Mario Andretti Q&A

Motorsport legend Mario Andretti has made his fair share of headlines in the past couple of weeks. First, he made an improbable return to IndyCar racing and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for his son Michael's team. Then, his comeback was abruptly ended by the biggest crash of his storied career. Somewhere in the midst of all that, he found the time to mediate between CART and Road America officials to save the series' race at the classic circuit. He travelled to Britain to be on hand for the London Champ Car Trophy at Brands Hatch. In Britain to witness the London Champ Car trophy at Brands Hatch, he took the time to talk about the Kent circuit, Road America, that crash and more

Mario Andretti Q&A

Physically, it's going to a really tough job for the drivers. It's a long race and Brands is a track that gets your attention. There are a couple of areas - Clearways and Paddock hill bend - that are really interesting corners to drive, very satisfying. It's going to be a challenge for the drivers to get those corners right. Paddock Hill is one of the greatest - if not the greatest - corners of any circuit. I think there should be a Champ Car race in Britain. This country should be a normal stop for the series.

Personally, I would like to see them race on the full circuit. But there are some political problems, like the noise situation with the circuit's neighbours and so forth. I think the full Brands circuit is a classic.

I think the qualifying format is very good, and I think it's a good idea because of the tightness of the circuit. If they ran normal qualifying here, the drivers would never get a clear lap, but this system eliminates that. I'm a proponent of open qualifying but myself, like every other driver, we've always felt that our quickest lap has been robbed from us by another driver getting in the way. I remember that I once had the most enormous lap ever going at the old Nurburgring, and Arturo Merzario decides he's going to have a rest in the last two corners of the course, and he robbed me of, like, two seconds. Things like that, you remember. With the system they're running this weekend, none of that will happen.

I don't think you can predict it in any way because all the drivers are so close. Track position is going to be key, that's going to be very valuable. But all of that can change because of the pit-stops. There's a lot of different variables that are going to be happening. Champ Car races are very unpredictable. It's going to be a great race. I don't think I can even venture a guess as to who's going to win.

Road America is an event that has been part of this series for years and it's a venue that everyone enjoys immensely. But in recent years for some reason the attendance has dropped. They've done a miserable job of promoting it, but at the same time I thought that maybe everybody has to roll up their sleeves and both CART and the organisers had to work at it. I talked to Chris Pook about it and I said that he simply could not ignore the reaction that we've been hearing from the fans calling for the return of the race. It was just a matter of reasoning things out between CART and Road America and there was a lot of give and take, a lot of compromising going on by both sides. It's a great race for us and everyone now is moving up a notch in terms of promotion. By the way, I did not ask for it to be called the Mario Andretti Grand Prix - that wasn't even in my mind. I told Chris that it would be much better if he found a title sponsor for the race! But I'm going to do whatever I can to try and help with the promotion.

Well, I must say, it was very special set of circumstances, because I am certainly not a driver on the market. But my son Michael had two walking wounded. It started out of idle speculation. My daughter suggested it and Michael said "Dad, why don't you think about it? I don't need you for the race, but you could practice and qualify the car as an insurance for Tony.

To be honest with you, I thought about it overnight. Normally, I just think about things on the fly but this time I used a little bit of judgement. I thought about it overnight and I said "you know, I'll go." But I asked Michael to make sure that the team was happy with the idea because I know what people could be think, what with all these young drivers walking around looking for work. But the thinking was that someone had to qualify the car for Tony, and if you have a driver qualify for someone else, they have to step down before the race. That's a tough thing to do, because every driver in America wants to compete in the Indianapolis 500. But I had no aspirations to race, so it was easy for me to step down, and that was compelling reason for me to go. I needed to give myself a compelling reason, and I thought that it was an interesting challenge. But I had no idea how fast I would be after nine years. I wouldn't have attempted this anywhere but Indy because I feel that I have so much experience there. In my first runs I felt the speed, I really did, and that's not a good thing. But I surprised myself with how quickly I settled in. I found confidence in the car and all of a sudden I was having a grand day.

At the end of the day I decided to follow another driver to pick up a tow, and I just picked the wrong guy! I was just close enough behind Kenny Brack that it meant that there was no warning of his crash. I arrived to find debris still running all over the track. I just hoped I wouldn't hit anything, but I hit something pretty big and solid. I had backed off somewhat, but I was still going pretty fast so I had plenty of airspeed. The rest of it - I don't know what happened after that!

It feels very different from the cockpit that what you see on film. I knew I was gyrating in the air and my biggest fear was to slam against the side-wall of the cockpit - I had no control, and I've never been in a situation like that. And then I landed the right way up - thank god.

No question. It was the longest lasting accident I've ever had. It felt like it lasted half an hour - well, that's what it seemed like. Nothing else has come close to that. I've never flown in the air like that in a race car, and I never want to do it again.

I'm not trying to rekindle my career. I'm 63 now and even my opportunities for Le Mans are fading. I don't get as many offers as I used to. But I'm up for a challenge. I still have the passion. I don't think it will ever leave me and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I've lived like that my whole life. I just totally love the sport, I truly love my driving, and I'm milking every minute of it.

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