Andretti's farewell comes up 4 laps short


MONTEREY, Calif. -- All Mario Andretti wanted from his 407th and final IndyCar race was to finish, to be running on the track when he saw the checkered flag for the last time.

He came up four laps short, disappointing not only himself but also most of the estimated 75,000 who swarmed over the hills of Laguna Seca on a warm Sunday for the final race of the season.

The "Last Lap of Mario," as the Bank of America 300 was advertised, came on Lap 80, with Andretti sitting on pit row, his engine having expired.

The race ended, as expected, with Paul Tracy in the lead on Lap 84 in one of Roger Penske's red-and-white Marlboro Penskes. It was the 12th time in 16 races that a Penske car finished first this season. Al Unser Jr., who clinched the PPG Cup championship two races ago, won eight, Tracy three and Emerson Fittipaldi one.

But the Toyota Grand Prix of Monterey weekend belonged to Mario Andretti, who was retiring after 31 years at the highest level of IndyCar racing.

It almost ended before it began. Mario, who started in the sixth row next to his son Michael, got caught in a first-lap scramble caused when Michael spun between the second and third turns after touching tires with Fittipaldi. While sitting in the middle of the track, Michael was clobbered by Bobby Rahal, who could not avoid the stalled car.

Mario was right behind them.

"It was exactly what I didn't want to happen," Andretti said later. "When Michael and Rahal got together, I braked hard and someone -- I don't know who -- hit me in the rear and punctured my right rear tire.

"It was going to take a lot more than that to take me out. Lucky there was a yellow [caution flag] and I came in and got a new tire. That put me back in the rear [22nd], but I put my nose to the grindstone and worked my way back up. I didn't take too many chances, I don't think I made a mistake. I just kept creeping up and I was smiling to myself about finishing in the top 10 when all of a sudden, at the top of the corkscrew, everything just went silent."

Andretti was in seventh place, just after lapping his teammate Nigel Mansell -- also driving in his last IndyCar race -- when the engine let go.

"It left me just a bit empty, only because I couldn't finish the race," Andretti said. "It's happened to me like this too many times this year. It would have been much nicer if I had made it to the end."

That was the only sour note of the day for the 54-year-old winner of 52 races, 66 poles, four national driver championships and the 1969 Indianapolis 500 in more than three decades of IndyCar driving. And that doesn't take into account his Formula One world championship, a victory in the Daytona 500 and numerous sports car endurance victories.

Asked how he will deal with retirement after the nearly yearlong "Arrivederci, Mario" tour, Andretti said: "Nothing lasts forever. I'm a big boy. I can deal with it."

After the morning warm-up, when Andretti brought his No. 6 Kmart Texaco Havoline Lola into the pits, he was greeted by crews of nearly all the other teams wearing "Arrivederci, Mario" bTC T-shirts.

"Everything that happened to me today made it the most important day of my career," he said. "You have to know that in drivers meetings and in the pits, it's usually war out there. We fight and scratch for every edge, but today there was such an outpouring of emotion, it was just incredible.

"In the drivers meeting, everyone had something to say, a farewell, and then to see all those crewmen in Arrivederci shirts, cheering me. Well, I knew right then that I was the luckiest man in the world."

The race, except for watching Andretti pick and weave his way forward for 80 laps, was anticlimactic.

Tracy, who led 81 of 84 laps to win last year, was even more dominating yesterday. He led every lap, even when he made his two pit stops, and won by more than 21 seconds over Raul Boesel. Jacques Villeneuve, an IndyCar rookie, was third, as only seven drivers finished on the same lap with Tracy.

1. (1) Paul Tracy, Penske-Ilmor V8-D, 84, 92.978 mph. 2. (8) Raul Boesel, Lola-Ford Cosworth XB, 84. 3. (2) Jacques Villeneuve, Reynard-Ford Cosworth XB, 84. 4. (9) Emerson Fittipaldi, Penske-Ilmor V8-D, 84. 5. (7) Teo Fabi, Reynard-Ilmor V8-D, 84. 6. (10) Arie Luyendyk, Lola-Ilmor Indy V8-D, 84. 7. (16) Adrian Fernandez, Reynard-Ilmor V8-D, 84. 8. (3) Nigel Mansell, Lola-Ford Cosworth XB, 83. 9. (25) Andrea Montermini, 1993 Lola-Ford Cosworth XB, 83. 10. (14) Dominic Dobson, Lola-Ford Cosworth XB, 83.

11. (23) Willy T. Ribbs, 1993 Lola-Ford Cosworth XB, 83. 12. (6) Stefan Johansson, 1993 Penske-Ilmor V8-D, 83. 13. (5) Robby Gordon, Lola-Ford Cosworth XB, 82. 14. (13) Mark Smith, Lola-Ford Cosworth XB, 82. 15. (24) Mike Groff, Lola-Honda V8, 82. 16. (29) Alessandro Zampedri, 1993 Lola-Ford Cosworth XB, 82. 17. (26) Parker Johnstone, Lola-Honda, 81. 18. (27) Franck Freon, 1993 Lola-Ilmor V8-C, 81. 19. (12) Mario Andretti, Lola-Ford Cosworth XB, 80. 20. (4) Al Unser Jr., Penske-Ilmor V8-D, 74, transmission.

21. (20) Scott Sharp, Lola-Ford Cosworth XB, 59, engine failure. 22. (19) Mauricio Gugelmin, Reynard Ford-Cosworth XB, 51, exhaust. 23. (22) Hiro Matsushita, Lola-Ford Cosworth XB, 48, electrical. 24. (28) Marco Greco, Lola-Ford Cosworth XB, 44, transmission. 25. (17) Eddie Cheever, Lola-Ford Cosworth XB, 36, electrical.

26. (15) Jimmy Vasser, Reynard-Ford Cosworth, 35, crash. 27. (21) Scott Goodyear, Lola Ford-Cosworth XB, 16, crash. 28. (11) Michael Andretti, Reynard-Ford Cosworth XB, 0, crash. 29. (18) Bobby Rahal, Lola-Honda V8, 0, crash.

Race statistics

Time of race: 2:00:0.763. Margin of victory: 21.417 seconds. Caution flags: 4 for 19 laps. Lead changes: None. Lap leaders: Tracy 1-84.

Final series points: Unser 225; Fittipaldi 178; Tracy 152; Mi. Andretti 118; Gordon 104; Villeneuve 94; Boesel 90; Mansell 88; Fabi 79; Rahal 59.

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