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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