RETRO: Michael Andretti’s latest win at IndyCar on Long Beach

Long Beach is a city that holds many of Michael Andretti’s favorite memories. It was the site of his first IndyCar victory, won in 1986 at the CART Indy Car Series event, which took place on the streets that run along the Pacific Ocean.

Andretti’s Kraco Racing March 86C-Cosworth DFX was a class at the Toyota Grand Prix in Long Beach held 36 years ago, and with his return to the Acura Grand Prix in Long Beach this weekend, he has another sign, which can be celebrated as the 20th anniversary of his last victory in IndyCar.

The 2002 edition of Long Beach was a major event in many ways for Andretti. The new venture was in the works when he left for the winning streak on his Green Reynard 02i-Honda team, which will be the last time in a career that has won a championship that has lasted three decades.

“It’s been 20 years … My God, it makes me feel old,” Andretti told RACER.

“In qualifying, I remember I had a circle and I crashed. And it was a real weekend that we signed documents to buy the Green team. I remember when I hit the wall, I first thought, “Oh hell, how much will it cost?”

Due to an accident on the fastest lap Andretti was relegated to the league and started from 15th place on the grid № 39 in Reynard with 20 cars. Rahal’s Jimmy Wasser finished with a pole in his room 8 Lola B02 / 00-Ford Cosworth with a lap of 1 min 07,742 s. For comparison, Josef Newgarden’s pole in Long Beach in 2021 in the ens 2 team of the Penske Dallara DW12-Chevy team was 1 m08.224 s, 0.482 s slower than Wasser’s 20-year cycle.

Andretti opened his winning account in Long Beach in 1986. Image courtesy of Dan R. Boyd

Andretti’s only option was to abandon the strategy and hope that it would pay off during the 90-round competition.

“And that’s what we did,” he said. “I remember when the yellow came out, I was able to go into the pits and go out in front of Wasser because Wasser was going very slowly when the yellow came out. He did not unite. And that’s how I got the lead, because I was able to get in and out of the pits even before he matured. So because of the yellow color, I remember that this is what won the race, because I got a position on the track, and it was very difficult for me to pass.

Wasser, a 1996 CART champion from California who loved the race at Long Beach, had a vision of frustration and disappointment on the podium. Currently, NTT IndyCar Series steward race Max Papis was third in the Sigma Autosport team.

“I think so [Vasser] blamed his team for not telling him to get in touch, and he thought he was in the lead, ”Andretti said. “It was a bit of a happy victory for us. But believe me, I lost more this way than I won. “

Ending his career, which included the CART title in 1991, Andretti’s victory at Long Beach in 2002 was the 42nd of his career and the 61st for Honda and its partners from the neighboring Honda Performance Development team.

Given the new ownership stake, 2002 would be the last year for Andretti as a full-time driver; In 2003, the renamed Andretti Green Racing team will welcome the renamed Andretti Green Racing team on a CART paddy wagon, and by the end of the decade it will fully own and rebrand the company to Andretti Autosport, where he remains with Honda and HPD today as defenders. Acura Long Beach Grand Prix with driver Colton Hertha.

Delighted by Andretti (center) is not thrilled by Wasser (right) and Census on the 2002 TGPLB podium. Leslie Ann Miller / Images of motorsport

“For them, it’s always a big race, and winning there for them was huge,” he said. “I think the other story is that I recorded my career with my first win at Long Beach and my last win at Long Beach.”

Looking at his photos from the 1986 and 2002 races evoked a wave of memories.

“They were definitely very different, Andretti,” he continued. «[1986] was in his third year, so starting from the third year to finally win, it was very important. And the way we got it was also huge, beating Al [Unser] The younger one there – who was on top of me – really made it especially special. Then obviously the last one, I didn’t know it would be the last one in my career. Unfortunately, that was the case, but you know, at the time I was different because I was mostly coming to an end and I had a feeling it was probably going to be my last full IndyCar season. They were two different people. “

In 11 races in Long Beach from 2010 to 21 years (except 2020, which was missed due to COVID), Andretti Autosport – like its owner – was a outpost at the sharp end of the field. Five wins with Ryan Hunter-Rye (2010), Mike Conway (2011), Alexander Rossi (2018, 2019) and Hertha last September suggest the team has a few secrets on how to compete in the second-largest IndyCar race .

“It’s probably just luck,” Andretti suggested. “But you know, I always love going to Long Beach; it’s always one of the highlights of the year and I just love the whole event. The whole atmosphere is always just a good feeling. And you know, if you go to different places and feel that way, maybe you’re performing a little better. I don’t know why we’re good there and then elsewhere, we’re good, but we’re not getting results. It’s like I’m in Toronto; I have no idea why I won there seven times. I could easily win five Indy 500s. It’s still the luck you need, definitely. “

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