INDIANAPOLIS Mario Andretti crashed during a practice session for the Indianapolis 500, his car sailing through the air Wednesday and flipping end over end.
The retired 63-year-old former Indy 500 winner testing a car owned by son Michael's team walked away from the crash virtually unhurt. The elder Andretti was helping out because two of his son's drivers are injured.
I'm OK, a little bump on my heel and my chin,'' he said when asked about his injuries. I didn't hit anything hard.''
But he found himself in an unfamiliar position wheels up and over.
I haven't been upside down too many times, and I didn't want to do it here,'' he said.
The crash occurred when he hit debris between Turns 1 and 2 at more than 200 mph. After striking the debris, the car went into the air, flipped at least twice and landed on all four tires, said Carol Wilkins, spokeswoman for Andretti Green Racing.
Andretti was checked out at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's hospital, IRL spokesman John Griffin said.
What I hit wasn't big, but it was solid, and it was able to launch me, and then all I saw was sky,'' Andretti said.
The debris apparently was left on the track after a crash involving former Indy 500 champion Kenny Brack, who hit the wall coming out of Turn 1. Brack was not injured, Griffin said.
I was going for it, obviously, and I came off of Turn 1 at full throttle, and all of a sudden there was debris everywhere,'' Andretti said. It's just a freaky situation. It will not happen again, I'm sure.''
Andretti retired from Indy car racing in 1994, but he might try to qualify one of the team's cars for driver Tony Kanaan, who has a broken arm.
The crash did not change those plans, Wilkins said.
He proved he can drive the car, and the debris wasn't his fault. It could have happened to anybody,'' she said. The debris was in front of him. It was just there.''
Would Andretti get back in the car in May if necessary?
Oh, yeah,'' he said without hesitation.
Asked how he would explain the crash to his wife, Andretti laughed.
I won't tell her,'' he said.
Andretti has driven at Indianapolis 29 times, the second-most in history, and he was happy to be back at the speedway.
I have great memories here, no question,'' he said following a session earlier in the day. I can tell you I've enjoyed this joint, a lot. The way it looks from the cockpit is the way I remember it.''
Andretti also remembers the frustration, when something always seemed to go wrong and ruin his chances to win another Indy 500.
Andretti crashed six times at Indy between 1971 and 1992. In 1981, he thought he won the race after Bobby Unser was penalized for passing a line of cars during a yellow caution period. But four months later, a USAC appeals panel overturned the penalty and gave the victory to Unser.
In 1985, Andretti led 107 laps but finished second to Danny Sullivan, who won despite spinning. Two years later, Andretti started from the pole and dominated for 170 laps before his car went dead with a bad ignition 20 laps from the finish. In his final race at Indy in 1994, a problem in the fuel system knocked him out after just 23 laps.
The final day of qualifying for this year's Indy 500 is May 18. Kanaan is expected to be ready for the race on May 25, but even if Andretti qualifies in his place, Kanaan would start at the rear of the 33-car field.
I'm not starting a career again,'' Andretti said. 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.''
Andretti Green Racing driver Dario Franchitti, who injured his back in a motorcycle accident in Scotland, already has been ruled out for the race.
Andretti, the oldest driver to ever test an Indy car, drove more than 50 laps Wednesday and turned a top lap of 225.4 mph. Last year at Indy, the 33rd car in the field had a qualifying speed of 227.096.
Awesome. It was going well,'' he said. We were just working. We were learning things. We were back in the groove, making small changes. I mean small changes. The car was responding beautifully.
We were picking up some speed. Everything was just fine. We just needed another three minutes, and we would have walked away feeling very happy.''
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