Today's news out of the paddock is that Mario Andretti, now 70 years old, will return to open-wheel racing for a one-shot deal at this year's Indianapolis 500 with Andretti Autosport. The race will mark his first IZOD IndyCar Series start, and his first major professional open-wheel race of any kind since 1994.
He last tested an IndyCar in 2003, flipping end over end in a run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and retired from the sport then and there. But after so many years out of the cockpit, the itch returned, and he successfully petitioned son Michael for another chance at Indianapolis victory.
In 29 Indianapolis 500 starts, Andretti won only once, in 1969. He nearly won the 1981 race on a technicality, after a penalty to race winner Bobby Unser briefly gave Andretti the honors, but the penalty was overturned four months later. Andretti was notorious for having no luck at the speedway, as everything from crashes to mechanical failure contributed to the coining of the term "Andretti Curse."
Sponsoring the car will be longtime Andretti backers Firestone. The car will carry the number 70.
"I still feel like I have some unfinished business at the speedway," Andretti told reporters. "I had so much bad luck there in the past. And I've always wanted to see how I stack up against my grandson, and how these new cars handle versus the older vehicles that I won my championships in."
"Sure, I'm nervous for him," son and team owner Michael Andretti told the news media. "But I know this is what he wants to do. He's always wanted to race against Marco, and I know he wants to see if he's still got it."
Andretti couldn't have picked a better time to return to the sport.
Just a day ago, his nephew, John, announced that he would also join Andretti Autosport for races at Kansas and Indianapolis. That announcement put two Andrettis in the Indianapolis field, and helped pique Mario's interest. When Michael decided against un-retiring himself, Andretti made a couple of quick phone calls to secure Firestone backing, and in the span of a few hours, the deal was set.
Open-wheel racing in America has been suffering as of late anyway, with many top American drivers failing to land rides. Teams have been eschewing these popular and talented, but sponsorless, drivers for drivers from Brazil and Venezuela that bring their own sponsorship to the teams.
KV Racing Technology owner Jimmy Vasser had nothing but good things to say about Andretti's return. "What can I say? Mario Andretti is open-wheel racing in America. He's done everything there is to do for the sport, and then some. It's even more special for me to see him return to the track, as our new sponsor Lotus was behind him when he won his Formula 1 title in 1978. I look forward to competing against him at Indy. Heck, I might even have to un-retire myself!"
Even in a less prominent open-wheel environment than America saw during his heyday, the return of Mario Andretti to the Indianapolis 500 will be sure to turn heads during the month of may. Sure enough, he will be everybody's sentimental favorite to win this year's running.
Read the first letters of each word in the title and of each paragraph. Have a fun day!