Mario Andretti is a former Formula 1 champion and the winner of 24 Hours of Le Mans and many other races in various series. It is of no surprise therefore that he is often referred to as one of the most successful American racers of all time.
Andretti was born in Italy, in the small town of Montona (Motovun) in the Istria region, on the 28th of February, 1940. After Istria became a part of former Yugoslavia, he left the country in 1948 and ended up in a refugee camp in the city of Lucca in Italy. In 1955, he emigrated with his family to the USA. He went on to become a US citizen in 1964.
Since childhood, Mario and his twin brother Aldo had been fascinated by cars. Mario Andretti had his first racing experience in the city of Ancona where he participated in a competition called Formula Junior. Probably one of the most important moments in Mario's childhood was the travel to Monza to see the great Italian driver Alberto Ascari compete in the Italian Grand Prix. It was then, at the age of 14, that the foundation for Andretti’s interest in cars and racing was born. Soon after, when he was at the age of 19, Andretti began what was to become an incredible racing career.
Moving to a new country didn’t affect Mario’s love for cars and racing. Mario and his brother were surprised to find a half-mile dirt racing track when they moved to their new homeland. They almost had their own track in Nazareth, so they were able to enjoy a drive in modified Hudson Hornet Sportsman car. Mario competed in some local races with modified cars and in 1965 debuted in the United States Automobile Clubs stock car events. He continued to win many races till 1975.
Midget cars racing also grabbed Mario's interest during his driving career, and from 1964 to 1974, he competed in the Indy Car racing, the most popular series in the United States at the time. He went on to win three championships under USAC. In 1966 and 1967, Andretti competed in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and won one race.
To date, he remains the only driver ever to win the Indianapolis 500 (1969), Daytona 500 (1967) and the Formula 1 World Championship. Along with Juan Pablo Montoya, Andretti also remains the only driver to have won a race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Formula One, and an Indianapolis 500. No American has ever won a Formula 1 race since Andretti’s victory at Dutch Grand Prix in 1978.
Mario Andretti’s first stay in Formula 1 wasn’t as successful as from 1968 to 1974 since he was a part-timer, driving sporadically for Lotus, March and Ferrari, mainly focusing on his racing career in America.
However, in 1975, he drove a full season for the Parnelli team. In 1976, he moved to Lotus, making a huge contribution to the team's up-rise in the series and taking his first victory in the Japanese Grand Prix.
In 1977, at Long Beach, he became the only American to win the United States Grand Prix until 2015. Finally, in 1978, he became the Formula 1 champion, winning six races that year. He stayed in the series until 1981, with some short returns in the following year, but failed to make any success.
Andretti returned to IndyCar racing in 1982 and won his fourth title in the series in 1984. In 1983, he finished third in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, but 12 years later, Andretti was the winner of the WSC class and second in the overall standings. His last appearance in the legendary race in France was in 2000, six years after his retirement from the full-time racing. Andretti drove his last IndyCar race in 1994. In his career, Mario had a total of 407 IndyCar starts and at 53 years and 34 days of age, he was the oldest driver to win a race in the series.
In the same year, Andretti was honored by the Associated Press and Racer magazine as the driver of the century. He was named the Driver of the year three times in the USA and was introduced into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2001. Andretti was awarded the highest civilian honor by the Italian government, the Commendatore dell'Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana, in honor of his racing career, public service and enduring commitment to his Italian heritage.
"With tennis, you can go pick up a racket, take a lesson, and understand how much talent and skill it takes to be as good as the top pros. Same with golf: pick up a club. But not many can go out and get in a race car and experience a drive at over 200 miles an hour," Andretti said once.
Mario Andretti lives with his wife Dee Ann in Pennsylvania and enjoys many sports, not just as a spectator. He has two sons, Michael and Jeff, and both are involved in racing. Michael followed his father’s footsteps by winning the IndyCar title and driving in Formula 1, while nowadays he is the owner of the Andretti Autosport, which also competes in various international series.
With a such a great career, Mario Andretti surely will be an idol and a role model for future generations of racers, and his achievements hardly could be beaten in the foreseeable future.
Mario Andretti's achievements are absolutely fantastic and he could be a role-model for many future generations. He scored a total of 111 race wins, and here are the achievements listed on his official website:
- Four-time Indy Car National Champion (1965, 1966, 1969, 1984)
- Formula One World Champion (1978)
- Daytona 500 winner (1967)
- Indianapolis 500 winner (1969)
- Three-time Indianapolis 500 pole winner (1966, 1967, 1987)
- Pikes Peak Hill Climb winner (1969)
- Three-time 12 Hours of Sebring winner (1967, 1970, 1972)
- USAC National Dirt Track Champion (1974)
- International Race of Champions (IROC) Champion (1979)
- Only driver to be named Driver of the Year in three different decades (1967, 1978, 1984)
- Named Driver of the Quarter Century (1992) by vote of past Drivers of the Year and a panel of 12 journalists
- Named Driver of the Century by The Associated Press (December 10, 1999)
- Named American Driver of the Century by RACER magazine (January, 2000)
- All-time leader in Indy Car pole positions won (67)
- All-time Indy Car lap leader (7,595)
- All-time leader in Indy Car race starts (407)
- All-time leader in wire-to-wire Indy Car victories (14)
- Second all-time in Indy Car victories (52)
- Only driver ever to win Indy Car races in four decades
- Oldest race winner in Indy Car history, with 1993 victory at Phoenix at age 53
- Only driver to win the Indy 500, Daytona 500 and the Formula One World Championship
- From 1961 to 2000, competed in 879 races, had 111 wins and 109 poles (includes all forms of motorsports)