Indy Racing League Teleconference Transcript Wednesday, March 18, 2009 An interview with Michael Andretti, Marco Andretti & Tony Kanaan MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League ...
Indy Racing League Teleconference Transcript
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
An interview with Michael Andretti, Marco Andretti & Tony Kanaan
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We're joined today by three members of Andretti Green Racing. We have team co-owner Michael Andretti and drivers Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti. Good afternoon, gentlemen.
Andretti Green is the winningest team in IndyCar Series history with 34 victories and three championships. The only team that fields four cars in the series, AGR returns all four of its drivers in 2009 for the first time since 2005.
Michael, we'll start with you. I'm sure it's a good feeling to have all four drivers coming back. Can you take a minute and kind of tell us about each of the drivers and what your expectations are for each of them this season?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: First of all, hi, everybody. We're very excited that it's the first year since 2005 that everybody is coming back together, and I think continuity is always an important thing, and it's nice to have that going into this year.
I think we have high expectations from all four drivers. I think Tony and Marco are going to have great years, I really feel it, as well as I think Danica (Patrick). Hopefully we can get her back into victory lane, and we want to give Hideki (Mutoh) his first win, which we feel would be really huge for our team if we were able to achieve that, be able to get the first Japanese driver to win a major open wheel race.
We have a lot of incentives for all four guys to be running up front, and we're going to do everything we can as a team to make it happen. So far the testing that we've done, I feel very good about what's been going on, and all the work that we've done over the winter, I think, is hopefully going to pay off, and we'll see at the first race at St. Pete.
MODERATOR: You did make a couple of changes kind of behind the scenes, some new engineers in some places and also the change yourself, moving over to Danica's radio. What was the impetus behind some of those changes?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, when you make one change, it sort of is like a domino, or a puzzle I should say, and you have to make sure that when you make that move, it's not going to affect this or that. We felt that putting me into the role that I'm going to be playing, which I really need another job like a hole in the head (laughing), but I'm excited about the challenge. But the team as a whole just felt that I would be able to help Danica. She seems to respond to me in a lot of ways, and we felt that I might be able to use some of my experience to help her, and in doing so we moved Kyle (Moyer) back over to Marco, and we also made a change with his engineer. We've moved Eddie Jones, who used to be his engineer, over to Danica, and we have Peter Gibbons, who is coming back to engineering, who engineered me for many, many years in my career and who I think is one of the best in the business, and he's going to be moved to engineer Marco.
And for Tony we have a move that was actually adjusted at the end of last year when Eric Cowdin moved over to (Team) Penske and we moved Allen (McDonald) over to him. So we had some changes in the background, but I really, really feel that every single change that has been made has been a real positive for the team. I'm actually quite excited. I think we've hit the right combination for all four cars with this.
MODERATOR: Tony, you've had at least one race victory in every season in the IndyCar Series, won the championship in 2004, and as Michael just alluded to, some changes for you, too, in getting used to a new engineer that you had worked with for a long time. Tell us a little bit about some of your goals now for 2009.
TONY KANAAN: Well, every year we talk about the same thing. I think the goals never change, especially when you're a part of the team that is the most successful team in IndyCar Series. So we're looking forward to the championship, and obviously we're looking forward to Indy.
I think the changes were good. It's taking me a little bit of time to adjust with my engineer just because I spent only 13 years with Eric (laughing), so we're not going to do it in a couple tests. But Allen is very good. Allen has been with Dario (Franchitti). They won the championship and the (Indianapolis) 500 together. He has a different way of working so I'm just getting used to it. But again, I'm excited.
We know what we're going to face, and we know exactly where we needed to improve last year, and I think we're not leaving anything on the table. The engineers have been working really hard, the drivers, too, so I think we expect to have a great year for sure. The competition is getting tougher and tougher, so we'll see what's going to happen. But I'm excited.
MODERATOR: One other question for you: Towards the end of last year you wrapped up a new multi-year deal with the team. Does having something like that, especially a multi-year contract, does it change your approach at all, change the amount of pressure that you feel, anything like that?
TONY KANAAN: As a driver, of course, because I think if you think about you've got to renew again, then you don't think about it in February, but it starts to get up to June you start worrying about it. But to be honest, the pressure is always there. It's not because I sign a five-year deal that I can just say, OK, whatever, they have me and I can just drive around. I mean, a five-year deal can become a two-year deal or a one-year deal if you're not performing. It's all about the team and the performance. I wanted to stay there, they wanted me to stay, and hopefully it's more than a five-year deal once I retire or whatever we're going to do after that.
But it's a good feeling because I know they trust me, and they know I trust them. But the pressure, we're going to keep adding pressure to ourselves every year, especially if we don't win every championship and every 500. It's just a great feeling to know that I'm part of a family that I'm going to be there for a long time. But it doesn't relieve any pressure on myself I would say.
MODERATOR: Marco, let's ask you a couple questions here. You've been busy this off-season. I know everybody stays busy in the off-season, but you've had the opportunity to do at least probably more racing than anyone else has, competing in A1GP. How much does that help as you come back into the season and especially the fact that we start the season with two street events?
MARCO ANDRETTI: I think it's been huge, because the main thing that I always stress is that it's not just testing race cars, it keeps you race savvy, as well, because I think a small mistake is definitely magnified in a race, so it keeps you really on your toes, and it's a form of training for what we're doing. These cars are pretty physical, and the road courses, as well. It's definitely the most physical of all.
Also the competition over there is pretty tough, too. We're just now getting the hang of this car, unfortunately just towards the end of that season. But we've got a couple more chances at it, I think. Hopefully we have a couple more races over there. I have Portugal in between St. Pete and Long Beach, so I'm definitely going to carry on being pretty busy, but it's definitely the way to go. If you're going to stay busy, you might as well stay in a car.
MODERATOR: Talk about the IndyCar Series in 2009. Last year you certainly had some great moments like a second-place finish at Indy, a few finishes that I'm sure you wish could have been better. Looking ahead, what are your goals and expectations for 2009?
MARCO ANDRETTI: I definitely echo Tony. It hasn't changed since I've stepped in, as well. Indy, it's the biggest race in the world. Indianapolis, as a team we've been super competitive there every year, and then the championship, I definitely think we're going to have a shot. I think the word for me this year is definitely consistency because we've led at a lot of different types of racetracks in different years but were unable to capitalize. So this year is going to be -- I'm going to be looking to capitalize at a lot of races. I don't see a weak spot in the championship for our whole team, really, so I think that definitely -- I can't wait to get going.
MODERATOR: Michael, quickly more on the promoter side, take a look at St. Petersburg. Andretti Green has been the promoter for that event since day one as it relates to the IndyCar Series. Tell us a little bit about how the event has grown into one of the marquee events on the schedule and now for the first time ever it's going to be the season opener.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: We're really excited about that. It's a positive for the event. It's always nice to be the opener, and I can't think of a better place to open the season than down there. I think the setting is just perfect for an auto race and a street race, and we're excited about the progress that's been made there. I think there's going to be a lot of new things that you'll see that are a little different and more things -- we're always trying to do more things to keep the fans busy during the weekend, which I think we're achieving with the yacht club and things like that.
The encouraging thing, in tough times that we're in right now, I'm happy to say that ticket sales are right there with last year, which we're quite excited about. We're looking for another great event down there, as well as Toronto is going quite well, as well, the ticket sales up there, and also the corporate involvements are quite high. So things are really chugging along up there, so we're excited about that, as well.
Q: Michael, I kind of wanted to ask you a little bit of a question about expectations that you have for your team, and specifically with Marco. You've got Tony who's the veteran, and you've got Danica who last year won her first race. I know that Marco has always been on the cusp of winning more races and challenging for the championship. How much do you see his role improving entering this season?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I feel real positive about this year for Marco. I think we made some really good changes within his team, and I know he's been working really, really hard, and I think getting him more experience with A1GP stuff I think is going to be good. I think it's really tough right now to be an up-and-coming driver because it's hard to get racing miles or even testing miles anymore because of the rules and everything. Every mile that Marco does, he's just going to be that much better, and I feel that this could really be his breakout year. I feel good about that. And I think it's really important for our team to have him doing well, and hopefully working along with the other three, they all are hitting on all cylinders. This team can be unbeatable.
Q: This is also a question for Michael and for Tony Kanaan: With the year's experience that the transition teams had after coming over from unification, do you see them basically on even par with you guys, and is this really going to create an even more wide-open battle for not only race victories but also for the championship?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: If you look at a good example is just the test down in Homestead. There was a lot of the -- I guess you want to call them transition teams were at the top of the scoreboard there. So yeah, I think it's going to be really, really tough because of that, and I think they've had a year and they know what they needed. Coming into this year they knew what they needed to work on over the winter. I would say, yeah, they're going to be right there. I see Newman/Haas and KV especially have definitely improved you can see, so I think they're going to be a real pain in the butt.
TONY KANAAN: I think it's the same thing. I think they have a year under their belt. They're good teams. They're very capable of catching up. Last year they already gave us a little bit of a hard time, so I would say right now for sure it's going to be tougher. Newman/Haas, it's always going to be Newman/Haas. And KV now with Mario (Moraes), it's going to be tight. It's going to be tighter than ever. I know every year we say the same thing, but for sure after the transition, this year is going to be tough.
Q: I had a question for Michael and for Marco: Michael, I think you commented about your races, the ticket sales and corporate, but we're in really a tough financial time, I don't have to tell you that. NASCAR has made some cost-cutting things. Is anything going on in your end of it or to consider what's going to happen if things continue along this way?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Are you talking promoter side or are you talking racing side?
Q: More as a team owner.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: That's really tough. I think it's making us work extra hard, and we have to really, really give these sponsors a return on their investment. I have to say that almost all our sponsors are returning, so that's an exciting thing.
But yeah, it's a constant challenge, and we're always trying to be as creative as we can to get more business for our sponsors, to get more exposure for them. One thing really works, and that is winning. So if we can hopefully have a big year this year, that will hopefully help us rolling into 2010, which I think 2010 could very well be the toughest of all years
Continued in part 2