The Andretti curse at Indianapolis (1987, 1992)

The Andretti name is synonymous with the Indianapolis 500, yet with a total of 68 starts spread across five members of the family (as of 2013), the family only has one win as drivers to show for it — Mario, in 1969.

Since then, the “Andretti curse,” as it has come to be known, has reared its ugly head. Several times in the 1980s and 1990s, Mario and son Michael would contend for victories — sometimes even dominating the race — until minor mechanical issues would doom yet another run for the Borg Warner trophy.

Mario’s other son Jeff fared no better at the speedway, in fact suffering career-threatening injuries in the 1992 race. John, son of Mario’s twin brother Aldo, also failed to find victory lane at IMS in 12 attempts.

But perhaps the most heartbreaking loss the Andretti’s have suffered at the speedway to date came in 2006. Leading at the white flag, Marco Andretti appeared to have the race in hand, only to be passed in the final 400 feet leading to the finish line by Sam Hornish Jr, losing by the second closest margin in Indianapolis 500 history. The third place finisher? His father Michael, who tried to hold Hornish off long enough to give his son the win. – AJW

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Mario Andretti’s car not healthy, but his jinx is (1987)

by Tim Tuttle / Santa Ana Orange County Register / May 25, 1987

Mario Andretti is a racing legend, but his legacy in the Indianapolis 500 will be one of legendary bad luck.

Perhaps he should consider hiring an exorcist to rid himself of the demons that plague him at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Andretti’s luck in the Indy 500 never seems to get better than bad, and it was never worse than on Sunday.

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This was Andretti’s 22nd Indy 500. It has been 18 years since he scored his only victory here, a period marked by triumphs elsewhere in the racing world.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway should be tried for cruel and unusual punishment for the way it has treated the 47-year-old star from Nazareth, Pennsylvania.

It struck him again Sunday. Andretti started from the pole in his Chevy-powered Lola and led 170 of the first 177 laps. He had a lap on the field and then, 57.5 miles from victory, the gremlins arrived.

“I was driving it as easy as I could, and all of a sudden, the fuel management system failed,” Andretti said. “I couldn’t believe it when we went that far and it failed us.

“There was no one who could challenge us today. I truly felt I was in control of the situation. We just got cheated.”

Andretti was driving the final survivor of five Chevy engines that had started the race. Chosen for its superior horsepower to the Cosworth, it is an engine that had never gone 500 miles in a race. It still hasn’t.

“It looks like the fuel metering unit pitched,” Andretti said. “All of a sudden, it backfired. I came in (to the pits) and we changed some things, but it was spewing raw fuel into the engine.

“In other words, the amount of fuel going into the engine was not being regulated any longer. Everything humanly possible was done to prepare the car. We had the best professionals working on it, and it was the best car I’ve ever had here. I’ve never driven a car so perfect.

“It was the easiest race of my life. We could have been on top of the world. I’m very disappointed, not only for myself, but also for the team.”

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Andretti limped around the track, giving up the lead a lap later to Roberto Guerrero as he sat in the pits. Shortly thereafter, Guerrero was visited by some gremlins of his own and Al Unser Sr inherited the lead and went on to his fourth victory.

“Mario had us covered, let’s not kid ourselves,” Unser said.

“Mario had us all smoked,” Al Unser, Jr said. “I’m sure he feels more disappointed than anyone right now.”

Andretti was undoubtedly the most disappointed person among the estimated 400,000 at the famed speedway on Sunday, but son Michael was probably a close second.

The younger Andretti did not have a very good day, either. He went out after 28 laps with a broken constant-velocity joint.

“I feel worse for dad than I do for our team,” he said. “Everyone was conceding him the race when he had the big lead.

“You can’t do that here. I was afraid something was going to happen to dad. He’s been snake-bit here too many times.”

Andretti hex strikes again (1992)

Santa Fe New Mexican / May 25, 1992

Indianapolis — Michael Andretti had Victory Lane in his sights. He was dominating Sunday’s crash-filled Indianapolis 500, running the fastest laps in the race’s history. Then, with just 10 laps to go, the Andretti hex struck again.

Seconds after lapping four-time champion Al Unser, Andretti’s car slowed suddenly on the backstretch. The engine that had kept him ahead of trouble all day was dead.

He led Scott Goodyear by more than 20 seconds and eventual winner Al Unser Jr was racing third when heartbreak struck.

“It can’t get much worse than this,” Andretti said before rushing to the hospital to check on his father Mario and brother Jeff, both injured in crashes.

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Somehow, Michael kept his emotions in check as he raced his Ford Cosworth around at speeds in excess of 225 mph, knowing his father and brother were in the hospital with injuries.

But then his bid for an Indy victory ended suddenly, like it did last year. He led the 1991 race with 13 laps to go when Rick Mears passed him and Michael wound up second.

The disappointment was the latest in a series of Andretti misfortunes at Indy. Mario, who won in 1969, led for 170 laps in 1987 before his engine quit and he finished ninth.

Mario crashed after 78 laps and finished 23rd in his 27th Indy. He was undergoing surgery for broken toes. Jeff Andretti, who was driving his second Indy 500 for owner-driver AJ Foyt, finished 18th after crashing on his 110th lap.

Jeff, 28, sustained a concussion and was having surgery to both ankles and feet.

John Andretti, Michael’s cousin, had the best finish in the family by placing eighth after narrowly avoiding three of the crashes that had most of the race run under caution lights.

John also had problems. Making his second pit stop, he missed his marks and slid into two new tires slated to be put on the left side wheels. Two crewmen scrambled over the wall to keep from being hit.

The mishap cost John Andretti six laps and he finished the race five laps behind winner Al Unser Jr.

“I can’t believe I did that,” Andretti said after the incident.

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