One of the greatest drivers in the history of world motorsport, Mario Andretti of Nazareth, Pa., will be inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame’s International category at a ceremony and reception in September.
Dr. Hugh Scully, chairman of the board of the Hall of Fame, made the announcement Tuesday, explaining that Andretti would join Carroll Shelby, Bobby Rahal and his son Michael Andretti as International racers who have made significant contributions to motorsport in Canada.
Andretti will be inducted, along with Canadians Ron Fellows, Tom Walters, John and Sharon Fletcher, Jimmy Carr and the late Bob Armstrong, during the 19th annual Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies presented by Canadian Tire Sept. 28 at the CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio in downtown Toronto.
Nobody drove a Formula One car faster than Andretti at what is now Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, where he won the pole and recorded the fastest lap in 1977, the final year the Grand Prix of Canada was held at Mosport before being moved to Montreal.
Ten years earlier, the back straight at the iconic circuit was named Mario Andretti Straightaway after he was clocked at 178 miles an hour in a U.S. Auto Club (USAC) Indy car race.
On a global scale, Andretti was the first driver to win both the Formula One world championship (1978) and several Indy car championships (1965, ‘66, ‘69 and ‘84).
His versatility remains unparalleled and one of the many books about him is titled, "The Man Who Can Win Any Kind of Race," because he won the Daytona 500 stock car race in 1967, the Indy 500 and Pikes Peak hill climb in 1969, the USAC big car championship on dirt in 1974 (when he was also racing in F1!), three 12 Hours of Sebring endurance championships as well as a class win at the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In Canada, Andretti was unbeatable in the 1960s at Le Circuit-Mont Tremblant, winning all four races held in 1967 and ‘68. In 1975 at Mosport, he went green flag to checkers to win a Formula 5000 race.
In the Hall of Fame’s announcement, it notes that some of the bad luck associated with him at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (" . . . and Mario Andretti is slowing down . . .") sometimes crossed the border when he came to race in Canada.
After turning the fastest-ever F1 lap at Mosport, engine failure sent him to the pits while leading. A broken halfshaft took him out of a USAC Indy car race at the same circuit.
His best finish in a Canadian Grand Prix was third in 1976. Later in his career, in the CART series, he was second in the Molson Indy Toronto in 1991 after finishing third in the Vancouver race a year earlier.
Although he says he raced in Canada in the early 1960s ("we went to some small tracks near Quebec"), the first recorded visit here came in 1965 at a USAC midget race at the CNE Stadium stock car track. He also raced in F1 at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve and in Indy cars at the Sanair Speedway oval in Quebec.
Named the U.S. driver of the year in 1967, 1978 and 1984, Andretti was chosen Driver of the Century by the Associated Press.
Tickets for the informal, cocktail party-type gathering where attendees can mingle with Andretti and the other inductees following the induction ceremony will go on sale this Friday, June 21, on the Hall of Fame’s website, www.cmhf.ca or by calling 1-289-803-1375.
Tickets are priced at $80 apiece.
- NORRIS McDONALD