Since its first race in 1986, IndyCar’s appearance at Toronto has become a highlight of the schedule. The street circuit at Exhibition Place has produced a plethora of memorable moments and seen several drivers achieve success at the track.
Before Sunday’s race, this week’s IndyCar Flashback profiles one of those 34 races. The 1991 Molson Indy Toronto was part of a dominant stretch for the winner and one of several pinnacle moments for his team and family.
Michael Leads Mario in Andretti 1-2 Finish
After earning his first win of the season at the Meadowlands a week earlier, Galles Kraco Racing’s Bobby Rahal held a 31-point lead over teammate Al Unser Jr. and Newman-Haas’ Michael Andretti.
Andretti took the early advantage as the PPG IndyCar World Series shifted to its tenth round of the 1991 season.
The 1989 race winner set a new track record to earn pole and the bonus championship with it for the 103-lap race. Unser Jr. lined up in third behind Andretti, with Rahal (the first winner of the event in 1986) qualifying fifth.
Unser Jr., who won the race in 1988 and 1990, charged past Penske Racing’s Emerson Fittipaldi for second on the first lap. On Lap 7, Unser Jr. would attempt to outbreak Andretti into Turn 3. He would lock up his breaks and make contact with the wall two turns later.
After four laps of yellow, the race would restart. Andretti would continue to dominate as other contenders fell by the wayside.
On Lap 20, Fittipaldi ducked onto pit lane and was visibly frustrated as the engine was unable to restart because of a fuel pressure issue.
Moments later, Penske’s bad luck continued as Rick Mears pulled off course on the back straightaway with an engine issue.
The attrition would be a boon for Michael as well as his father and teammate Mario. The elder Andretti made his way up to second place.
While running third, Granatelli Racing’s Arie Luyendyk stopped near pit entrance on Lap 29 with an electrical issue.
As Michael and Mario ran 1-2, Rahal had made his way into contention for the podium. In fifth place was John Andretti, Mario’s nephew and the winner at Surfers Paradise to start the season.
The father-son duo would not be challenged for the remainder of the day. Michael would lead all 103 laps from pole en route to his series-leading fourth win of the season.
Mario would finish 15.750 seconds behind his eldest son, the third time in Michael’s last eight wins he did so. During his dominant win, he set a race record average speed of 99.143, which has yet to be broken.
Limiting Michael’s gain on him in the points, Rahal would join the duo on the podium, with TrueSports’ Scott Pruett earning his best career finish in fourth, one lap down. John Andretti would overcome a spin with six laps to go and finish fifth, two laps down.
Michael Andretti’s dominating win in Toronto would be a sign of things to come for the remainder of the season, as well as throughout his career.
After posting his fourth win of 1991, the eighth-year driver would win four of the final six races. Following his win in the season finale at Laguna Seca, he clinched his first career championship.
Over the next eleven years, Michael would win at Exhibition Place five more times. As an owner of Andretti Autosport, Andretti reached Exhibition Place victory lane in 2012 with Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Mario and the Andretti Family
Less than two months after seeing Mario’s younger son Jeff join the family in starting the Indianapolis 500, Michael, Mario and John would finish in the Top Five for the only time.
In 1992, the four members of the family would again all run at the Indianapolis 500.
With Michael opting for Formula 1 in 1993, Jeff and Mario stepping away from IndyCar after 1994 and John transitioning to NASCAR, it would be the last time they ran at Indy together.
John would run for Michael and Andretti Autosport at the 2010 and 2011 Indianapolis 500.
After finishing second to Michael in the 1991 Championship, Rahal would partner with Carl Hogan to form his own team.
The venture proved to be a success, as he would win four races and the championship. His third championship would be won by a narrow four points over Michael.
Rahal, who did not win a race in the six years after, still owns the team with former talk show host David Letterman and businessman Mike Lanigan.
Header image by Jim Wilkes/Toronto Star (Toronto Public Library).