Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Motorsports

Mario Andretti still has a need for speed Add to ...

Most people would find it difficult to explain a 6.0-litre, 500 horsepower sedan as their every day family car.

But when you’re one of the planet’s best known racers and the only man to win the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500 and a Formula One world championship, it doesn’t seem as big a stretch.

“I keep telling my wife: ‘You need that passing power’,” said Mario Andretti with a huge laugh as he explained the need for a high-performance V-12 in a family car. “It’s for safety: If you are going to make a pass, it’s got to be quick.”

IN PICTURES: At 71, the racing legend has no plans to slow down

While he’s likely to take out his 2006 Audi A8L W12 to get a haircut, whenever he needs some extra room, Andretti pulls his 2011 Lincoln Navigator out of the garage. But being an accomplished racer, Andretti also has a couple of sporty numbers at his disposal: a 2009 ZR1 Corvette and 2007 Lamborghini Murciélago LP640. And if a Lamborghini weren’t already cool enough, its licence plate is F1-78 to denote Andretti’s world championship.

When he’s out on the highway, a good way to get in Andretti’s bad books is by driving slow in the left lane, holding up the flow of traffic.

“I got pet peeves like you can’t believe. Unfortunately, we don’t educate drivers enough to be respectful on the road,” he said.

“You see people in the left lane and as long as they are on the speed limit they stay there. Get in the right lane and let people pass you — let the police worry about somebody who wants to speed. Don’t force them pass in the right lane and zig zag, which can create an accident, just because you think you’re correct. You don’t have to be a road vigilante.”

“And I cannot accept reckless driving and that’s something you will never, ever, ever, see me do. I know that I could probably handle a precarious situation where others couldn’t, but I won’t knowingly put myself in a position where an accident could happen.”

Andretti also worries about drivers who neglect the simple things, such as checking their tire pressures. Just one improperly inflated tire can create a dangerous situation, but it's one that could be avoided completely with a few seconds of care, he insists.

“From a safety standpoint, the handling of the car will be reduced, there’s the possibility of a blowout through stress on the tire, and it reduces the fuel mileage, but you see that in three out of four cars out there,” he explained.

“Sometimes maybe I am too much of a stickler — my wife gets on my case about it and tells me to mind my own business, but I am outspoken about it. People should contribute to safety by taking responsibility but it’s something that gets neglected and that’s inexcusable.”

Andretti thinks that a high performance driving school on a closed track is a good idea for every driver. If they can put themselves to the test in a safe environment, practising advanced techniques and collision avoidance, then they will be more prepared when things go wrong, he says.

“You owe it to yourself, to your family, and to people who ride with you to be as skilled as possible,” he said. “I wish everyone would go through a good, rigorous training under controlled conditions because you can’t develop those skills on the road, it’s impossible.”

Named the Driver of the Century by the Associated Press and Racer magazine, Andretti has won just about every kind of race, whether on street and road courses in open wheel cars, ovals in stock cars, endurance racing, and even on dirt tracks. Over an amazing career which spanned four decades, Andretti took the 1978 Formula One title, four IndyCar championships, the 1974 USAC dirt track crown, three wins at the 12 Hours of Sebring, a victory at the 24 Hours of Daytona, and a class win in the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans at the age of 55.

And success in racing allowed him to cultivate his love of cars: “Quite honestly, I treat myself with cars I really want to drive and I have some flexibility to do that,” he explained.

“I love technology — yes I have fallen in love with older cars but I’m all for new technology. There’s so much out there and so much to choose from, I mean really good stuff. I have something for all the needs of a particular day. And I’m a car guy through and through. That’s what the sport has given me.”

But don’t ask him to choose an all-time favourite car, because he won’t commit to just one ride.

The racing legend turns 71 next month, but that certainly doesn’t mean he’s slowing down. Andretti just ended a 10-day tour of U.S. and British bases in Europe and the Middle East in support of the troops stationed in Iraq. While there, he took soldiers on two-seater rides, a duty he also performs at IndyCar races throughout the season.

Andretti drove for six teams in F1 — Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Lotus, March, Parnelli, and Williams — and won his title and Lotus’ final championship behind the wheel of the iconic black and gold John Player Special (JPS) car. While he’s pleased with Lotus-Renault reviving the old JPS colour scheme, he’s also concerned about the battle over the famed name that’s raging in F1 between that team and Team Lotus, which will both race in 2011 under its famed banner.

“It’s been a tug of war between the two factions and I hope they resolve it properly so the brand is not tarnished in any way, because I think it could be that way if they both are trying to go in the same direction and feel they are the legitimate claim to the brand,” he said.

“I hope it gets worked out: It’s a big responsibility to carry that brand, in my opinion, and I know for sure that they recognize that but I don’t want them to lose sight of it either.”

IN PICTURES: At 71, the racing legend has no plans to slow down

 

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories