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Smile for the camera boys! The presence of local lads Bobby Unser and Mario Andretti at Watkins Glen in 1968 must have added 25,000 punters to the gate?…

A good deal of interest was added to the end of season 1968 races by the participation of American aces Mario Andretti and Bobby Unser at the Italian and US Grands’ Prix on 8 September and 6 October.

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Andretti checking out his nice, new Simpson Team Lotus overalls, Hill convinced the Hinchman product the better Nomex choice! Monza 1968 (Peter Darley)

Mario raced a third works Lotus 49B and Unser a factory BRM P138 vacated by Richard Attwood. Both did quick times at Monza before returning to the US to race in the ‘Hoosier 100′ at Indy but were precluded by racing back at Monza due to a rule which forbade drivers competing in another event within 24 hours of a GP.

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Bobby Unser and Mario Andretti enjoying each other’s company prior to the ‘Michigan 250’, at Brooklyn, Michigan International Raceway on 13 October 1968. Ronnie Bucknum won in an Eagle Offy with Mario 2nd in a Brawner Offy. Its clearly not the chassis Mario is sitting in here which is Ford engined. Unser DNF in another Eagle Offy  (Upitis)

Unser was primarily a USAC racer whilst Mario mixed road racing with a diet of speedway events on dirt and champcars as well as the occasional NASCAR event. I wrote an article about the greatest all-rounder a while back, click here to read it; https://primotipo.com/2014/10/24/the-most-versatile-ever-magic-mario-andretti/

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Unser during the USGP at Watkins Glen 1968, its a pity he didn’t seek other F1 opportunities, his speed and ‘tiger’ potent down the decades, BRM P138. DNF engine (Upitis)

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Mario put the ‘cat amongst the pigeons’ by plonking the Lotus 49B Ford on pole ahead of all the aces of the day. Unser’s weekend didn’t start so well, boofing the P138 in the first session of practice, he qualified 19th. His cars engine failed in the race on lap 35.

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Andretti jumped away from the start well but was headed by Jackie Stewart by the end of the first lap, on lap 14 his Lotus was losing its bodywork causing a pitstop which dropped him to the back of the field. The Lotus’ clutch failed on lap 32. Jackie Stewart’s Matra MS10 Ford won from Hill’s Lotus 49B and John Surtees’ Honda RA301.

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Graham Hill at the pit counter whilst Colin and Mario arrive at a pole winning setup, Watkins Glen 1968 (Upitis)

Andretti impressed Colin Chapman bigtime with his speed, mechanical feel and sympathy. It wasn’t until 1976 that the ‘planets aligned’ and eventually the two great men worked together again. The Lotus 77 and 78/9 wing/ground effect cars the result, not to forget the 1978 World Championship of course!

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Osterreichring 12 August 1979, DNF clutch failure without completing a lap in the race won by Alan Jones’ Williams FW07 Ford (Schlegelmilch)

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Lotus 79 Ford, British GP, Brands Hatch 1978. Checking the tyre temps, Andretti famously brought ‘stagger’ to F1, DNF here with engine dramas, Carlos Reutemann took a Ferrari 312T3 win (Schlegelmilch)

Credits…

Alvis Upitis, Rainer Schlegelmilch, Peter Darley

Tailpiece: Hi-winged Lotus 49B Ford, Watkins Glen 1968, Andretti…

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