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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.

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry and as a CTO, he focuses on technology integration in commercial workspace design, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • AbeFroman

    The Indy 500, le mans, and Monaco… They’re all great. Andretti is probably right to a degree -Indy is nowhere near as cool as the other two. But cearly these are the three most famous races on Earth. All a real joy to see in person.

    And yet, if I only get one ticket to one race for my entire life, I’m going to Spa. Racing is weird sometimes. Itsnor necessarily the best track or best race that draws the massive international appeal.

  • Schumi is Human

    Given the choice of winning Indy 500, Le Mans and Monaco. Then Monaco is it. It’s a meal ticket to the race for life and what a life it is. Win a world championship and you have a meal ticket to 18-20 countries every year. Indy once a year does not cut the mustard. Same with Le Mans. Then again some might say this is a bit materialistic but F1 is the pinnacle.

  • John Stone

    Indy has dropped tremendously in stature over the years and the biggest hit came after the Champcar IRL split. I’m not sure it has sold out since then, the tv audience has dropped every year. With the the split the big name drivers have left enmasse, I bet that the normal Joe or Jane on the street can’t name more then 2-3 drivers in the race, though I’m guessing they could only name one Danica!

    In years past you’d see loads of commercials about Indy after it was over, not now there’s barely a peep about Indy before, during, and after Indy, except on the specialist media, and that doesn’t do as much as it used too. Face it Indy has run the course, due to mismanagement of the sanctioning body.

    • UAN

      I totally agree. The Indy 500 used to be a cornerstone race for me on the calendar until that split. Since then the whole Indy Car series has seemed a bit second rate (probably not a fair, objective viewpoint, just my opinion).

    • beckett

      For the 500, TV numbers, while not as great as they were in the early 90s, have been up for the 500 over the last several years. Attendance figures are never released, but this was estimated to be the biggest crowd since 94. Stop living in 2000.

  • TheVillainF1

    A championship shows you’ve been the best over a whole season, a win at indy is just one race which you may have even lucked into winning. It’s only normal Andretti values the championships more. The only thing indy has going for it is the rich history behind it, but strip that away and it’s just another oval race.. Ofc I’m biased being an F1 fan but ovals just don’t do it for me.

  • Williams4Ever

    Mario is right when he says its just one race in the entire championship.
    Wish he managed Lewis and was on his side in Monaco this year, its just one race, part of a bigger race calendar.

    Now Mario is wrong , because when any motor racing fan shares that s/he follows motor racing with an acquaintance, the uninformed acquaintance, more often than not ask about Indy 500 and Monaco GP. Given all the history and tradition associated with these events, invariably even the non racing fans are aware of it.

    Is it any surprise, Lewis put himself on death march to win in Monaco and last weekend in Montreal – to impress his celebrity friends present at both the events, to show them how he pwns the race and the other drivers on the track.
    Its embarrassing when you invite friends over for a party and the get together turns out to be a disaster…

  • RGV

    I wonder if Mario’s opinion would be different if he was a multitime winner of Indy?

    • F1Sommelier

      Good point, if I am not mistaking the race has not been good to the Andretti family overall. Wasn’t his win a bit controversial? Didn’t his son Michael have a couple of heartbreak losses and his grandson Marco hasn’t had much luck there either.

      • gplegend

        Nothing controversial about his ’69 win. He was fastest that day. He should have won again in 1981 but officials failed to properly penalize Bobby Unser for passing under yellow. (Penalty was changed from a time/drive through penalty to a post race $ fine)

        • F1Sommelier

          That was it. Thanks for info GPL.

          • gplegend

            It’s not quite as cut and dried as I portrayed in my reply. Video from the race showed that Unser passed several cars while exiting the pits under caution. The rule at the time (may still be the same) was that you had to blend in with the cars that were still on the track. Unser passed several cars while on the apron, then blended in. That’s why officials initially penalized him one position, elevating Mario to first place. Unser and Penske immediately appealed. Evidence was presented showing Mario doing a similar thing while exiting the pits, though Mario claimed that AJ Foyt had waved him by. Officials changed the penalty for Unser to a $ fine. Interestingly, Mario was not fined.
            As you might be able to tell, I’m a big fan of Mario Andretti.

  • Tim

    Indycar could have been so much more had the split not occurred and management handled the series better over the years.

    • SteveH

      You’re right, Tim. They lost me as a fan when the split occurred. It used to be interesting when a team could build their own car or engine. I remember Penske’s great coup with the stock block Mercedes at Indy; that was fantastic! There is no place for innovation or inventiveness with the spec series it’s become. Too bad.

  • Kt

    Mario cry me a river. You won once. Once in about 30 tries. Maybe it’s you that is way overrated.

  • It’s not unusual for a sporting event to eclipse the series so in that light, I can see his point. What is most concerning is the series itself because, unless I’m wrong and Indycar fans let me know, the racing has become the bane that is possibly dragging the Indy 500’s attendance and viewer numbers down. Is that a fair statement? Let me know your thoughts.

  • Tim

    NC – I can’t say much for Indy this year (didn’t really watch that much of it). But I’ve been to the Texas race several times and the racing is usually very good. Lots of close side-by-side battles.

  • Tim

    One of the other things that has hurt Indycar is there TV package. For the most part, their races are stuck on Versus. No offence to Versus, but is the casual racing fan going to search out Versus to watch a race? If you look at their TV ratings, I think the answer is clearly no. Again, another ding on management.

  • Eric

    Take away the pomp and circumstance, Indy is just another oval where the best racing is only after re-starts and them it becomes a snooze fest. It is not that the racing at Indy back in the day was that much better, it was not, it was the new technology that was on display year in and year out that got my attention.

  • Chris

    This is easy. Indy: turn left. F1: Every race is different requiring every tool in the toolbox. No comparison.

  • Holeinthehead2

    Couldn’t agree more. As far as roundyrounds it’s unique but to much of a big deal mares out of winning it.

  • Well first off many thanks and congrats to F1B for this interview. Great piece of journalism, made by fans.
    I only watched Mario during the late eighties in Indicar, he was already kinda aged, but recently he earned my respect, particularly because of his attitude with you guys and all. And his twitter feed also transcends a lot of respect to fans in general, and particularly a great love for motor racing as a whole.
    Regarding Indy 500, let’s put it this way: Mario drove a F1 car IN ANGER through old long Spa and the Nordschleife. Nuf said, no surprise at all he finds

    • Tony Greene

      Cheers, Carlos.

    • I second that Carlos. Thanks. Tony did a great job and had a lot of fun. We’re elated that Mario took the time to chat with us. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • No surprise at all that he finds Indy 500 overated, I was trying to say. The damned iP4 autocorrect is killing me, I try to write In (bad) English and he tries to transform it in Portuguese lol…
    Cheers folks F1B rocks

  • Lonny Johnson

    Indy and F1 share 1 problem that has affected the skill level greatly. In both series the power has been reduced and the handling improved so much that throttle control is no longer required. At Indy you have to be able to run much of the race flat or very nearly so. That requires careful car set up, not a lot of driving skill. F1 requires you to be good on the brakes and get a good set up. Let’s find out who the best drivers are by bumping the BHP to 1000 or so and cut the downforce by 50%. Then you will see if Lewis is as good as Clark or Fangio and the Indy 500 will be a race again.

  • NC- racing at Indy this year was awesome. It was also awesome at Monaco, perhaps it is the taste. For us Indy fans the race is the best in the world. Some will disagree, but that is just our flavour. I enjoy all three events as you know but Mario’s statement is well off this year. Maybe a couple years ago he would be correct, but this year and last had good competition. Perhaps not at the front last year but mid pack was awesome to watch.. Mario may be a little bias considering his son had a hard time fielding his entries.