An interview with Michael Andretti, Marco Andretti & Dario Franchitti
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We appreciate you joining us for the Indy Racing League teleconference. We're joined by three guests today who are members of Andretti Green Racing, co-owner Michael Andretti and drivers Dario Franchitti and Marco Andretti.
Earlier today, the team announced that Marco will drive the fourth AGR car this season, the seat vacated by 2005 IndyCar Series champion Dan Wheldon. The team also announced that Michael Andretti will be coming out of his retirement to compete side-by-side with Marco in May at the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500. They also announced that Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta will be back as teammates to Tony Kanaan. And finally they also announced that the team will field two cars in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series in 2006.
Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us today. Congratulations on all those exciting announcements.
Michael, let me start with a couple questions for you. First, obviously tell us the decision, how it came about, to put Marco in the IndyCar Series. Secondly, your own decision to come back and compete in the 500 for the 15th time.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It's a little bit of a story. It goes back to Marco, what he was accomplishing for the first part of this year. He, I think, was impressing us race in and race out. So we started to think, you know, as a team that maybe we should try to get him a test in one of the bigger cars, one of the IndyCars and see how he does.
We were able to get him in the car in Michigan the day after the race. He went out and did a fantastic job for the team. He was right on pace right away, had great feedback. The team was impressed with him. At that point we thought, all right, let's explore the possibility of seeing if we can maybe do a fifth car. At that point we felt like we were going to keep everything intact the way it was.
We took about two months to do a little research to see if we felt like the team could handle it with the infrastructure we had, everything like that, to run five cars for a full season. The report came back, and we felt like, no, we really can't handle it, that it was going to be too much of a strain on the team as a whole and it might not be good for the team. At that point, we thought we've got to figure out a different direction for Marco to try to get him more experience and hopefully move him into the bigger cars in '07.
All this time we were negotiating with Dan (Wheldon). We thought all along that he was going to be with us. Then we got word in Fontana that he decided he wants to go and try something different. At that point, it obviously opened it back up to we need another driver. We made ourselves a short list of drivers. Marco was obviously on it.
Also at that point is when I started thinking maybe I would want to come back, because it would sure be cool, if Marco does get the nod, if he is the guy for the seat, if I didn't take this opportunity to do it, to race alongside of him, I probably would never get it because I wouldn't be able to be competitive I think if I stayed out of the car another year. At that point is when I decided I would like to try to make it happen, if we could make it happen to have Marco in the fourth seat.
That's basically the way it came about. We were fortunate enough to get it to come out the way it did. Jim Beam and Vonage came on board and really helped make it happen for us. The rest is history with what we've announced. I for one am very, very excited. The initial motivation for me to come back was to race with Marco. But now that I'm in it, my focus has changed. I'm very focused on trying to win the race.
We are not taking this lightly. We are putting together a winning effort we feel. To run my car, Barry Green is going to run my car, and engineering is going to be done by Tony Cicale. I think right there it shows the seriousness of this effort. Just as a driver, now I'm very focused on wanting to do it. I'm very excited about doing it with Marco, as well. I think he's going to do a very good job for the team.
Part of the philosophy of this team has been that we always wanted to have a younger guy that we can have in the team and try to bring him up and get him experience through the help of three great guys that are in this team and that have a tremendous amount of experience. Dario and Bryan (Herta) and Tony (Kanaan) are just perfect for this. I'm so excited for Marco to have this opportunity to work with them. It's almost like he has his three big brothers there.
For me, I'm excited. I know Marco is excited. I think it's just going to be great for our team as a whole. I think we are putting together a very strong team.
I think Dario is going to be very difficult to beat for the championship, in my opinion, this year, as well as Tony. Bryan has a lot of fire in his belly. He's going to be able to not just be test driver this year, he's going to be able to really focus on trying to win races. We're really excited as a team.
MODERATOR: You announced the addition of the Pro Series team. With the change to all teams going to Honda, kind of an equalization of the entire field, how important are those extra test days you'll be able to earn?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think they're priceless. That's why we're doing it. That's the main motivation to do what we're doing. Also by doing that, I think we're supporting the series as a whole. I think it's very important that teams like ours support the farm system. That's where you get all your young talent. It's not just your driving talent, but your mechanics and everything.
I think it's important that we have that. But teams like ours needed an incentive to do it. That's a great incentive. I hope now that we're doing it, other teams are going to be like, 'Shoot, we have to do this, too, otherwise we're going to fall behind those guys.' I think it's a great thing that the IRL is doing. I think so far, if nobody does it, it's going to be really good for us. I assume other teams are going to have to look at doing it, which I think is going to be good for the IRL as a whole.
MODERATOR: Marco, congratulations on the announcement today. This is obviously a very big step for you in your career as you move into the IndyCar Series. Your dad mentioned you did well at the test in Michigan. You've only raced on two ovals before in the Pro Series last year. Tell us about the adjustments you expect as you move into not only the bigger, more powerful cars, but also into a series that has 11 ovals.
MARCO ANDRETTI: I think, to be honest with you, I still have a better shot than any other rookie. That's only for one reason, because of my three teammates, how much I can learn from them. Yeah, I don't have the oval experience, but to me that's something you can learn. What better way to learn, you know? You can learn it so fast with three great teammates. They're the best in the business. I think that's what it comes down to, just how quickly you can learn how to do this. Every rookie has to make a jump. To me I think I can't be any better off.
MODERATOR: Dario, a little bit of a change just in the fact that your 27 car will feature different sponsors, the Klein Tools and Jim Beam next year. Part of the reason I think AGR has kind of dominated the IndyCar Series the last couple years was due to the team chemistry that you had for the four drivers. Can you tell us a little about what might change with Dan moving on and Marco coming in.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Obviously, I'm excited to be back at Andretti Green Racing. Klein Tools and Jim Beam have both been sponsors of my car for a number of years. To change the colors off the car, that's pretty exciting. I get the impression I'll be heading up the pit lane into the wrong car a couple of times. Have to make sure I get in the right car.
As far as the chemistry, I think it's one of those things that the team is stronger I think than any one person. We did, I think, have a great relationship with the four drivers last year. Marco was also a part of that, though. He's been around. He's been coming to races, watching what's going on, drives the IPS (Menards Infiniti Pro Series) car. He's really been around as well. I think we'll have a very good relationship. I don't see much change. I think we're all coming into it with the correct attitude, which is important. I think we'll have fun and hopefully we'll be successful, as well.
Q</I>: Michael, could you talk about the decision for Dan to leave, was that a blow to you guys? Who else were you considering? Why ultimately did you opt to go with Marco?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: The negotiating with Dan was going on for like three months. All the way up until the day he told us he wasn't going to be there, he was telling us he was going to be there. He was very adamant that that's where he wanted to be.
We were starting to get the feeling, 'If you want to be here, why aren't you signing the contract?' Finally we said, 'If you want to be here, sign it, we go on. If not, we need to look at something different.' Dan said, 'Well, I'm not ready to sign it.' That was a little bit of a shock to us. We were quite surprised. But we respected what he wanted to do, his plans. So we decided, OK, we need to look at our plans.
I'm not going to mention the other drivers. There was about five of them on the list.
Q</I>: Does that include Marco?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yes, it included Marco. We talked to many. We didn't just basically say we're putting Marco in the car. We sat back and thought about what is best for our team. One of the things is we wanted another rookie. We really weren't talking to any other rookies. There were no others that we really felt like fit the mold. We knew what we had with Marco. It's a known quantity. That was a big thing.
Yeah, he's my son. Yeah, he's getting the opportunity because he's my son. But he's here in that seat because we feel that he can do a good job for AGR. That's why he's there.
Q</I>: Marco, when the news came down that Dan was not going to be back with AGR, what was going through your mind? I assume you maybe saw the opportunity opening up for you and maybe selfishly you were hoping you would get that I assume. Am I correct?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, it was the best news I ever heard. That's for sure. Like I said, it was a shock to me at first that he was not coming back. But right away I thought, oh, man, I hope this is good for me. Right after that Dad said, 'OK, we can start working on this.' For a while, it looked like I was going to IPS. To be honest, I didn't know if I wanted to do that. I never really wanted to repeat a step in my career, even though it wouldn't be repeating because of my lack of oval experience. Here I am. I mean, like I said, it was the best thing he could have told me.
Q</I>: Michael, when Dan won the race last year, you went in there as an owner, did you realize that this is great and everything, but it's not quite what it was cracked up to be? How much did that play into it?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: You know, to be honest with you, when Dan won that race, he was very happy, very content. I was psyched to be there. I really didn't think about it in that way, I really didn't. I really felt like there's not really a chance that I would really want to get back into a race car. I really didn't. When it looked like the way Marco's deal was moving, that it was moving so fast, there's actually a possibility he could be out there next year, I felt like, you know what, I can still be competitive and still do this right.
Like I said before, I got the initial drive to say, 'All right, I'm going to be able to drive with Marco.' It's something I know if I don't do it, I'll regret it the rest of my life. But once I made that decision, I mean, there was no turning -- I mean, then all of a sudden I became very focused. It's like, I want to win this race now. That's become my main attention.
The other thing I wanted to mention is, you talked about the hazing. I said in the press conference that just because Marco is my son doesn't mean that they have to be careful with him. He gets treated like everybody else. Marco is going to have a tough year. I think the racing is going to be the easiest part for him. I think the hazing part is going to be the most difficult for the year.
Q</I>: Marco, last year you were around enough to see Danica mania. Are you ready for that kind of thing? Are you ready for Marco mania? You're going to be the center of attention. Can you talk about handling that, how your dad and grandfather prepare you to handle that kind of attention.
MARCO ANDRETTI: For me, you know, it's part of it. At my age, it's not about avoiding it, it's about getting all the exposure I can. I think that's what I need to do. Like I said, it's part of the game. It's not about handling it, because I'm used to it. I look at it as a good way, to be honest. I think I'm just going to go to each race and do what I love to do, go through the motions with that.
Like I said, I need that right now. I need the exposure. It's not about avoiding it. To me, I've been doing it my whole life, so nothing's changed.
Q</I>: Marco, have you ever competed against your dad like in video games or go-karts? What was the outcome like?
MARCO ANDRETTI: To be honest with you, we never competed in much. I got him out to play tennis the other day, but that's about it. We never drove on the same racetrack or anything. This is a dream come true for me. I've always hoped that this would happen. For a while, I didn't think it was going to. You know, things change, it fell in place.
Q</I>: Never even did any video games or anything like that?
MARCO ANDRETTI: No, not really.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Tell him who won in tennis.
MARCO ANDRETTI: I won the first one.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: What about the second one (laughter)?
Q</I>: When you were out here before, you talked about how the AGR team has been like family to you, big brothers. How have they welcomed you so far to the team?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Well, I mean, like big brothers pretty much. I know I have a lot ahead of me, as dad was saying before. I think if I get through this year, I'll get through anything, like Dario was telling me earlier.
I'm prepared for what's ahead of me. I think they're going to be there to help me with anything they can on the track. I don't know about off (laughter).
Q</I>: Dario, what are your expectations for this season since you're being pointed out as the favorite by everybody? How do you expect Marco to perform in his rookie year?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think the expectations are no different than any other year. I think we have the equipment here to do the job. We had the equipment to do the job in 2005, as well. We had some pretty terrible luck. We made a couple mistakes, whether I made them, and also the team made them.
My job is to go out there and keep the pace that we had in the 2005 season, not make any mistakes. The team have upped their game, as well. If we do that, we're looking in good shape.
As far as how Marco is going to perform, I think he'll be just fine. I think what he said earlier, we can help. As far as driving, it's going to be no problem. He's going to be able to get in the car and drive quickly straightaway. Some other things, maybe some car setup, when things get difficult, we'll be there to help. It's a good position for Marco to be in.
Having three teammates - four, including his dad at Indy - I'm sure he's going to make the most of it and he's going to be up the front fighting hard. Not too hard, I hope, though.
Q</I>: Dario, what advice, now that Marco is on the line, would you give him as far as the main thing he should look for in his debut season?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I can't think of anything sensible to say at this point. I think Marco, he's smart, he's very smart, and he's going to pay attention, watch and learn, as he did a lot last year. He'll do that. That combined with the way he drives the race car, he'll have a great time on the track.
Off the track, I would say to be prepared for anything because, as Dan found out, the practical jokes get pretty interesting that first year.
Continued in part 2