Continued from part 1 Q</I>: Despite your teammate winning the Indy 500, I know how close the team was, winning the championship, have there been some quiet moments during the off-season where some disappointment has crept into your mind...
Continued from part 1
Q</I>: Despite your teammate winning the Indy 500, I know how close the team was, winning the championship, have there been some quiet moments during the off-season where some disappointment has crept into your mind in saying, 'Why couldn't that be me?'
DARIO FRANCHITTI: There was disappointment during the season. I think that anybody that watched the Pikes Peak race on television would have seen just how disappointed I was at that point. I knew this year we had the pace to challenge for the championship. It was all the more frustrating because we didn't, because we were up front having fastest laps, leading races, to have these things go wrong. I put my hand up certainly to Japan as a mistake I made and Sonoma when I spun in qualifying. As I say, there were some mistakes also made by the team. Everybody is fully aware of that.
We sat down and we've thought, 'OK, how are we going to improve things for next year?' We hope to put those changes into place as far as just everybody upping their game. That really is it.
Q</I>: Was it one of those conversations such as Tony Stewart had with his team in NASCAR and everybody sat down and almost had group therapy? Did you guys do that? Does that give you more hope for this year? What is it that would give you more confidence for 2006?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I had a lot of confidence in the team. I believe here at AGR we have the people and the equipment to get the job done. As I said, we just need to up our game specifically. It's probably the difference between 98% and 100%. As I said, there's definitely an element of luck involved. Our luck pretty much sucked in the 2005 season. Hopefully we'll gain a bit of that as well. I'm out there for one reason: to go out there and win races. If we win enough of those, maybe a championship will follow.
It's going to be difficult certainly with everybody running the Honda engine now. It's going to be that much closer.
Q</I>: Marco, do you feel pressure, do you feel people are going to be looking to you to be sort of one of the guys to try and rebuild this series? You said you were going to embrace the hype. Do you feel pressure? Are you going to invite this and maybe you're going to be one of the guys that will help sort of rejuvenate the hype around the IRL and the series?
MARCO ANDRETTI: I mean, I sure hope so. Again, I'm just going out to do my thing. That's going to follow. I would be excited if that's going to help the series. I can only do my thing and the rest will follow.
Q</I>: Michael, can you address that?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think the motivation for Marco to be out there and all that is for him to go out and do his thing and try to win races and make himself as competitive as he can be. Hopefully some of the fall-out that will come out of that is, because of who he is, hopefully he will get attention, hopefully he will get the results on the racetrack, that it will hopefully then help the series. Just like that's what we're all doing here. That's what AGR does. Everything we do we do for AGR, but a lot of stuff we do is helping the series. I think me running Indianapolis, my motivation isn't there to help Indianapolis, but if it does help it, great. Those are all just positives that come along with it.
Q</I>: Michael, you talked about how initially you were content as an owner and you didn't really think you were going to get back into a race car. Is the passion that you have for this still there for driving or for winning the Indianapolis 500?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Good question. I really believe that it's more for winning the Indy 500. Would I be excited to do the whole year? I don't think I'd be as pumped. I'm excited to get myself ready for that one race and have one go at it because that's something I feel I've missed in my career. Now I have another shot at trying to get it again. Now in doing that, it's gotten me, I've got to say, thoroughly pumped and excited. That's what it's about. I don't think it's more the passion of the driving, because it's really not the driving that I miss. Now that I have this opportunity to do it again, I'm going to do it as best I can, and I'm getting excited. That's my passion for winning that race.
Q</I>: Was it after the Dan Wheldon decision or after it appeared that Marco was going to maybe get this ride? When did you decide that you have a shot to do it?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It was probably, I don't know -- it was probably a couple days after the thing with Dan. It was actually race day at Fontana that I came and I addressed it with Kim (Green) and Kevin (Savoree), said, 'Hey, think about this.' I threw it out there. Kim, as funny as he is, two nights before, he was almost begging me to do it. Then when I told him that I was thinking about doing it, he's like, 'We can't do that. You don't want to do it.' I think his motivation was to see if I was doing it for the right reason, if I had the passion and really wanted to do it.
I think when I laid out my case, the more I talked about it, the more I thought about it, I wasn't sleeping any more, I was like, you know what, I'm really getting psyched. This is really what I want to do. I'm ready. I want to do it. It was right around that time. It was like a couple days after where I really in my mind said, OK, let's really see if it's possible to make this happen.'
Q</I>: Can you think back to what it was like racing against your dad and how it might be to race against your son?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, I mean, it's going to be different, for sure. Racing against my dad, he was a living legend and all that. I viewed it different than it will be with my son. Like Marco, I won't say put me in the category of racing legend with dad, but I think it's going to be a weird moment for him to see me on the track with him, for sure. For me it's going to be weird, too, but in a different way. It's going to be maybe more a nurturing type weird, where before it wasn't that way.
Q</I>: Michael, are you surprised by how quickly you really did get pumped up to do this? You were pretty much at peace with your decision when you walked away from this.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It surprises the heck out of me, I got to tell you. The more I talk about it, the more excited I get. I really didn't think that I had those feelings. It's funny, once you change your mind and change your focus, how all of a sudden, if you really tell yourself, you know what, I'm going to go for it, it's allowing all these other emotions to come out and really this is what I want to do.
I'm pretty excited the way I feel about it because I don't want people to think that I'm just doing it just to say, OK, I drove with my son. That's not what this is about. I mean, I think that was my initial motivation to get me to thinking about it. And then after I thought about it, then what really made this happen and really getting me in the race car is the fact that I'm really pumped about going out there and winning it, trying to win it.
Q</I>: Dario, excluding your teammates, who do you think are the favorites for the championship next year?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think you can just look down the entry list. I think it's going to be so competitive and close that it's difficult to pull out individuals. I think you just got to look -- I think there's, you know, four or five top teams. Any one of the drivers in those teams could definitely challenge for the championship obviously. Our motivation at AGR is to make sure it's one of our drivers. I'm going to be pushing as hard as I can to stake my claim to the championship.
It's a long season. It's 14 hard races. I think right now it's pretty open.
Q</I>: Marco, tell us about your excitement level, nervousness level for the ovals.
MARCO ANDRETTI: I mean, I don't know, I guess it's a little bit of the unknown. I don't have a lot of experience. A lot of it comes down to if your car is going to work or not. I need to learn race craft, for sure. I think if the car will allow you to do it, I think I might be able to do it.
A lot of it, again, I can't stress enough how big my teammates are going to come into play about car setup because that's one thing as a rookie I'm going to need to learn, is what I need in a race car, not just a qualifying car, not just to go out and practice, but to make it good at the end of the race. That's going to be a big part of it.
Q</I>: Michael, when you see those big packs of cars running at places like Texas, your son is going to be out there, does that excite you or scare you?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It scares me, just like it scares me when I see my three other friends out there. It's a scary thing. It's a scary sport. Let's not hide any of it, it's dangerous out there.
Having said that, I mean, it would be pretty hypocritical to say, 'You know what, Marco, you can't go drive those things because they're too dangerous. Dario, Tony, it's OK for you.' No. I mean, it's part of the game. It's part of the game since day one. It will always be there.
Yeah, I'm going to be nervous, just like I always am. Maybe even a little extra because, you know, it's different when it's your blood out there. Having said that, I'm going to be nervous, but I'm going to be very excited. I think it's just an exciting moment for our family, I really do, and this team.
Q</I>: Michael, you said Barry is going to manage the team at Indy. Tony Cicale is going to be your engineer.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Correct.
Q</I>: Does that mean Marco will not have any access to Tony as he does all last year?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: There's total access to everybody in this team. There's no hidden things. We're all going to be in the same room, especially at Indianapolis. We all debrief in the same room. We all work together. I think that's the other value, to be honest with you, of having Tony, is that he's going to be able to -- I know he's already been talking to everybody that's going to work with Marco about what he knows, what he has learned about Marco, as well as I got to tell that you Peter Gibbons is already talking to him about me. It's just the way it is.
We are all accessible. Tony is going to be totally accessible to Marco.
Q</I>: Is he going to come out on weekends other than Indy?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah. We're going to do some testing. He's going to be doing that, coming to that. Knowing Tony, I'm sure he'll come to a race or two just to see what it's like before that.
Q</I>: Who is going to be the engineer on Marco's team then?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Eddie (Jones).
Q</I>: Sounds like a good fit.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It's great. Eddie has experience with dealing with somebody who has just come into the sport, like he did with Dan. He did a tremendous job with Dan. I think that's going to be good that he can work with Marco in the same way that he did such a good job.
Q</I>: What are you doing to prepare for the month of May?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I've been hitting it pretty hard. I've been really working out hard, eating right, doing all the stuff that I used to do. I'm getting there. I'm about halfway to the shape where I want to be. But I've been doing it now for a couple months. I think come race time, I'm definitely going to be there. We're going to be doing testing. Hopefully in January it's going to start. We're working mid-month hopefully to get us out there and get me some seat time again because it's going to take some time to get the dust off.
Q</I>: Can you talk at all about your Infiniti Pro Series team?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: We're very excited that we're going to be doing a joint venture with Sam Schmidt, who I think is a tremendous guy. I think he runs a really nice operation. He knows these cars. We're going to put a first-class effort out there.
Our driver lineup is going to be Jonathan Klein, who I think did a really pretty good job in (Star) Mazda. I think he's going to be pretty tough, to be honest, on the ovals. Then Jaime Camara who was with Sam this year and won some races. I think Jaime could be a real threat for the championship this year. I think we're putting together a real first-class effort there.
Q</I>: Michael, could you talk about your thoughts and feelings as you're rolling to a stop in the '03 500, knowing it was the last time you were going to get out there? What were you thinking?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: To be honest with you, when I got out of that car, the goal was in my career, when it was coming down to the end, to retire knowing I could win my last race, trying not to be too greedy. When I got out of that car, I got out of that car knowing I could have won that race. Really in my mind, there's no way I was going to lose that race. We had a very good race car that day. I dropped out in the lead. From that standpoint, I actually had a satisfying feeling. Obviously, a little empty, a little disappointed because we didn't win it.
At that point I thought, 'Well, maybe it just never was meant to be.' Now my mind is changing. Maybe it still is meant to be. Maybe it's meant to be in a scenario like this.
Q</I>: A lot of drivers obsess over the 500. Winning it as an owner, did that ease your obsession at all?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: You know, I never was obsessed with the 500, but I started to become near the end. It was like, 'Gee, what is it with this place?' I think winning it last year definitely helped. I think it felt like finally the monkey's off the back. Finally, I'm going to be going there the month of May saying, 'What about the curse? blah blah blah.' That was a good feeling. It's going to be nice going there and now everybody will say, 'You were cursed as a driver.'
Anyway, it was still just a great feeling winning it.
Q</I>: You mentioned you had Vonage on board. Is that in addition to XM or replacing XM?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No, XM is a 100% sponsor on Bryan Herta's car.
Q</I>: Vonage is going to go where?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: On my car. The Jim Beam Vonage car.
Q</I>: How about discussions with your father? In the press we were hearing Mario was pressing doing more roadwork.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't know where all that comes from. Dad was here at the press conference today, very active in it. He's very supportive of what is going on. I think there's a lot of rumor stuff flying around. He never said that he didn't think it was a good idea. Would he have liked to have seen Marco go a different route? Maybe a little bit because his heart's a little bit different. Having said that, he totally backs and understands the decision here. This is a great opportunity for any driver, let alone a young driver like Marco.
Q</I>: We were concerned.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: People like to turn it around. It's funny how you hear some of these rumors. It's like, where does this stuff come from?
Q</I>: On the Infiniti Pro Series, you said it's a joint venture with Sam. Is this going to be additional cars that Sam is going to work with you or you're going to take two of his cars?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I'm not sure. I think he may be adding another car, too. I'm not 100% sure. I think he's working on some things. I can't really comment. You would have to ask Sam on that.
Q</I>: Michael, with the Indy 500, you're going to have a lot of non-IRL fans tuning in just because it's another father-son duel. How much of that is weighing on your shoulders to bring a positive light and spin on to IRL in general for these non-fans?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think it's great. I hope so. I mean, you look at what Danica did for it. Believe me, Danica's motivation was not to do that. Her motivation is still to go out there and win races and do the best she can. In doing that, with what her position was and everything, she brought a lot of extra things to it, which I think were just a bonus for everybody involved. If that happens in any way with me and Marco doing this thing, great, fantastic. That's music to our ears. I hope it happens.
MODERATOR: Thanks a lot, everyone, for participating today. We appreciate it. Michael, Marco, Dario, thanks for taking the time to join us. We wish you the best of luck in 2006.