With 2017 coming to a close, 2018 brings with it the anniversary of several major milestones in the history of IndyCar racing. This week for IndyCar Flashback, we take a look at one of those milestones. The 1993 Valvoline 200 at Phoenix featured several major storylines, but ended with an all-time great getting what would be his last IndyCar win.
Andretti Secures Final Win
Early on in the 1993 season, a major share of the press headlines belonged to Newman Haas Racing’s Nigel Mansell, and for good reason.
The Englishman, fresh off a shocking retirement from the Formula One World Drivers’ Championship, further shocked the motorsports world by moving his career to IndyCar. Mansell would take over the spot vacated by 1991 IndyCar Champion Michael Andretti, who had departed for McLaren’s Formula One team.
Mansell’s IndyCar career got off to a superb start. After securing pole position at the season opener in Surfers Paradise, Mansell would go on to record his first IndyCar victory in his debut, the first driver to win from pole in his first start.
The second race at Phoenix would be an even greater challenge for Mansell, his first race on an oval. After setting practice laps topping the track record, Mansell seemed up to the challenge. Unfortunately for the rookie, disaster struck.
His car spun early in the second practice and heavily impacted the wall. Mansell suffered a concussion and was flown back to his home in Florida prior to the race.
On pole for the first oval of the season would be 1992 Michigan 500 winner Scott Goodyear, setting a track record speed of 172.804 miles per hour.
As the green flag flew, Goodyear’s time at the front would not last long. Mario Andretti grabbed the lead from second and led the first ten laps.
Penske Racing’s Paul Tracy, seeking his first career win, overtook Andretti and dominated for much of the race by leading 150 laps.
Tracy held a two-lap advantage over teammate Emerson Fittipaldi before he met his own misfortune with 39 laps to go. Attempting to pass the lapped car of Jimmy Vasser, Tracy spun and crashed into the first turn wall.
After inheriting the lead from his teammate, Fittipaldi had a one-lap advantage over Andretti and looked set for victory. Less than a lap following the restart, the 1989 IndyCar champion’s day ended with a wreck in turn three.
The misfortune of a handful of his biggest competitors would prove to be the break Mario Andretti needed, as the four-time IndyCar champion would finish the race uncontested and win for the fourth time at Phoenix, and the 52nd time in his IndyCar career.
The win also marked the 100th racing triumph in his storied career. Joining Andretti on the podium would be Raul Boesel, who equaled his career-best finish from Detroit the previous year.
Vasser, who finished three laps down in third, also claimed a career-best finish.
The 1993 Valvoline 200 served not only as the final win in Andretti’s career, but also a precursor for what was to follow in the 1993 PPG IndyCar World Series.
A man whose name became synonymous with speed over the course of an illustrious career, Andretti would not see victory lane in an IndyCar again – but still proved competitive. Mario would lead the most laps in the following month’s Indianapolis 500 (72).
After the win at Phoenix, he amassed eight top ten finishes in his final 30 starts before retiring from the series following the 1994 season. Now 77, Andretti continues to remain actively involved in the sport, most notably as the driver of the Honda two-seater IndyCar prior to most IndyCar races.
This year’s race at Phoenix (now ISM Raceway) will mark the silver anniversary of Mario’s achievement. A few weeks ago, the track announced plans to celebrate the milestone anniversary. The weekend will be highlighted by a panel discussion and autograph session with Andretti and a handful of IndyCar legends.
Although he missed the race, Andretti’s teammate would go on to prove his strong practice run was no fluke. Mansell led 34 laps and finished third at Indianapolis, winning rookie of the year in the “Greatest Spectacle.”
From that point, Mansell would go undefeated on the ovals in 1993. Wins at the short ovals of Milwaukee, New Hampshire and Nazareth and a win at the Michigan 500 propelled the Brit to the IndyCar title. In 1994 Mansell finished third at Phoenix, but after a winless season, he returned to Formula One before retiring in 1995.
Although short-lived, Mansell’s time in the IndyCar became one of the biggest headlines of the decade. Mansell’s move to the series helped IndyCar skyrocket in popularity to a point where it challenged and somewhat eclipsed Formula One in global popularity.
During Mansell’s brief visit, one could argue that IndyCar racing reached its zenith, with a split following closely after his return to Formula One.
Following the retirement of Rick Mears, Penske Racing continued their dominant ways. The duo of Fittipaldi and Tracy combined to win eight races in 1993 while finishing second and third, respectively, in the drivers’ championship.
Fittipaldi secured his second Indianapolis 500 win and the eighth for the team. The 1994 season would see the arrival of 1990 series champion Al Unser Jr. and perhaps the team’s best campaign, winning 12 of 16 events, their ninth Indianapolis 500 (courtesy of Unser Jr.) and a dominating 1-2-3 championship finish.
Penske Racing has had several monumental achievements in more than 50 years of competition across motorsports, but the two-year run the team had from 1993 to 1994 was perhaps one of its best not only for IndyCar, but maybe in any racing discipline.
Images courtesy of IndyCar. The race may be watched below, where all rights belong to ABC Sports.