April 14 in Motorsports History: Michael Andretti’s final win


In 1986, Michael Andretti’s first IndyCar victory came at Long Beach. Fittingly, his 42nd and final victory also came there 16 years later.

But while his first victory came after a close battle to the finish with Al Unser Jr., Andretti’s second victory came with the help of pit strategy.

Michael Andretti celebrates his 2002 victory at Long Beach. Mandatory Credit: Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Andretti didn’t seem a major contender for the victory early in the race, having started 15th.

However, his team made a calculated gamble by having him stay on track when the majority of the lead pack pitted on Lap 33, putting him off-sequence from everyone else.

Andretti led until pitting on Lap 47 but regained first for good on Lap 62 as others made their final stops. He held off a hard-charging Jimmy Vasser yby 0.466 seconds to win for the final time in his illustrious career.

“It was big. You know, this place is so special,” a teary-eyed Andretti told Fox. “This is where I won my first race, and it felt so good doing it for Team Motorola.”

Following the 2002 CART season, Andretti purchased a majority share in the team and moved it to the Indy Racing Leauge.  He retired from full-time competition following the 2003 Indianapolis 500, though he did make two final ‘one-off’ appearances at Indy in 2006 and ’07.

Other past races at Long Beach that took place on this date:

1991: Al Unser Jr clinched his fourth consecutive victory at Long Beach, winning by 3.892 seconds over Bobby Rahal. He would win at Long Beach two more times, in 1994 and ’95.

1996: Jimmy Vasser won at Long Beach for the first and only time in his career, taking the lead when Gil de Ferran, who led 100 of 105 laps, had mechanical problems with four laps remaining.

2019: Alexander Rossi led all but five laps in his dominant victory at Long Beach, his second in a row at the famed street course. Rossi’s winning margin of 20.236 seconds was the biggest since Al Unser Jr.’s 23-second romp in ’95. Andretti Autosport also earned its 200th win across all motorsports.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”