I got a Ferrari for Christmas!
OK, so I didn’t get a real Ferrari. It’s a 1/43rd diecast metal model. But it represents something special.
In this case, it’s a model of Mario Andretti’s Ferrari 312 B2 Formula One car from the 1971 season. It carries the number “5” and is supposed to honor his run to 4th in the German Grand Prix that year, but I remember it for a different race.
First, it’s important to point out that 1971 was a big year for Mario in Formula One. In the three previous seasons he’d competed in a total of nine races (not counting the one race he never started). Out of those nine events, he didn’t finish eight of them. His only success came while running the 1970 Spanish Grand Prix driving the STP March 701. He finished third. Despite the lousy results, Enzo Ferrari couldn’t pass up signing the Italian born driver for the 1971 season. His first race for Ferrari was the South African Grand Prix and he won it. Now that’s a debut the tifosi will love forever.
Unfortunately, the rest of the year was pretty forgettable. He finished fourth in Germany and 13th in Canada, but the rest of the races Mario entered he either retired, didn’t qualify, or didn’t start.
And then there was the Questor Grand Prix. It was run at the now defunct Ontario Motor Speedway on March 28th, 1971. It was an odd race and one which never appeared again. It pitted Formula One cars against a series known as Formula 5000 or Formula A. F5000 was an open wheel road racing series that ran in various countries around the world. There was no international championship, various countries ran their own versions. It was designed to be low cost, exciting road racing. Lots of big names ran the series. My buddy David Hobbs was the US champion in 1971.
Somehow, Formula One was convinced to run a non-championship race at Ontario. It was billed as the Americans vs. the foreigners. It was run in two heats because the F5000 cars didn’t have fuel tanks big enough to go a full GP race distance.
That was the first road race I ever attended. I convinced by older brother to haul me to the other side of the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area so I could watch cars that I’d only been reading about for years. I sat in the stands and marveled at the sights and sounds.
The great US vs. Them battle never really materialized. The F5000 cars weren’t nearly strong enough. Ironically, it was Mario Andretti who won both heats driving a Ferrari. An Italian-born American in a European car, it was the ultimate compromise.
As for me, I was really hooked after that. It wasn’t enough to sit in the stands, I wanted to get closer. I wanted to dazzle all my automotive senses. Something I’ve managed to do a lot since then.
So that 1/43rd Ferrari F1 car may not be very big, but it was huge in my life.