Thursday, April 24, 2003

Mario walks away from Indy crash



By Steve Herman
The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS - Mario Andretti was hardly fazed after flipping a race car at more than 200 mph. And the spectacular crash Wednesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway while testing a car owed by son Michael won't change the elder Andretti's plan to help the team prepare for the Indy 500.

"Oh, yeah," he said without hesitation when asked if he would get back in the driver's seat next month should injured driver Tony Kanaan be unable to practice or qualify the car for the May 25 race.

In fact, the 63-year-old former Indy 500, Daytona 500 and Formula One champion seemed worried about only one thing - the reaction of his wife.

"I won't tell her," he said, laughing.

Andretti, the oldest driver ever to test an Indy car, hit debris and went airborne. The impact sent his car flipping end over end.

"I'm OK, a little bump on my heel and my chin," he said. "I didn't hit anything hard."

But he found himself in an unfamiliar position - wheels up and over.

"I haven't been upside down too many times, and I didn't want to do it here," he said.

The crash occurred when he hit debris between the first and second turns. After striking the debris, the car went into the air, flipped at least twice and landed on all four tires, said Carol Wilkins, spokeswoman for Andretti Green Racing.

Andretti was checked out at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's hospital, IRL spokesman John Griffin said.

"What I hit wasn't big, but it was solid, and it was able to launch me, and then all I saw was sky," Andretti said.

The debris apparently was left on the track after a crash involving former Indy 500 champion Kenny Brack, who hit the wall coming out of the first turn. Brack was not injured.

"I was going for it, obviously, and I came off of Turn 1 at full throttle, and all of a sudden there was debris everywhere," Andretti said. "It's just a freaky situation. It will not happen again, I'm sure."

Although Andretti retired from Indy car racing in 1994, he might try to qualify one of the team's cars for Kanaan, who has a broken arm.

The team has no problem with that.

"He proved he can drive the car, and the debris wasn't his fault. It could have happened to anybody," Wilkins said. "The debris was in front of him. It was just there."

Andretti has driven at Indianapolis 29 times, the second-most in history, and he was happy to be back at the speedway.

"I have great memories here, no question," he said following a session earlier in the day. "I can tell you I've enjoyed this joint, a lot. The way it looks from the cockpit is the way I remember it."

Andretti also remembers the frustration, when something always seemed to go wrong and ruin his chances to add an Indy 500 title to the one he won in 1969.

Andretti crashed six times at Indy between 1971 and 1992. In 1981, he thought he won the race after Bobby Unser was penalized for passing a line of cars during a yellow caution period. But four months later, a USAC appeals panel overturned the penalty and gave the victory to Unser.

In 1985, Andretti led 107 laps but finished second to Danny Sullivan, who won despite spinning. Two years later, Andretti started from the pole and dominated for 170 laps before his car went dead with a bad ignition 20 laps from the finish. In his final race at Indy in 1994, a problem in the fuel system knocked him out after just 23 laps.

The final day of qualifying for this year's Indy 500 is May 18. Kanaan is expected to be ready for the race, but even if Andretti qualifies in his place, Kanaan would start at the rear of the 33-car field.

"I'm not starting a career again," Andretti said. "This is something that's a great opportunity Michael gives me, and he knows I'm always up for a challenge. I may be able to fill in a void until at least one of the walking wounded comes back in action."

Andretti Green Racing driver Dario Franchitti, who injured his back in a motorcycle accident in Scotland, already has been ruled out for the race.

Andretti drove more than 50 laps Wednesday and turned a top lap of 225.4 mph. Last year at Indy, the 33rd car in the field had a qualifying speed of 227.096.

"Awesome. It was going well," he said. "We were just working. We were learning things. We were back in the groove, making small changes. I mean small changes. The car was responding beautifully.

"We were picking up some speed. Everything was just fine. We just needed another three minutes, and we would have walked away feeling very happy."




BENGALS
Bengals have Palmer hooked
NFL Draft Order
Ex-Bengal Pope signs with Patriots

REDS
Reds 3, Dodgers 0
Photo gallery
Dodgers tip caps to Reitsma
Reds box, runs
Rodgers to sue Reds
Reds-Dodgers can't beat '70s show
Reds Notebook: Players air problems
Louisville 3, Indianapolis 2

OTHER BASEBALL
Baseball teams get SARS warning
NL: Giants have all the luck
AL: Tigers rejoice in second win
Baseball Notebook: Giles' return delayed

GOLF
Course of the Week: Hickory Woods
Local golf course guide
PGA Tour season off to strange start
Where The Pros Are This Week
Chip Shots

NBA
NBA: Mavs back on top of their game

HOCKEY
Cyclones lose Game 1
NHL: Wild's surprising season continues
NHL Playoff Capsules

AUTO RACING
Mario walks away from Indy crash

LOCAL SPORTS
Local runner wins Boston age group
Swoopes to speak at women's banquet
Sports on TV-Radio

HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
Ohio free to adopt 'mercy' rule
Football coach leaves LaSalle
Today's High School Schedule
Wednesday's High School Results