CHAMPCAR/CART: Interview With Michael Andretti, 2000-03-16

CHAMPIONSHIP AUTO RACING TEAMS, INC. An Interview With: MICHAEL ANDRETTI T.E. McHALE: We will welcome now Michael Andretti of Newman/Haas Racing who finished fourth in the 1999 FedEx Championship Series good afternoon Michael thanks...

CHAMPIONSHIP AUTO RACING TEAMS, INC.

An Interview With:
MICHAEL ANDRETTI

T.E. McHALE: We will welcome now Michael Andretti of Newman/Haas Racing who finished fourth in the 1999 FedEx Championship Series good afternoon Michael thanks for joining us today. MICHAEL ANDRETTI: My pleasure. T.E. McHALE: Michael's 1999 performance marked the 10th Top 4 Championship finish of his 16-year FedEx Championship Series career during a season which also saw him top the 100 point mark for the 14th time in 16 seasons. He also added to his CART career victory record by collecting his 38th at Gateway International Raceway, which allowed him to tie Rick Mears' CART record of 12 different seasons with at least one victory. Michael also earned his 32nd career pole position at Road America which ranks second all-time. He led the 6,000th lap of his career en route to a 4th place finish at Michigan Speedway, the first CART driver ever to reach that milestone. He scored 14 points -- he scored points in 14 of 20 starts and finished fourth in the series with 237 laps led. Michael is a two-time winner of the season opening event at Homestead having to driven to victory both in 1997 and '98. He finished fourth in the 1999 FedEx Championship Series with 151 points. At this point we will open it up to questions for Michael.

Q. Looking forward to Homestead this year, you tested well, do you think you are going to become like Al Unser was at Long Beach the king of the road at Miami? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: That would be nice. I don't know. I just -- I enjoy Homestead. I think it is a great racetrack, especially a new configuration and, yeah, we have tested really well there this winter. I am actually real excited about going down there next week. I think we are going to be really competitive.

Q. At spring training you had the little pieces attached to the front of the nose of the car. Did you keep those or go back to a smoother nose? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No, it will be smoother. It will be back to normal. That was just an interim thing.

        Q.  Did it provide any information that you needed?
        MICHAEL ANDRETTI:  If you know watching everybody talk about it.

Q. From your standpoint, the Lolas feel, at this time in the game, you guys had a quite best of testing, how different are they for you? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Every year you have a new car, whether it is a Swift, Reynard, Lola, you know, so it is always going to be new. You have new rules. And so to compare that side of the actual race car, the way it feels, and all that, there is a lot of variabilities there. What we are seeing going back with Lola is that we feel that the other program that we had was a huge drain from our team, especially from the engineering standpoint because our guys had to do more than just make the car go fast. They had to make them reliable. They had to do everything. We really didn't have the support; whereas, with Lola, we have a factory, we feel, supporting us more. I think because of that it has freed up our engineering again to go back and just worry about getting these cars to go fast. I think that is a big relief on our team. Being with Lola has been more that way,; whereas, it has freed up our engineering resources again as the other one was taxing us.

Q. Do you have any plans at all on attending the U.S. Grand Prix this year as a spectator? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't even know when the date is. Is it conflicting with us?

Q. I don't believe so. MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't know. Be honest with you, I haven't really thought about it.

Q. Talk with your dad about possibly maybe driving with him later in the year, maybe one race? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No, again there hasn't been any dialogue there at all. I probably would not do it. I am just really trying to concentrate 100% on this CART thing and going for the Championship there. So I really -- Nowadays, it is so competitive it is hard to really break yourself up that way and I am just trying to keep 100% focus on my main job at hand which is winning the CART Championship.

Q. What have all the years taught you and where have they put you in position this year to make another run for the Championship? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think experience is a wonderful thing, for sure. I wish I knew now what back ten years ago, I think, I would be just that much better. I think experience in anything you do is something that you just cannot buy. I feel that if I lack anything of speed or anything like that, that I don't have from the youth side, I think I can make it up with the experience. I think one thing experience teaches you is, hopefully for me, which has only been one of my critiques is patience. I am hoping that I can be a little more patient and wait for things to come to me. I think if I do that, I will be better off.

Q. Can you explain competitiveness of -- you have been around it for basically a long time. How much more competitive is it going to get? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It just blows my mind every year. You think it can't get any worse than it is now - I mean, it can't get anymore competitive. Now we are going into this year, it is like it is going to be more competitive. We are going to have to worry about the Penskes again. There is other teams, I mean, it is just going to be so incredibly competitive. Toyota is going to be much more competitive. It is just amazing. It amazes me every year. This year is definitely no exception. May be --

Q. What did you learn from watching your dad be competitive all the way into his 50s? What did you learn about that as far as maintaining, I guess, his edge? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think -- that just comes from that burning desire within your heart. That is not really something you learn. It is just something you either have or you don't. I believe -- once that desire is not there, you are not going to be competitive. When I feel that that desire leaves me is the time that you will see me retire. So that is what -- it is not something that I learned off dad. It is just something that you observe. In the end, it wasn't desire that held dad back. It was just the physical side of it. He still has that desire which is, I don't know anybody in any sport that has that burning desire like he does. I feel bad for him that -- I know he wishes he was out there, but he just physically and because he is older and stuff, it is not going to work for him. Dad's situation is very unique.

Q. After what happen last year Michael with Greg and Gonzalez, are you concerned about track safety and what do you think can be done to improve it? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think it is something we are always concerned about it and we will always be concerned about and we just are always learning and we are always trying to make things safe. The goal is for 100% safety which that will never happen, but you got to always make that your goal and hopefully we can learn things from those things. I know what happened to Gonzalez now at Laguna Seca will never happen again because they are making the changes there on the track. With what we learned out of Greg's accident, you know, they are making the changes on the racetrack to make sure that that doesn't happen again. At least those things aren't being a waste, but there still has to be the goal of making every place and -- the race cars and everything 100% safe. Realistically, that will never happen, but that has got to be our goal. I think that is one thing that CART does look at very heavily is the safety aspect and, you know, they are always addressing it. I think -- when I look at these cars now and the race tracks from now compared to when I started, I mean, it is just incredible how far they have come. I am hoping another five years from now I will look back and say, God, I can't believe I even drove these cars that I am driving today. That is just the way it works. I think that we are all striving for that.

Q. I wondered if you could talk a little bit about the sort of the renewed relationship with Lola. I mean, is it -- is it sort of like, you know, picking up right where you and the team left off or is it, you know, was there -- I mean -- MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It is different. It is a different organization. There is different people you are dealing with and all that. So from that standpoint it is much different. But it is much bigger and better than it was even when we were there. Now they have their own new state of the art wind tunnel, things like that, that are going to help us. Those guys are racers. They really -- they know what it takes to win and they are going to do what it takes to win and that is a mentality, I think we are facing more on the other program -- we didn't have that mentality in the other program, but these guys are very hungry and they are racers and they are going to get the result. But to compare it to before, it is just different because it is different people.

Q. Overall thoughts about the new car itself. It clearly appears to have the edge. MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I am hoping so. I don't think, you know, it is not a huge edge. I think we are very competitive with the other guys. It is just -- but it is a good basic race car. It is reacting like a race car should and that is the way it should be. Whereas, I think the last few years, we were fighting some problems there. Where it is nice to get back in a car and it react the way it is supposed to react. It has been really good. Do we have an advantage? Maybe a little bit. But I don't think it is as big as every everybody thinks.

Q. I didn't hear the first part of Eric's question, but obviously whatever state the Lola is, you are transitioning again. Last year you were transitioning tires. Are you going to be fast out of the box? I mean, you have been in testing. And No. 2, are you a little disappointed that Chip decided to run the same chassis? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, I think we are going to be fast right out of the box. The car was quick right away and this team knows how to make a race car go quick. And now that is all they have to concentrate on. We have a big support of Lola which is really going to help us a lot. Am I disappointed that Ganassi has it? Yeah, very disappointed because if there is any advantage, well, one of our biggest competitors has the same advantage.

Q. How many race wins is a Champion going to need this week and conversely how many DNFs or no-point finishes can you survive? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Probably most you can give away is three races. And race wins, you will probably need around four or five.

Q. Compare 15, 16 years ago to today, by competitiveness, that is the main difference? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Incredible. There is so many different things. I mean, first of all, the competitiveness is just like no other motor sports and class, I think, is the most competitive that it's ever, ever been in any form of racing. And I guess we can compare the safety issues and things like that of which are way, way different than it used to be. And the series as a whole has just grown so much as well. So it is just -- there has been a tremendous amount of change over the last few years that I have been with --

        Q.  16 years ago you probably wouldn't have recognized CART today?
        MICHAEL ANDRETTI:  No way.

Q. You and Greg Moore had some great races down in Homestead last couple of years. What is it going to be like starting this year without Greg? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It is a huge loss. I mean, not just from the standpoint of great race car driver, but he was a great person. I really liked Greg. I really admired him and I thought he was a true talent. I think there was a guy who was going to thrill a lot of fans for a lot of years and it is a huge loss - what can you say - I mean, that hasn't been said. We are all going to miss that.

Q. Over the past several years you have been very, very strong on the ovals, almost I would say dominating, especially in the race. Are you doing anything differently this year to bring up your level to the same kind of performance on the road courses? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, that is what we are hoping. We know we have really been looking there. I think it has been more in our basic setup of things and the race car itself a little bit, the Swift was not the most friendliest car on the road course. But having said that, we found out that, well, the Lola, you know, it wasn't either. I think we were coming to the conclusion is there were a lot of things we were doing in our setup that wasn't right. I think we have made some pretty big gains the last couple of tests. I know Christian made some gains even just this week down at Homestead, so we feel like we are on to a lot of basic things that hopefully will help us on the road courses. I think we have been -- we are getting a little bit more competitive and getting more competitive on the permanent road courses, like Elkart Lake, for instance, we have been very good there, and a couple of other places. But it is the street circuits, as well, that we lost a little bit of hand on and that is where we are really concentrating hard on and trying to be more competitive because those have been -- there is some tracks that haven't been competitive where I used to be really dominant at. We just -- we have to try to learn what the other guys are doing and try to get to that point again. We feel like we are on to a few things that could get us there.

Q. I don't think I saw you test at Nazareth yet this year. Is that why you have bypassed that oval in saving the days for road course testing? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: That is what we did. They used last three days that we had and they went down to Homestead road course and ran Christian down there to hopefully learn some more things and they did. It was pretty worthwhile. We feel like on the ovals hopefully we will be competitive at Nazareth. We feel like -- we did run at Phoenix, I ran and Christian ran at Phoenix and we felt like we had a pretty good race car there which is a small oval which is similar to Nazareth. So we feel like we need to put more concentration on the road course and that is where we have been pushing.

Q. Were you thinking of Toronto when you were just talking now about street circuits? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: That is one of them, yeah. I feel like I haven't been as competitive as I used to be there. I think I finished on the podium, not last year, but the year before, but not as strong as we used to be. We got to try to get back to those dominant ways. We have just lost a little bit of that side of it. I think it has to do with the way the cars have evolved and stuff and with the rules and stuff and I think we have -- we found some of the problems and we feel like we are on to -- I mean, answers to the problem.

Q. The last couple of years you have really attacked fitness, it seems to me as an area where you can gain something. Is there anything similar with yourself as opposed to the car this year or that you were talking earlier about focus? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't know. I just -- I am not doing a whole lot different there. I am just trying to attack -- trying to see where I made mistakes and trying not to make those same mistakes. Last year I made way more mistaken takes than I would have liked. I just got to cut those out. I believe if I do, and if the team does as well, I think together we will win this Championship if we run a mistake-free year, I believe.

Q. Have you kind of reviewed those mistakes or how do you come to grips with them? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, I definitely review them and some of them -- you call them mistakes, but I probably would do them again if I had the same circumstance, so you have got to be careful. But there are some that were dumb and I shouldn't have done. So you have to dissect each and every incident.

Q. Did you do that in the off-season or are you thinking back to as the season went on? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I did it even during the season. And I am not sure -- I wouldn't say I made the same mistakes. They may have appeared, but it was different reasons for every one. I think my biggest blunder of the year to me was the one at Vancouver, just that could never happen again.

Q. It was a lousy day? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: But you don't do that before you get the green flag.

Q. (inaudible) last four years seems like you have always changed something that you had a big questionmark going into the season, whether it was going to the Swift moving to Firestones, do you think this is your best shot in the last four years to win the Championship? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I really do. We have changed to a Lola, but I think that it is more of a proven deal. The Ford engine has just been terrific through all the testing and the packaging of the whole engine and being on -- being a year with Firestone now, we feel like that helps us a lot going into this year as well. So we feel are -- we are quietly very confident.

Q. The longer your career lasts, do the offseasons seem to get shorter or longer? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Long -- there is a lot of work in the offseasons. I think -- probably shorter because, you know, as these years have gone on, they become busier and busier and because of that next thing, you know, you are back at it again.

Q. Are you surprised that the Forsythe team is having as much problem with the Swift as they are having or appear to be having? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No, sort of predicted that.

        Q.  And why?
        MICHAEL ANDRETTI:  Because I feel that our team basically made that
car work.  More our team than anything.

Q. Can you express in words what it is that you get out of driving a race car? You have seen guys get hurt. What is it that you get out of like driving a race car that makes you want to go back into it besides the paycheck? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't know. I think one thing is the competitive side of it. It drives you like crazy. The other thing that makes this game fun and different than most is the technology, I think it is always exciting to see the new things coming along and anticipating what they are going to be like and hopefully finding something that the other guy doesn't have which will be an advantage. I think that is the thing that is a lot of fun about our sport.

Q. Like the last couple of years though, you know, who knows how many of your mistakes last year were mistakes by you or mistakes where you were trying to make up for maybe a lacking in, like I said, up here on the road course and things like that, is that what people don't understand sometimes about your sport? MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No question about it. And that is an easy trap to get into even though you have -- I have been in this sport forever, you start questioning is like: Am I trying hard enough; am I doing it as hard enough; then you do start pushing it harder and then you do start making more mistakes because of that to try to -- and it doesn't matter if you are the greatest driver in the world, if you don't have the right combination, you are not going to get the result. I think that is true. That did drive me to a lot of mistakes.

Q. When was it when you came to the realization, like you said, a lot of people critiqued you in the past, if anything, you know, maybe sometimes you have driven too hard, too long, too quick, whatever, but I am wondering when did you come to that realization that patience pace or -- you can't be total -- MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Probably in the 1996 season I believe because there was a year that I won five races but I probably shouldn't have won one, but I did it because I was patient about it. I think I learned quite a bit -- quite a few things there. I'd call that more of a Rahal type year. T.E. McHALE: Michael, thanks for spending some time with us. Michael, thanks again for being with us. Best of luck in Homestead and through the rest of the FedEx Championship Series Season. MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Thanks a lot. Looking forward to seeing everybody out on the circuit. Thank you.

-CART-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Rick Mears , Greg Moore , Al Unser