over 30 years:

* Four wins (1966, 1967, 1988 and 1993), tying him for third all-time in PIR/ISM annals

* In 42 starts on the one-mile oval, earned 22 top fives (most all-time) and 30 top 10s (also most all-time)

* Eight poles (second-most all-time)

“Fond memories there,” Andretti said. “Been on the podium (in 1988) with my own son, Michael. Started on the front row together as well (1986 and 1987).

“When I look back, it just brings back very, very special memories.”

Here’s a video of that milestone race in 1993:

NOTE: Tune in to tonight’s special post-dinner tribute to Mario Andretti, who will be joined by several of his former competitors, at 10:30 p.m. ET on IndyCar.com.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi bring their storied rivalry to a new level at Rolex 24

Ganassi Penske Rolex 24
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – To measure the impact of Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi squaring off for the first time in overall sports car wins (starting at the Rolex 24), look at the auto racing titans’ lineups.

There are 12 combined drivers across four entries representing Chip Ganassi Racing (competing as Cadillac Racing) and Team Penske (as Porsche Penske Motorsport) in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona.

And with the possible exception of six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, none of those behind the wheel is as famous and accomplished as the U.S. motorsports icons who will be sitting atop the pit stands at Daytona International Speedway.

In the NTT IndyCar Series, Penske and Ganassi are synonymous with success, having combined for 23 Indy 500 victories and 30 championships. They also competed in the NASCAR Cup Series for two decades with several signature wins for each.

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN GTPRolex 24 at Daytona kicks off new golden era for sports cars

Until now, the rivalry never extended to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, where they competed in different classes from 2018-19 and have competed in the top category in differing times over the years.

But the 2023 season opener at Daytona will mark the beginning of a new era in which Ganassi and Penske will compete for sports car overall victories on two continents. A Ganassi Cadillac Racing V-LMDh and Porsche Penske Motorsports Penske 963 will run full time in both the premier prototype divisions of IMSA and the European-based World Endurance Championship – whose crown jewel is the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Having two of the world’s biggest sports car races welcome the Ganassi-Penske battle seems only fitting in a season in which IMSA’s new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class is expected to introduce a stiffer level of competition.

“We obviously like beating each other,” Ganassi told NBC Sports. “I think if you beat Penske, you know you’ve beaten someone. You’ve accomplished something great. It’s going to be the same as always. Just another platform at another track, but the rivalry will be just as heated I’m sure.

“On one hand, he’s always the first guy to call us out for a penalty or something. On the other hand, he’s also the first guy to congratulate me on a win, so I think it’s a healthy rivalry, but we certainly pound each other’s heads into the ground on race day. Monday through Friday it switches to more of a good relationship.”

After starting his career in sports cars, Penske also is looking forward to having a new arena to race Ganassi.

“There is a lot of anticipation and excitement about the Rolex 24 and the upcoming sports car season overall,” Penske said in a statement to NBC Sports statement. “With the new hybrid prototype formula ready to make its debut, and some great competition expected on the track between teams, drivers and manufacturers, there is a lot of momentum building right now. Porsche Penske Motorsport is excited to compete in both the IMSA WeatherTech Championship, as well as the FIA World Endurance Championship, this season and I can’t wait to see the No. 6 and No. 7 Porsche 963s in action at Daytona this weekend. We also look forward to bringing some new rivalries and storylines to the sport.

Roger Penske confers with Chip Ganassi before the 2013 Honda Indy Toronto (Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports Images).

“In the new IMSA GTP class, there should be a good competitive balance between Porsche, Cadillac, Acura and BMW. We have seen how the rivalry between Team Penske and Ganassi Racing has developed in the NTT IndyCar Series in recent years, and that could certainly extend to sports cars as our teams and drivers continue to develop the new formula and push the production on track in both IMSA and WEC. We will see how the competition plays out, starting this weekend, as we always enjoy racing against Chip and his teams.”

Though there have been some fiery moments over the years (Dario Franchitti vs. Will Power, anyone?), Ganassi vs. Penske mostly has been a story of respect between two organizations whose main strengths are people.

“It’s just the depth of the organizations going up against each other,” Ganassi said. “It’s not just he and I. It’s at every level of the organization.

“We’re smaller. I’d like to think we’re a little more nimble. This is all I do is race cars. I don’t have 200 car dealerships or a truck rental company or a transportation company. I just have racing is all I have.”

Heading into Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, here are the thoughts of Ganassi and Penske drivers in the Rolex 24 at Daytona:


Earl Bamber, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “When I grew up as a kid, I remember watching Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske battle each other for many years, obviously following Scott Dixon and his career in IndyCar (Bamber is a New Zealand native like Dixon). And when the opportunity came up to come and race for Chip, it’s a no-brainer. It’s one of those teams you want to drive for in the world. It’s one of the biggest and most successful teams in the world. And then we’ve got Porsche, where I used to drive, with Penske. It’s going to be a phenomenal rivalry over the next couple of years and that rivalry continues between two absolute legends of our sport. Two people who have been the most successful. I hope we can get Cadillac and Chip their first Le Mans win. That’s obviously the ultimate goal for us and beat his old rival, Roger.

“Those two powerhouses of the sport, they definitely raise the bar. You’ve seen it in IndyCar for years and years. One finds something and the next pushes it forward and forward. You’ll see the same in sports car racing. We all saw what Chip Ganassi Racing did back in the day with the GT program. So no doubt we can do the same again. It’s the ultimate highest level of motorsport when it comes to sports car racing, and there’ll be no stone unturned to make sure that we’re winning these races. It will be a really great fight, great for the fans and great for the sport, because both of them love winning.”

Dane Cameron, No. 6 Porsche Penske: “I think anytime you have Chip and Roger come to town to start fighting for wins, it raises the profile of the whole thing. Hopefully it brings a few more eyes to everything. Certainly brings a lot of expectation with it as well, and I also think it reflects really strongly on the championship to show how competitive it is. They respect the championship and challenge, but when they come to town, they come to win for sure.”

Scott Dixon, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “The battle between Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske is always a fierce one. I obviously know it well from the IndyCar side. But I think it’s a lot more than that. It’s impressive to see a lot of the manufacturers that have come in for this battle. I imagine if it’s not from the first race but during the season that Penske and Ganassi will fight it out pretty hard.

“I think the rivalry between Chip Ganassi racing and Penske has always been strong and in a good way. There’s been some battles and the 2010s for me and other drivers when it gets fierce. Some disagreements here and there. But it’s always been a great pure battle, which is what I think these championships are made of and what brings the fans to the track. So I’d sum it up as a very healthy rivalry.”

Alex Lynn, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “Even as a little boy (growing up in England), you knew exactly who Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi were. You knew what their teams represented. For me to represent Chip and his team is a huge honor. I’m extremely motivated to try to add to his legacy and be part of the fabric of this team. I think having the battle between Penske and Ganassi is iconic. Also Porsche and Cadillac as brands, respectively, just adds to the occasion. Makes me smile even thinking about it knowing what we get to represent when the flag drops.”

Felipe Nasr, No. 7 Porsche Penske: “I think it’s fantastic especially because we’re merging the IMSA and WEC Series and giving the opportunity for teams like Penske and Ganassi to fight for overall victories. You look at the history of those teams, they’ve been on top. We always hear it from the IndyCar guys or the NASCAR side, you’re talking two big names in motorsports. You expect nothing but them fighting for wins. For sure Ganassi has strengths, and we have strengths as well. I’m pretty glad I have the opportunity to be representing Team Penske and continue to write history with them and Porsche is a great opportunity.”

Richard Westbrook, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “The chance for the two most famous teams in America to go head to head in the Daytona 24 Hours and also the Le Mans 24 Hours. I expect that rivalry to keep going up more notches.”

Renger van der Zande, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “Obviously, it’s such the big houses of racing in the U.S. Penske and Ganassi are taking it at each other. The rivalry is big. The best of the best. The most famous ones in the U.S.

“Ganassi is part of Cadillac. We’re the race team that runs the factory program for Cadillac. Penske is running it for Porsche, obviously a high brand as well. Those teams have their little rivalry, but they’re working for a bigger company, a bigger brand, which is Cadillac and Porsche. So those two premium brands taking on each other and then two of the best teams in America taking on each other. It’s very simple: Cadillac got the best team in the U.S. and Porsche got the best team in the U.S. So let’s see what happens. It’s going to be a cool fight.”