Le Mans 1983: Michael and Mario Andretti attempt to make history
With the Le Mans 24 Hours coming this weekend, it’s time to reflect on one of the stories that would have made history.
In 1983, Mario Andretti – one of America’s legendary drivers – competed in the epic race for the first time since 1967. This was his actually his fourth attempt at the race, but the difference in 1983 was that his 20-year old son, Michael, was his team-mate, along with Philippe Alliot, in a Kremer Porsche 956.
The magnitude of what would happen if the trio won, was manifold. Mario would have equalled Graham Hill’s famous achievement of being the only man to win the Formula 1 World Championship, the Indianapolis 500, and the Le Mans 24 Hours. Mario already had two out of three ticked off in his resumé, and with his wins in the Daytona 500 and the Sebring 12hrs, already had another two of the classics in his repertoire. To win Le Mans with his son Michael would be an amazing achievement.
They’d attempted it the previous year – just the two of them – in a Mirage-Ford, but their car was removed from the grid just over an hour before the start for technical reasons, despite the car having passed scrutineering, and them qualifying ninth. Andretti Sr was livid, his dream of racing there with his teenage son shattered. “At the moment, I couldn’t care less if I ever see Le Mans again,” he said.
Twelve months on, his attitude had changed, and he and Michael were back, and on the pace. As with any Le Mans 24 Hours, it was a blend of speed and endurance, and Mario – 43 at the time – certainly was the experience.
In hindsight it seems the Mario was reluctant to share with Alliot, and days before he asked the team who this French F2 driver was – as his results that year weren’t stellar. Equally, Kremer was reserved about having the ‘son of the father’ in the car. In the Saturday morning warm-up, Andretti Sr tore into Alliot for “driving too fast and not conserving fuel.”
Through the day and into the night the car was running reliably. They were running in third place into the morning, behind the two works Porsches. But once more fuel was the issue.
The fuel regulations didn’t sit well with Andretti: “To be honest it doesn’t make sense to me,” said Mario at the time. “It would be much more logical to me if they gave you a maximum amount of fuel and allowed you to use it any way you wanted. But by giving you a restricted amount of fuel, and a restricted number of fuel stops, there’s no freedom to play strategy with the other teams.”
The Andrettis and Alliot finished in third, best of the non-works Porsches. Afterwards Mario was quick to praise Alliot’s contribution. “He’s a great asset: quick when he needed to be, and always correct with us.”
As for his son, Mario added: “He just went beautifully. He wasn’t affected by all that power, and he knew how to go fast when it was needed. He’s really taking care of himself, and I’m pleased with his progress.
“I believe that this race has made a man out of him.”