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One Year Later, It's Michael, Not Mario, Who Faces the Music

April 06, 1987|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

The Andrettis had all the luck at Long Beach again Sunday. Father Mario's was all good and son Michael's all bad.

"I feel good for him, and I feel real fortunate to finish fourth," Michael said after trailing his victorious parent by two laps in Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix.

It sounded like a playback of last year's event when reporters hunted down the fifth-place Mario in the garage lot to see how he felt about his son collecting his first Indy car victory.

This time, while Mario, 47, took a senior citizens' parade lap with car co-owner and Oscar winner Paul Newman (the team is on a roll, folks), a couple of reporters waited for Michael, 24, to ride into the lot on a red motor scooter--his most reliable transportation of the day.

So much for a changing of the guard.

"It's amazing after all these years that he still has the drive that he does," Michael said. "This year he's got a really good car, really good engine and really good team behind him, so he's gonna be a real tough combination to beat."

As Mario led all the way, Michael's problems started seconds after the start. He accelerated from the third row up alongside Roberto Guerrero in the first row and the Colombian driver, failing to see Andretti's blue-and-yellow Kraco car, dropped down low toward the first turn alongside a row of red traffic cones marking the pit exit.

Andretti had to give way, and his ankle-high front spoilers plowed through the cones like a threshing machine.

"Roberto forced me into the cones and that screwed up my front wing," the younger Andretti said. "If those cones hadn't been there I would have been in third place. But it was either hit Roberto or hit the cones."

The cones were a new precaution.

"They did it this year to keep people from going over onto the groove out of the pits," Andretti said. "But it was stupid to have 'em there. I don't see why you need 'em there."

Then Andretti saw the humor in the incident.

"They weren't there after I got through with 'em," he said, laughing. "Boom-boom-boom-boom-boom! It must have looked pretty funny."

The series of collisions knocked off the right wing, but Andretti kept driving until the first of his two scheduled pit stops, rather than stop for repairs that would have caused him to pit twice more for fuel.

Then, on Lap 33 of the 95-lap race, as he took on fuel the crew put on new wings, but it took 45 seconds--more than twice the time of a normal stop.

"We screwed ourselves up by trying to fix it," Andretti said. "When they put 'em back in they didn't put 'em in the slot, so I was actually getting a negative effect. It was pulling my front end up in the air. I was floating."

They tried again on the next scheduled stop at 72 laps, that time using 72 seconds, or about the time it takes to run a full lap.

"And the second time they did the same thing," Andretti said. "I finally said, 'Let it go . . . it go!' "

That wasn't all. With 26 laps remaining, Andretti lost his first three gears, meaning he couldn't accelerate out of the tight corners.

"I had to use all the clutch to get off that corner," he said, indicating the hairpin at the top of the Shoreline Drive straightaway. "Still, my last few laps were in the 13s."

He meant 1:13, or about 82.5 m.p.h., while his father was averaging 85.330 for the race.

And, there was still more trouble ahead.

"The motor broke as I crossed the finish line," Andretti said.

"We could have won this race hands down. We got the car working real well. This car I think was superior out there. If not, me and my dad were about even. It would have been a dogfight with dad, anyway."

There is also a bright side. The CART series moves next week to Phoenix, where Michael collected one of his three victories last season, and his fourth place Sunday earned him 12 points in the driver standings to open the season.

"Those are 12 valuable points," Andretti said. "If I'd have had those points last year we would have won the championship. "It was uphill for us all week. We were eighth the first day (in qualifying), then sixth yesterday morning, then fifth and now fourth in the race. Maybe that's good for Phoenix."

But it might be even better if his dad didn't show up.

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