Mario: Indy not the ultimate measure of driver skill
In America there is an open-wheel series called IndyCar. It races on a combination of road courses and oval tracks. It has some of Motor sports biggest names attached to it like A. J. Foyt, Al Unser, Johnny Rutherford, Rick Mears, Danny Sullivan, Gordon Johncock, Parnelli Jones, Arie Luyendyk, Helio Castroneves, Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon. It also has a seriously big race each May called the Indy 500.
The Indy 500 is arguably one of the biggest races in the world. Some would say that it may be the most known race in the world but not necessarily the biggest. That title belongs to the 24 Hours of Le Mans and you can include me in that camp. Regardless, the Indy 500 in Indianapolis Indiana is a major motor sport event that celebrated its 100th anniversary this year.
The circuit is legendary and impressive in size and scope. The speeds achieved at the Indy 500 are dangerously impressive as well but according to Indy 500 winner Mario Andretti, the hype and impact of this race is way overplayed—the race itself is not that great.
In an exclusive interview with Formula1blog.com, F1 world champion Mario Andretti shared his feelings about the Indy 500 as compared to the F1 world championship. There is no question that winning four national championships and the world championship means a lot to Andretti but what you may find surprising from the last renaissance man of motor sport is how he feels about the Indy 500.
Tony Greene caught up with the champion at the recent IndyCar Twin 275’s in Texas and asked him, “Which of either means more to you? Winning at Indy or winning a world championship”?
“You cannot compare a championship with one race. Way too much has been made of the Indy 500…I won four national championships, I value that more. [From an] exposure standpoint, obviously Indianapolis does it for you because it’s arguably the best known race in the world but from a driver’s standpoint, Indy was never really my favorite as far as where it took the ultimate skill or anything else”.
Andretti raced at Indy for 29 years but his impressions of the track and race are less romantic is scope than other drivers or IndyCar fans. It is not odd to find fans whose passion and ardent defense of the race has boiled on a medium simmer for years now. They are very animated in their defense of the race. The years have only strengthened the Indy 500’s appeal or importance to the sport as it is the showcase of the series with the other IndyCar races gaining a fraction of the viewers as the Indy 500.
Its appeal has also drawn drivers from around the world to compete. Such as Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Dario Franchitti, Mike Conway and Justin Wilson, but it is also used as a proving ground for young drivers as well which is something Andretti feels is unacceptable.
“It’s wonderful to have had that opportunity, obviously, to win it because unfortunately and unfairly many drivers careers are judged by their performance at Indy. I don’t buy that at all so let’s not even begin to compare a world championship with Indianapolis”.
The Indy 500 has been a part of America for 100 years and I can recall watching Gordon Johncock, Rick Mears or Al Unser race to victory. Those are memories I will recall for a lifetime but it is merely a race, to a driver, and not a championship. Andretti has a point. The importance of the Indy 500 has been a point of focus as some suggest that this one race is really all the series has left.