CHAMPCAR/CART: Michael Andretti talks about the season

Michael Andretti, driver of the No. 6 Big Kmart/Texaco Havoline Ford-Cosworth, assumed the lead in the CART FedEx Championship Series' Driver's Championship standings following his second-place finish in the Michigan 500 last weekend....

Michael Andretti, driver of the No. 6 Big Kmart/Texaco Havoline Ford-Cosworth, assumed the lead in the CART FedEx Championship Series' Driver's Championship standings following his second-place finish in the Michigan 500 last weekend. Andretti's runner-up finish was his highest there since winning the race in 1989, and he now leads the championship this late in the season for the first time since 1991 when he claimed the series' crown. Following two straight podium appearances and four straight top five finishes, Andretti talks about his season thus far, his success on short oval tracks and looks forward to this weekend's race at the Chicago Motor Speedway.

YOU'VE ENJOYED QUITE A BIT OF SUCCESS THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER ON SHORT OVAL TRACKS. WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE THAT SUCCESS TO? "I like the small ovals. Anything bigger than a mile I'm not a big fan of because than you have the danger factor, but I enjoy driving them (one-mile ovals), they're fun. Lately they're not fun because of the rules package that we have, but normally they're races that you can start in the back and still come to the front, and I enjoy those kind of races."

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO DO IN ORDER TO BE SUCCESSFUL IN CHICAGO THIS WEEKEND? "You have to qualify up front because track position is going to be king there. I think it's going to be really difficult to pass, so you're going to need to qualify up front if you can."

WHAT DO YOU THINK CART NEEDS TO DO IN ORDER TO IMPROVE DRIVER SAFETY ON THE SHORT OVAL TRACKS? "Well, first they need to cut the horsepower; they need to take about 200 horsepower away. Then I think they need to take the aerodynamics away at the same rate so that they come down together, and I believe that will make the cars safer."

THEN YOU'RE OF THE OPINION THAT THE HANFORD MKII LOW DOWNFORCE DEVICE CURRENTLY USED ON THE SHORT OVALS IS NOT THE WAY TO GO? "No. Probably what we had in that Chicago test when we did it that one day, I'd say that aerodynamic package with 200 less horsepower would be good. Because if you just cut the horsepower then you're going to have much aerodynamics and then it'll be too easy. You've got to still bring the driver in it, but you've got to make it safer. Right now, it's still crazy."

YOU'RE RIGHT IN THE THICK OF THE HUNT FOR THE DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP. WHAT'S DIFFERENT THIS SEASON AS OPPOSED TO THE LAST FEW SEASONS? "I think we have a car that's more competitive, especially on the road courses where last the last few years we really struggled. I think the way the car felt at Toronto and the way we were running at Cleveland and in a few other races, I think we're a lot better off than we have been (in the past). So, I think that's the biggest place that we've improved."

WE'RE JUST PAST THE MIDWAY POINT OF THE 2000 SEASON. LOOK BACK OVER THE FIRST PART OF THE SEASON AND GIVE ME YOUR THOUGHTS. "Well it was a frustrating early season where we gave away a ton of points. We were competitive but we just were having problems getting to the checkered flag. I mean, look at Long Beach. Look at the first race at Homestead. I think we would've won the race the way the car was feeling, so those were really frustrating. But then you look at (Motegi) Japan was really a nice one (victory). It was one where we shouldn't have won and we did, so it was one of those paybacks. Hopefully we'll have a couple of more before the end of the year."

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO DO TO BE A FACTOR IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP HUNT? "Finish, finish, finish. That's it. We finish (races), we're in the hunt. It's very simple.

YOU LAST CAME CLOSE TO WINNING THE DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP IN 1996 WHEN YOU ENTERED THE FINAL RACE TRAILING EVENTUAL CHAMPION JIMMY VASSER. CAN YOU DRAW ANY COMPARISONS BETWEEN THAT SEASON AND THIS SEASON? "No, it's different. That year we had a brand new engine that had no horsepower and we still got good results, but we had a really good car. The car was really good everywhere. This year we have I think a better chance. We have a great engine with Ford and the car is good as well, so in comparison I think we have a better shot this year. But the only problem is the competition is tougher, so that's the difference. But in terms of the package, I think we're in better shape than we were then."

AFTER SCORING POINTS IN JUST ONE OF THE FIRST FOUR RACES, YOU'VE NOW SCORED POINTS IN SIX OF THE LAST SEVEN RACES. WHAT HAS CHANGED SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE SEASON THAT HAS HELPED YOU BECOME SO CONSISTENT? "We've just finished (races). We could've been this way in the beginning of the year, but one was the oil pump problem at Homestead, then we had a (exhaust) header break at Long Beach, then we had the penalty at Brazil. Then the one that was really killer was Detroit, (with) three laps to go and we broke. We would actually be six for six if it wasn't for that."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti