Mario Andretti
Cars & motorsport

"This Watch Went Through Hell!" F1 And IndyCar Legend Mario Andretti Talks Racing And Watches

The 1969 Indy 500 winner and 1978 F1 World Drivers' Champion invited Watchonista to his sprawling Pennsylvania estate. No topics were off limits! We were also lucky enough to capture the entire interview on video!

By Josh Shanks

Growing up in Indiana, the Andretti name was synonymous with speed. Hell, growing up anywhere in America, you'd have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the Andretti clan and their exploits at racetracks across this country. Of course, the patriarch of the Andretti family is Mario Andretti. An Italian-born American racer who's made a career at every echelon of motor racing. At 79, Andretti is busier than ever and 2019 is ramping up to be a very special moment, his 50th anniversary of winning the 1969 Indy 500. 

It was for this occasion that Watchonista had the special opportunity to sit down with Mario in his man cave. We talked about his illustrious career and the very special place his win at Indy holds in his heart. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of his Indy 500 win, Andretti has partnered with Yema, the legendary French chronograph manufacture. And it's no accident that Yema and Andretti have come together, after all, Andretti was wearing a Yema Rallye during his 1969 win. 

Over his five-decades-long career, Andretti has contested the Indy 500 a remarkable 29 times. Shockingly,  he's only won the Greatest Spectacle In Racing once. On his fifth attempt in 1969, Andretti won the 500-mile race while driving an Andy Granatelli owned Hawk/Ford sponsored by STP. After the race, local newspaper Indianapolis Star ran the headline "Mama Mia! I Won It!"

Winning the 1969 Indy 500 was no small feat. Andretti suffered a horrific crash during practice in which he narrowly avoided serious injury but suffered burns to his face. After qualifying in a backup car second on the grid, Mario made quick work of the field and cruised to victory ahead of runner-up Dan Gurney. Remarkably, no Andretti has won at Indy since. Some call it the Andretti curse. But we'll let Mario explain.

Watchonsita's video interview with Mario Andretti

In the basement of Mario Andretti's Pennsylvania home sits every man's dream man cave. Racing paraphernalia from a 50+ year career lines the walls, tables, and features a 20+ seat bar. If Mario Andretti ever decides to make a career change, his basement bar would make for the perfect Andretti's Bar & Grill. As a motorsports fan, I was in awe of the memories on display in Andretti's lounge. Personal photos with Paul Newman, Nikki Lauda, James Hunt, Ronnie Peterson, and so much more filled the rooms. It was the perfect occasion for Mario and me to pull up a stool and reminisce on his career, winning Indy, and his special collaboration with Yema. Enjoy!

About The Yema Rallye Andretti Limited Edition

Lucky for us, Andretti still has the Yema Rallye which he wore during the 1969 race. The watch is branded 'Wesley's" which is likely due to 1960s import/export legislation. At the time, many Swiss brands were unable to import their watches to the United States because of Made in America policies. Smaller brands (like Yema) found themselves partnering with local assemblers or retailers which would import the individual parts and assemble the watches stateside and occasionally add separate branding.

Andretti doesn't quite remember how he came to own this particular Rallye Chronograph since at the time wearing a chronograph was just as much a tool as it was a fashion statement. Mario remarks, "I have no idea. No idea. I just remember that it caught my eye being a state-of-the-art chronograph. At the time, I always looked at watches, I think, as the ultimate accessory to express yourself. And, it seems like it works in the [racing]."

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Andretti's win at Indy, Yema has partnered with Mario on a special Limited Edition Rallye Chronograph. This Valjoux 7753 powered automatic chronograph is a faithful reproduction of the original Yema Rallye which Andretti wore during the race and to victory lane.

Unlike the inspiration piece, this two-register chronograph is branded Yema Rallye and features the checkered flag insignia along with an inscription 'Modèle Déposé' which roughly translates to the French version of a Copyright.

As you can see in the images, the dial motif perfectly matches the original. With a matte black background, red vertical stripes and the special television style chronograph registers. Of course, this vintage-inspired chronograph wouldn't be complete without a tachymeter, which unlike other drivers, Andretti actually put to good use,  "I used to use some of the function when we're timing quickly. Sometimes I would be sitting in the pits and want to time somebody or even splits. Today you can do it with your smartphone or whatever, but the chronograph was what we used it for. It was another tool."

Enter the Yema Rallye Andretti Limited Edition! A limited series of 1,969 pieces made in collaboration with the legend himself. The 39mm stainless steel case faithfully recreates the lines of the original. It's important to note that the piece Andretti wore at Indy was a manual winding chronograph, whereas the new Yema Rallye Andretti is an automatic chronograph. The Valjoux 7753 movement which powers the piece does add some thickness to the case (15.35mm) but it still looks stunning on the wrist. 

Mario will also be wearing the Yema Rallye Andretti Chronograph throughout the month of May. The Indianapolis Speedway plans to pay a special tribute to Andretti during the race and as always, Andretti will climb aboard his famous two-seater to give VIPs rides around the 2.5-mile oval. What is Andretti looking forward to the most? His grandson, Marco Andretti carrying on the family name at this year's race. In fact, Andretti clued us into a little secret, Marco Andretti's 2019 IndyCar will be outfitted in the same livery as Mario's 1969 STP entry. A fitting tribute and continuation of the famous family crest.

Yema Rallye Andretti Limited Edition presented as more of a collector's item than a novelty. The watch comes with three 19mm rally straps in black, and dark/light brown color waves. Lucky owners will also receive signed photos of Mario at Indy in 1969. The piece is priced at $2,699 USD and will be shipping approx. June 1st, 2019. The limited edition watch is available directly from Yema's website. This piece represents a unique opportunity to own a piece of vintage-inspired history. 

Bonus Video! Talking Monza, Monaco, and the 2019 Indy 500 with Mario Andretti

While most of our time with Mario was spent talking about Yema, we still had the chance to talk about a few of my favorite moments from his storied career. In this bonus video, Mario talks about the emotions he felt at his last F1 podium (1982 Monza), Fernando Alonso's return to Indy, and gives the auto tips on how to survive at Monaco.

(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)

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