Motorsports icon Mario Andretti presented his namesake trophy to 2012 Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel as this year’s SPEED Performer of the Year on the Sunday night edition of SPEED Center.
“You are going up against the best of the best for this award,” said Andretti, the only driver to ever win the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500 and the Formula One World Championship. “We’re considering every major discipline in motor sports. That’s what you are up against … that’s the grandeur of this award.”
Vettel, who captured his third consecutive Formula One title in dramatic fashion to become the youngest triple champion in series history, came out atop five SPEED Performer of the Year finalists, including NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski, versatile youngster Kyle Larson, IndyCar champ Ryan Hunter-Reay and WRC legend Sebastien Loeb. Ten of this year’s 16 nominees earned at least one first-place vote in the balloting.
“It’s unbelievable…I´m very proud to get the trophy of one of the best racers of all time — Mario Andretti,” said Vettel, who also took home the Andretti trophy in 2010. “It does mean a lot to me and I really appreciate it.”
Andretti headlines a 22-member SPOTY voting panel that includes racers Dan Gurney, Darrell Waltrip, Don Prudhomme, Scott Russell, Tommy Kendall and Dorsey Schroeder. In addition, some of the most recognizable names in motorsports television — Dave Despain, Bob Varsha, Leigh Diffey and Ralph Sheheen — are joined by motor sports journalists Robin Miller, Tom Jensen and Marshall Pruett on the panel.
“(Vettel) had an unbelievable season,” Andretti said on SPEED Center. “When you look at the overall performance — qualifying, race wins and the start of the season when things were not really going their way … all of a sudden, the way he just came back and forced his way to the very top was exemplary of a real champion. He could not be denied.”
The award, now in its seventh season, is presented annually by SPEED to the racer who puts a premium on winning races, shines on motorsports’ biggest stages and does it all with a measure of sportsmanship and class.