March 20 in Motorsports History: Michael Andretti makes a big return

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March 20, 1994 was an important date in American open-wheel racing.

The date marked the first race in CART’s 16th season as a sanctioning body. The Indy cars began their season on the streets of Surfers Paradise, Australia. 

It was an important weekend for the Andretti family. For Mario Andretti, Surfers was the first round of his 16-race ‘Arrivederci Tour’. After 29 seasons in open-wheel, the sports icon finally would hang up his helmet at the season’s end.

For Michael Andretti, the weekend marked a welcome return to familiar territory. Michael spent 1993 racing in Formula One for McLaren but was replaced by Mika Häkkinen with three races remaining after being plagued by a series of poor finishes.

Michael Andretti celebrates winning at Surfer’s Paradise on 20th March 1994. (Photo by Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images)

Andretti signed with Chip Ganassi Racing for the 1994 season and picked up where he left off in the season opener.

After the first two attempts to start the race were delayed because of weather and accidents, Andretti overtook race pole-sitter Nigel Mansell during the third attempt.

He went on to dominate, leading all 55 laps of the race, which was shortened by 10 laps due to darkness.

The victory was the first for Andretti in 17 months but was his second consecutive victory in CART competition as he had previously won the 1992 season finale at Laguna Seca.

Andretti’s victory was also the first for Ganassi and the Renyard as a chassis manufacturer.

“It’s great to be back. What can I say?” Andretti told ABC Sports following his victory. “I prayed hard for this, and it came true.”

Andretti won again in the 1994 CART season in July at Toronto. He finished fourth in the overall standings.

The second-generation driver returned to Newman/Haas Racing the following year and replaced his father in the team’s No. 6 Texaco-Havoline entry. 

Also on this date:

2005: Fernando Alonso won the Malaysian Grand Prix, one of seven victories in his first championship season.

2016: The No. 2 Tequila Patrón ESM team of Scott Sharp, Johannes van Overbeek, Ed Brown, and Pipo Derani won the 64th running of the 12 Hours of Sebring. Derani made the race-winning pass on Dane Cameron in the No. 31 Action Express entry in the final moments of the race. 

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Mike Tirico and Danica Patrick team up again on NBC’s Indy 500 coverage

Danica Patrick Mike Tirico
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Mike Tirico and Danica Patrick will return to NBC Sports’ coverage of the Indianapolis 500, which will be broadcast Aug. 23 at 1 p.m. ET on NBC (green flag at 2:30 p.m.).

Tirico and Patrick, who both joined NBC Sports for its inaugural coverage of the event last year, will reprise their roles as host and studio analyst.

One of the most versatile voices in sports, Tirico also hosts NBC Olympics’ primetime coverage, Football Night in America and many other premier events, including hosting on-site at Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier this year for the first-ever IndyCar-NASCAR crossover weekend.

AT THE BRICKYARD: Daily Indy 500 coverage schedule on NBC, NBCSN

He again will be joined during prerace, in-race, and postrace coverage by Patrick, who became the first woman to lead the Indy 500 in 2005 and also was the first female pole-sitter in NASCAR driver.

They will make their debut together duing practice coverage on Aug. 21, on NBCSN.

“My first Indy 500 last year exceeded my very high expectations in every way,” Tirico said in a release. “Although this year’s race will take place under unprecedented circumstances, I can’t wait to get back to Indy. I’m confident that our team at the Brickyard will provide viewers with as exciting a viewing experience as possible. I am also thrilled that Danica Patrick is along for the ride again this year. We had such a great time last May and look forward to bringing Indy home for the viewers again.”

Said Patrick: “The Indianapolis 500 is an event that transcends mainstream and motorsports which is why it’s so special. We are living during a time that if we can bring people together, we should. Even if it’s not physically. I am honored to be back with the NBC Sports team and Mike Tirico. The memories I have from 15 years at IMS hold such a special place in my heart and I can’t wait to make more this year in the booth, or however we are positioned in 2020!”

This will mark NBC Sports’ second season as the exclusive home of the NTT IndyCar Series, including the Indianapolis 500, which will take place in August for the first time ever because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.