IRL: An interview with Michael Andretti

January 6, 2004 IRL Teleconference Transcript Michael Andretti MODERATOR: Good afternoon. We'd like to welcome Michael Andretti to today's Indy Racing League teleconference. Michael is the owner of a four-car team for the 2004 IndyCar...

January 6, 2004
IRL Teleconference Transcript

Michael Andretti

MODERATOR: Good afternoon. We'd like to welcome Michael Andretti to today's Indy Racing League teleconference. Michael is the owner of a four-car team for the 2004 IndyCar Series® season, including drivers Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti, Bryan Herta and last year's Bombardier Rookie of the Year, Dan Wheldon. Let's start by talking about fielding a four-car team for the 2004 season. Can you talk about the challenges of running a four-car team versus the three-car team you had last year?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It's going to definitely be a challenge. We do have experience with it. We ran four cars in Indianapolis and I think as a team we did a pretty good job. We feel the way the rules are with IRL testing, having a fourth car out there is going to hopefully be an advantage. But the challenge is going to be the organization, keeping it managed. I think we have the best people in the business in those positions, and I think that's what really convinced us that we feel that we can do it, because we feel like, you know, our management is, in my opinion, second to none; and it's headed by Kim Green and I think he just does a fantastic job. We are under no illusions that this is going to be easy, but we feel if we can pull it off, it's going to be a huge advantage for the team. Also, having a guy like Bryan Herta is also going to be great, who, you know, knows the team, fits right in with the team, did a great job for us last year. And we feel like, you know, having his experience there is going to really be a good advantage. So we did a lot of thinking about it and we felt, like I said, if we pull this off, it's going to be a huge advantage because of the way the results are going to be.

MODERATOR: This will definitely be different for you as it's your first full year as a team owner after competing last year in the first four races as a driver. Have you prepared differently this year knowing you won't be behind the wheel at all?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Oh, yeah. For one, I'm not in the same shape as I used to be, so I'm definitely not prepared that way. After experiencing it through most of last year, I'm ready for it. I really enjoy the role that I'm in. I haven't had the desire to get back in the car which, you know, I think proves that I did make the right decision for myself and so, I'm really looking forward to that side of it. It was a lot of fun.

Q" Did Bryan Herta race himself onto the picture or did you have a plan for a fourth car this year?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Bryan Herta I think raced himself in. I think, you know, we had a big decision what to do on the driver situation because, you know, he made it hard for us not to have him part of the mix because he did such a great job. When the idea of a fourth car came up, I mean, he was the obvious choice. I was just so happy that we were able to give him this opportunity, because he deserved it, because of the job that he did for us. I think, you know, he was a big reason why Tony was as competitive as he was for the championship. He really helped a lot, and we know that he's going to help contribute to the success that we are going to have next year.

Q" Your father made some comebacks, you said that it's out of your system now, but are you leaving a little on the table just in case you want to jump back in and maybe try another Indy?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I would say the odds are highly against it. For one, it would be a five-car effort and I'm not sure. That may be way too much strain on the team. And two is I just I'm really happy with the role I'm in. Like I said, I'm not in the shape I was in, and, you know, it's not something that happens overnight. If I was going to do it, I would have to start really working out now, and I just really don't have the desire to do it. I'm very happy where I'm at.

Q" You referred to the testing situation. I think that's what you were talking about the rules and having the multiple cars. I know you have a different perspective as a car owner, but do you like this? You're basically looking at the open tests and some of them are after the season start. Do you like that?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, I do. I think last year was crazy with all of the testing that the team had to do. You know, the drivers and the team itself, and all of the people on the team were just getting worn out from all of testing we had to do. And it doesn't mean a lot because everybody then has to go out and do it, and it's just basically throwing money away. I don't think it's going to make any difference in the way the order of finishing is going to happen. I think the good teams are still going to be at the top whether there's testing or not. I'm totally for what they are doing. Now, last year, I understand why they didn't because teams like ours needed to get the experience for these cars. But now most of the teams that are in there have the experience. I think it's a good time to change that rule so I'm 100 percent for the rule change.

Q" What do you think that first open test is going to be like, with all of the different changes that appear to be coming? They have got a lot of aero changes, you don't even know what they are looking at yet. What kind of test do you expect that to be?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think everybody is going to be searching a little bit. But, the good thing is, everybody is in the same boat. So the good teams are the ones that are going to figure it out first and they are the ones that are going to have the advantage. So that's what it's all about, you know. I like that. I mean, that's something that's exciting about our sport. The way that there's always something new and there's a new challenge. That's going to be the new challenge. The new rule changes and trying to figure it out and figure it out quicker than the next guy.

Q" This year will be the first time you actually come into Indy and you're on the sidelines, so to speak. How will you look at that?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, I'm going to really try to help the team with my experience as much as I can. You know, I think there are a lot of things I've done right at the Speedway that hopefully I'll be able to help with that experience. That's going to be my role. But, you know, I'm looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to going there and actually maybe enjoying the month of May. When you're there working, it's just so much pressure and you just don't have as much fun with it because of all the pressure.

Q" Isn't there pressure being a car owner and having four drivers?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: You know what, it's a different type of pressure. I don't know how to explain it, but being a driver and having to be on top and putting your butt on the line every time you're out there is just a different type of pressure than being on the sidelines and giving it to the other guys to get us the result.

Q" What about having Dario coming back?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Very excited about it.

Q" What will that mean to you?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It's going to be a lot to me and it's going to mean a lot to the team. I know Dario just can't wait. He's chomping at the bit. I've talked to him. In fact, I'm going to see him again this weekend. I spent time with him over Christmas. He can't wait to get out there. He's going to be a force to be reckoned with, and I think he's going to really help the team. Not having him in the car, it definitely hurt us a bit because he brings so much to the party in terms of setting the cars up and everything. And him and Tony get along so well, so I think everybody on the team can't wait for him to get back.

Q" They are going to a three-liter engine for May. You were talking earlier about the challenges of the sport. Will that be pretty difficult assuming the speed goes down 10 miles an hour or whatever?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Absolutely. I think when it comes down to drag reduction and things like that and how much, it's going to be a big question. What do you run for the race? How much drag do you run and how much downforce? But that's the new challenge. Like I said, the team that figures it out first is the team that's going to have the most success. I like that. That's what it's all about.

Q" I've heard talk some of the Honda teams are looking at running G Forces (Panoz G Force chassis) this year. Are you guys looking at the G Forces? Do you have any G Force chassis?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No. We are 100 percent committed to Dallara. We feel the car did a good job. We feel we would have won the championship if it weren't for the flat tire. We don't feel it was the chassis. I don't feel there was a big advantage one way or the other. We are really happy with Dallara. They are really great to work with. So we are not looking to make that change because, you know, all you're doing is setting yourself up for more learning that you need to do. I think we have enough on our table right now. So we're very happy staying with the Dallara.

Q" Looking at Indianapolis, they are looking at going to the road course side pods, along with the other new engine. It's almost like an historic May with an all-new package. How tough is it going to be with a whole new package almost?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: That's tough. But that's good. You can't just sit back and rest on your old notes that you had. You're going to have to go out there and explore and figure out what the new car, new set up is going to need. You know, I think that's good. I'm 100 percent for the new rule changes. I think it's going to be good for the racing.

Q" Have you guys set up a time to test the chassis at the road course with the new package?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: To be honest, I haven't really looked at our test schedule. So I can't really comment right now.

Q" I assume there will still be more cars coming. The last two years, equipment is still legal, in view of that and other factors, what car counts do you estimate at Indianapolis and elsewhere?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: To be honest with you, I don't know. I really haven't been paying attention to that. I think that's one of those things you just really don't know until we get down there for the first test and we'll have a better idea where everybody is at. You know, I'm hoping that we can have a good, full field. I just think there are still a lot of unresolved things. We still don't even know what's going to happen with CART yet. I believe that if CART goes away, you're definitely going to gain a few more teams. I think we've still got to wait and see what happens there.

Q" We're all mindful of the Renna accident. I wonder what we have to learn from that. Can you comment on that?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, I don't know. Unfortunately, those things are always there. Sometimes those things happen. And I don't know what there is to learn. I believe that they are looking at all the data and trying to figure out how they can make sure, trying to improve things. I'm not sure what happened. I hear rumors that maybe a bird hit him in the head. I heard that he might have just lost it. When that happens, at those speeds, I don't care even if they slow you down 10 miles per hour, you are still going to be going well over 200 miles per hour. Those walls, if you hit them wrong and those fences if you hit them wrong, it's not going to be a good thing. So I think it's a terrible thing. You're never ever going to be able to get rid of 100 percent of the danger. All you can do is look at the data and try to help. But I think if you look at what they have done over the years, the cars are just so much safer. But, you know, this is a dangerous sport and that will always, until the end of time, there's always going to be a chance of that happening unfortunately.

Q" You were a proponent of slowing the cars down. Do you think we are going in the right direction now and would you like to see some more things that would slow them down even more?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, I think you've just got to be careful how you slow them down. The challenge for the rulemakers has always been how you slow them down. It sounds so easy but it's really not. So it becomes a science trying to do it the right way. I just like the way the IRL has reacted and that they are just trying to do the right thing. Now, that's not to say that there might not be some massaging of the rules, trying to make them better yet, but at least they are trying and they are trying to do things to make things safer, and so, I applaud them for what they are trying to do.

Q" Would winning Indy as an owner be that much more? Would it mean more to you as a driver or the other way around?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: That's hard to say. I think it would be huge to win it as an owner. But obviously, when you are the driver, I think you get a little bit more out of it. I would be very happy to win it as an owner. I know that when I did win as an owner, first time with Tony, it was like I won that race myself. So I can say that it is a good feeling winning it that way. But is it as good as if I would have done it myself? Reality is, no, it's still not. But it still would be a very memorable moment, I can tell you, I can assure you.

Q" As an observer, there were two things that I noticed in your career that seemed to be important to you and didn't happen. One was success in F?1 and the other was winning at Indy. Were those the two biggest, I'll call them disappointments, in your career or something else?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I would say so. Indy especially. The F-1 thing, I feel that it was a program destined to fail. So that one is a little different. But Indy, with how many opportunities I had to win that race, including my last year there, it was definitely a disappointment. I wish I would have won it. But for whatever reason, I wasn't meant to. And I'm a firm believer that if something is meant to happen, it's meant to happen. And it (winning Indy) wasn't meant to happen. Like I said, maybe I'm meant to win it 10 times as an owner, you know. You don't know what is ahead in life. But I have no regrets. I mean, I'm very happy with the way things did go with my career in so many other ways that I still feel like I've been the most blessed guy in the world.

Q" Did Honda drive this fourth car? Did they come to you? Is that how it was initiated or was there some other factor?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think it was like a team effort. I think when we all discuss what changes are happening in the new year and what challenges we're going to have, obviously, one of the big challenges was going to be the new rule changes. So I think it was just one of those deals that when you put a few smart minds together in a room, you come up with ideas like this and that's what happened. I wouldn't say it's 100 percent driven by Honda.

Q" You probably can't get into the financial side about things about how much driven by Honda?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, we are currently still looking for sponsorship. We have a lot of exciting things that hopefully we are going to be able to announce soon. But this isn't going to be 100% financed by Honda. I wish it was.

Q" It seems like road racing might be in the future. Do you look forward to it and would you like to see that come in a little earlier than just being something distant in the horizon?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I would love to see it sooner than later. I think it's so important for open-wheel racing in general to do that and this series. I really feel that we need that to happen, and we need it to happen sooner than later in my opinion. So, hopefully, it will happen. I don't know what's going to happen with CART. I think that's going to have a lot to do with it. In my opinion, I think we need to have one series. If we continue to have two series, I think it's going to be a difficult challenge for us. So it's going to be quite interesting what happens in the next few weeks, I think.

Q" Do you have any wishes to what kind of percentage there would be, one or two races, 50/50?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think at first, it's not going to be the main thing. But I think it's going to be important for us to get into some of those markets that we can't penetrate because of the ovals. And so if they can get three or four, I think would be good to start with.

Q" Any particular markets or tracks?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think Long Beach obviously is an important one. I think getting to places like Canada and Mexico are important because they are such great race fans there. So I think, you know, that's what we need to do.

Q" Obviously, you are prepared to do that if one came up this year?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: We are ready to go. Everybody knows the importance of it and we know it's going to be a lot of hard work, but we all realize that's something that needs to happen for open-wheel racing. And so we are ready for the challenge.

Q" Have you tested these cars on a road course yet? Do you have an idea what they would be like?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No, we haven't. But I think, in my opinion, they are going to be a lot of fun to drive on the road course. I think more fun than even the CART car in some ways. I think it's going to be a little bit like the cars of the mid?90s and CART, and that's when I think cars were really a lot of fun to drive. And so I think that's not going to be a problem.

-irl-

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