Andretti Green Racing - IRL teleconference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Why is that? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, I think because there's a lot of sponsors that have been on multi-year deals, and that whole challenge will be to be renewing them and things like that. And also I believe that...

Continued from part 1

Q: Why is that?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, I think because there's a lot of sponsors that have been on multi-year deals, and that whole challenge will be to be renewing them and things like that. And also I believe that the economy itself has not bottomed out yet. It will probably bottom out around the end of the year, which is when you're trying to get your sponsors in line for the following year. So it's going to be a real challenge.

I'm excited about the series. I think the series is going to be a part of it, and I'm really hoping that the VERSUS thing helps the exposure because that's what it's going to take. We're going to have to show the sponsors that we're going to get a return. We're cautiously optimistic with all the changes that have been going on

Q: And Marco, you talked about that consistency is something you're looking for this year. Could you analyze in a little more detail the parts of your game that have to improve this year to move up the notches?

MARCO ANDRETTI: I think across the board we're going to be strong on the 26 side because you need it from everybody. When I talk consistency I mean the whole team, but also in my driving, because there's been -- just my whole part, my whole role. I play a big role in trying to make good race cars because that's what lets us do the job.

In the past, I've had cars that were just absolutely diabolical and then cars that could win the races, and we were unable to capitalize. So we need to capitalize on days that we have the car to win the race, and on days that we don't, it's going to be the toughest, but that's going to be where I think you make the difference. When the car is not working, that's where it's more into my hands in the race where you just need to bring it home as best the car can do.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about Peter Gibbons? He was with your dad and he's like an icon, and how you get along with him and how that will work out?

MARCO ANDRETTI: I've definitely been fortunate enough to kind of get a little bit of a head start in working with him in the A1 stuff. Mechanically the cars are pretty different, but he stepped in late in the season and just kind of got the hang of it straightaway and got me pretty good race cars over there already. And then in the little bit of IndyCar testing we've done so far, it's been almost as good as it could have been.

I love the confidence in him, and does the whole team this year. I'm lucky enough to have a great assistant engineer, and I think the three of us work great together in the room. And then we have Kyle (Moyer) and we have the best mechanics in the business, as well. So I'm looking forward to it from all aspects this year

Q: What about your dad not in your ear this time? You're not going to be hearing your dad and that voice will be different?

MARCO ANDRETTI: It's the first time he actually is going to speak on the radio, so it's big for him. I think it's good for Danica, as well, because there's been times where dad sees the race unfolding and just doesn't have the final -- well, he has the final call, but sometimes you have to make the decision too quick and it's already too late. So I think it's going to be great for him.

Q: This is a question for Michael: The rumors on Danica won't go away. We've got NASCAR, now we've got F1. It brings some publicity but can also be a distraction. Can you say what, if any, effect it has on the team?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I would say none, really. This team is used to that sort of thing. We've always gone through -- it seems like every year we go through something, and that's not a problem. I think we all know what we need to do with Danica, she knows what she needs to do, and we're hoping that she's going to be here for a long time. She hasn't expressed anything to us that would lead us to believe that she doesn't want to be here. So I don't know. It's just that time of the year when people find out that someone is in their final year of their contract, they're just going to latch onto that and come up with all kinds of rumors and all that. We are going to have that, but I think we're close enough with her and everything that that shouldn't be a distraction.

Q: Tony, can you talk a little bit about what you expect this year? We're going to probably see fewer cars I would think, but we'll have some more veteran drivers. How is that going to change things?

TONY KANAAN: I think it's like we just said before, it's going to be the toughest year. We're still going to have, I think, 22 to 23 cars. It's still quite a bit. But the quality is definitely higher and the teams are a step up now that they've made the transition. It's going to be definitely a lot more exciting year, especially some of the drivers switched seats and are going to other teams, and I think that could raise the bar even higher.

It's going to be definitely, I think, a great championship.

Q: The fact that you have that kind of consistency with your team compared to the musical chairs on the other side, how much of an advantage does that give you?

TONY KANAAN: I would say maybe just in the beginning, if we can get a head start, then it's going to be hard to catch. But to be honest, you saw -- we spoke before and we made several changes in the team, too. Although it's still the people that used to work in the team, but we moved some chairs. We also are taking a little bit of time to adjust. The only advantage will be how consistent and strong we can be at the beginning of the year because that's what's going to really dictate who's going to win this championship.

Q: And Michael, F1 is going to the total wins format. What are your thoughts on that? Is that something the IRL would look at?

TONY KANAAN: Mike, whoever wins most races is going to be the champion, it's not going to be by points.

Q: What do you think of that and is that something the IRL would look at?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: To me I don't think that's a champion. I wish it would have been like that certain years for me. I think I would have won a lot of championships. But honestly a champion is the guy that's been the most consistent throughout the year. I think that's how you should be rewarded. I'm not sure if I totally agree with that.

Q: Michael, I wanted to ask you about one of your younger drivers, J.R. Hildebrand, and what you're seeing from him.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: We've been really impressed with J.R. We liked him so much right away that we actually had him go over -- he's been running the rookie sessions in the A1 with Marco and doing a really good job, as well as really being quite quick in the (Firestone) Indy Lights. I think the kid, he's been around a while. He's only 20, but he's done a lot of races and won a lot of races. I actually think he's the favorite guy for the championship, I really do. I think he's got a heck of a shot at it.

Q: Marco, you've had a chance to interact with J.R. what do you think of having him as a teammate down the road?

MARCO ANDRETTI: Definitely consider it. Like dad said, we've been working together overseas and stuff like that, and to be honest I've been super impressed with the limited amount of driving that he's had because obviously he flies a long way and just does one session, and he's straight up to speed and he's already given us great feedback, like we're able to actually go on and start the test plan with him, you know what I mean? We've gotten to the point where I don't have to do it again. I don't have to test the items again. We just take his word, and I think he's got a great feel. He already did a great job, he ran Sebring for us, as well, in IndyCar. We're already learning from him a lot. He has the speed, as well. So it's been pretty impressive.

Q: Marco, just lastly, your thoughts on coming back to Sonoma this year?

MARCO ANDRETTI: I can't wait. That place has always been pretty good to me. And especially because I think in the offseason we've been really working on our road course game, in particular just staying in the seat helps, driving go-karts, driving the A1, and setup-wise, as well, we've really been working on our road course cars because I think the four of us, the four AGR drivers, should always be in the top five on the road courses. That's going to be the goal this year. I think that's going to pay big dividends in the championship for us.

Q: Mike, earlier you were talking about -- it almost sounded like you had to be talked into being on a radio this year on Danica's not so much because it was hers but in general like you had to be talked into it. Is that the case?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, I caved to peer pressure. I never did in high school, and now I do it now (laughing). I always said I didn't want to do it because I just liked being able to watch for all four cars, but we felt with the moves that we were making that started the, whatever you want to call it, that we had one empty area that we needed to fix, and who suggested it? I don't remember if it was -- it may have been Kyle (Moyer) that did, and so after talking it out and everything I couldn't argue with the logic of the reasons why to do it, and I really do believe that I can help her.

I think one thing about Danica is she's always really responded to, whenever I've said you should try this, try that, she's gone out and done it and was able to do it. If I'm in it more, just every session, just focused on her, I think that maybe I can help her that much more.

So that's what happened. Did I really want another job? Not really, but I'm always here. I want to do whatever is best for the team, and so I'm doing it.

I'm a little excited about doing it. I think it's going to be something new and exciting, but it is going to be another job.

Q: Do you think you're going to catch yourself looking at the 26 car occasionally?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, not just the 26 car, all of them. I did that at the test. I was looking up and I started looking at what the other guys were running, and it's like, 'Oh, wait, I've got to watch Danica,' she just went by.

Yeah, it's a little bit of adjustment. But it'll be fine. I think once I'm really focused and we're just in the race and we're all about the strategy and what's going on, I think it'll be no problem.

Q: Marco, you've done a lot of racing this season, offseason, I guess. I'm sure that's going to help you on your road courses, but how will that help you on the ovals?

MARCO ANDRETTI: I think any driving is good driving, but I think the oval, I was really thinking about the Homestead test, now I've got to think about going left and everything. But we seem to bounce right back into the oval mode, so to speak. I think there it really just -- I think it really puts a demand on car setup and stuff like that and just having a feel for what you need, and I think if you're able to do that and find the comfort, I think you're able to get the job done, because on the ovals you can only do what the car is going to allow you to do.

Really I think, like I said, any driving is good driving. I've had some -- we've had some good oval cars in the past, so hopefully that will be a good starting point for this year, and hopefully we can just improve on that.

Q: How much input as a driver do you have to your engineer on how to set up your car?

MARCO ANDRETTI: Well, I would say it's about half and half. Really you've got to tell him exactly what the thing is doing. I think that's what's good about this year. I think my engineer is really going to push me to a new level and really help me think outside the box. A lot of times I would find myself suggesting something and a lot of times we might go with it when I might not be right. I think this year a lot of times he'll agree with me if the test is going smooth and stuff like that, but a lot of times he'll put his foot down and we'll try something else and it'll turn out to be right. I think it's going to be good. I look forward to working with Pete this year.

Q: Michael, you've got quite a bit on your plate, a four-car team, we've got an expanding season, and you've got the two races that you promote. Is there room for more? And if there is, are you going to be able to deal with additional races or are you just going to look for expanding promoting opportunities?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Right now we're pretty happy with the way things are. As a racing business, you're always looking at different opportunities, and so we're always going to keep our mind open, and then if an opportunity comes up, then you assess it and say, OK, can we or can't we do it, and we'll take it from there. Right now we're very focused on the programs we have going, but that's not to say that there could never be another one that could catch our interest. I hope that answers your question.

MODERATOR: Thank you for taking some time with us today. We appreciate that. Best of luck on the track and off the track, as well, with the events at St. Petersburg and Toronto.

-credit: irl

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Peter Gibbons