At 63, Mario not slowing down - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

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At 63, Mario not slowing down

Speedway, April 23, 2003 (AP) - Ten years later, the view was the same for Mario Andretti.  The 63-year-old former Indianapolis 500 winner tested a car for his son Michael's race team Wednesday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. If injured team driver Tony Kanaan is not ready by the final day of qualifications on May 18, Mario could try to put the car in the lineup in his place.

"The first run was a total nonevent, which is good," he said after his first laps in an Indy car since he retired almost a decade ago.
     
"I have great memories here, no question. I can tell you I've enjoyed this joint, a lot. The way it looks from the cockpit is the way I remember it."
     
If Kanaan does not return in time for qualifying, he would have to start from the rear of the 33-car field on May 25, regardless of where Andretti qualified.
     
"I'm not starting a career again," said Andretti, the oldest driver ever to test an Indy car. "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."
     
He said he could not see any circumstances in which he would drive in next month's race at Indy, even if Kanaan is unable to compete.
     
"Things can change, but the plan is not to race," he said. "I'm not going to be a senior citizen poster boy at all."
     
Andretti Green Racing driver Dario Franchitti, who injured his back in a motorcycle accident in Scotland, already has been ruled out for the race. Kanaan, who broke his arm in a crash during a race in Japan this month, is wearing a cast and is expected back in time for the race.
     
The new Andretti Green Racing team, co-owned by Michael Andretti, also will field a car for rookie Dan Wheldon, who replaced Franchitti in Japan and will drive full-time the rest of the season.
     
"The plan is to have somebody there if we need him," said Michael Andretti, who will join his father in retirement as a driver after Indy. "And there's nobody better than Dad. Tony will be ready for the race. The question is, will he be ready to qualify."
     
The elder Andretti, wearing his son's uniform, was among a dozen drivers on the track during an early testing session on Wednesday. He turned a top lap of 212.509 mph in Kanaan's backup car in the morning, and was faster than 223 in the afternoon.
     
"I'm not completely comfortable," he said. "I haven't been here for 10 years or so. The speeds that we ultimately should be doing are pretty much comparable to what I've done - I've run over 230 here - so it's just a matter of becoming acclimated again, little by little, to the G-forces and all that."
     
Andretti drove at Indianapolis 29 times, second only to A.J. Foyt's 35 races, winning the Indy 500 in 1969. Since his retirement in 1994, his only races have been in sports cars in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1996 and 2000.
     
Kanaan, who watched the test run from the pits, called it an honor to have Andretti drive his car.
     
"He was one of my racing heroes," the Brazilian driver said. "I always wanted to meet the guy, and all of a sudden I met him and I'm racing for his son and now he's driving my race car, so it's pretty awesome."
     
      (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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