CHAMPCAR/CART: Michael Andretti Homestead Preview

CART FedEx Championship Series Michael Andretti, driver of the K-Mart/Texaco/Havoline Ford-Cosworth has amassed 37 victories in his 16-year Champ Car career and looks to bring his season opening success back to Miami for the third consecutive...

CART FedEx Championship Series

Michael Andretti, driver of the K-Mart/Texaco/Havoline Ford-Cosworth has amassed 37 victories in his 16-year Champ Car career and looks to bring his season opening success back to Miami for the third consecutive year to notch victory number 38.

Should Michael find his way to victory lane again in 1999 he will make CART history by becoming the first driver to win three consecutive season-openers.

Andretti talked about the recent switch to Firestone tires and how that has renewed the enthusiasm in the entire Newman/Haas team. New tires coupled with a proven and stout Ford-Cosworth powerplant and the promising Swift chassis give Andretti the tools he needs to be a front runner for the 1999 FedEx Championship Series crown.

HOW HAS THE TRANSITION FROM FIRESTONE TIRES TO GOODYEAR TIRES GONE? It's gone incredibly good, surprisingly actually. We figured that there would be a much steeper learning curve than there has been. We put the tires on and in the first three laps of our initial run in Homestead we were about four-tenths of a second quicker than we were before. So, we were quite happy."

CAN YOU EVALUATE YOUR SUCCESS LAST YEAR AND HOW IT SETS YOU UP FOR THIS YEAR? "Last year had the potential to be a very good season. But, it turned out to be just one of those years. We had all kinds of things go wrong last year. Some were our fault and some were out of our control. It was just one of those years where nothing seemed to click. We won the first race and probably should have won the next four or five but we had something go wrong. In Motegi we ran out of gas. We blew a tire in Long Beach, crashed in Nazareth and Milwaukee. It was that sort of year. But at least we were competitive. We know we have a good car and a good engine and now we feel that we are on equal ground with the tires. We feel real good going into the season."

WHEN THINGS START GOING WRONG IS THE TEMPTATION THERE TO PRESS? "It wears on you, but fortunately I have been in that position many times. I really didn't find myself doing anything different or driving any different because I know how this game is and how it can turn around on you and start going your way. It's frustrating and it works on your insides a bit, but from a driving standpoint I don't think I did anything differently."

WHEN YOU LOOK AT THIS SEASON AND THE CHANGE YOU MADE TO THE FIRESTONE TIRES DOES IT PUT YOU IN A MORE POSITIVE MOOD MENTALLY? "It's incredible the way the whole team has turned around. Not just for me but the entire team as well. We feel like we are on equal ground like everyone else and we feel like we can beat anybody else. So, mentally it was a real positive and a big boost."

HOW DIFFICULT WAS IT TO FINALLY HAVE TO MAKE THE SWITCH TO FIRESTONE GIVEN YOUR PAST HISTORY WITH GOODYEAR? "It was a very difficult decision to make. They have been great supporters over the years and they are a company who is going to get it, there is no question in my mind. Eventually they are going to get it. But right now, we have to look out for ourselves and our sponsors. At this time it is probably going to take up to ten races for them to catch up and we, at this point, could not give that away."

EVERYONE SEEMS TO BE HAVING TROUBLE WITH THE 1999 SWIFT WITH THE EXCEPTION OF NEWMAN/HAAS. WHY IS THAT? "I think it's pretty obvious. It just comes down to setup. We have been working with it longer and that's got to be the reason. I don't understand what the problem is with the other guys. I really believe that the Swift is the best car out there and we will just have to show it on Sunday and if we do I bet they will all change their minds on it."

CAN YOU TALK A BIT ABOUT THE TREMENDOUS LEVEL OF COMPETITION YOU WILL BE FACING THIS YEAR? "From a competitors standpoint it's tough. We are just grappling for every little thing and it makes it very tough. But, it's great for the series and great for the fans. What's amazing is that for open-wheel racing to be that close is amazing. It's one thing to have fenders and run that close but for us to run wheel-to-wheel and sometimes even touching is pretty incredible. I think we put on a good show."

HAS COSWORTH ADDRESSED THE RELIABILITY ISSUES THEY HAD AT SPRING TRAINING?  
"Yes.  They knew what the problem was there but there was nothing they
could do about it.  It was basically a bad batch of valve springs."

THIS WEEKEND YOU ARE SHARING THE TRACK WITH THE CRAFTSMAN TRUCK SERIES. IS THERE ANY CONCERN WITH THE MIXING OF THE RUBBER ON THE TRACK? "A little bit, but it's the same for everybody. I just hope they don't run the trucks before they qualify because it is a bit unfair for the guys who go our first. We run into that at every race track and sometimes it is a problem and sometimes it isn't."

WHEN YOU LOOK AT THIS SEASON WHAT ARE THE KEYS TO YOUR TEAM CATCHING GANASSI? "There is no magic to what they do. It's just detail. I give a lot of credit to Tom Anderson who does a fantastic job organizing that team and running it. We have to make sure every little thing is taken care of. It was those type of things that put us out of a few races last year. That's what we have to do to beat them."

IN NASCAR MANY TEAMS SAY IT IS DIFFICULT TO KEEP UP WITH WHAT JEFF GORDON AND THE HENDRICK TEAM DOES. IS THE ANALOGY SIMILAR AT ALL IN CART? "Not really because I know we can beat them. Many times last year we had them beat but they ended up winning because of what I just said. It comes down to that detail. A lot of times we actually beat ourselves. It was not like we were dominated."

AS THE TECHNOLOGY INCREASES THE LAP TIMES GO DOWN AND THE SPEEDS GO UP. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON SOME OF THE STEPS BEING TAKEN TO SLOW THE CARS DOWN? "I think there have been huge steps taken to slow the cars down. Especially on the small ovals. I think what you will see when we get to places like Nazareth, Milwaukee and the new Chicago track is that our times are going to be two seconds slower than what they might have been without the new rules. I think it is very good that they are doing it. It's going to bring the driver back into it but make it safer as well. You may see more crashes and that may be strange to say, but the crashes are not going to be as serious because your speeds are going to be down 20 mph. I think CART is going about it the right way. This is a problem that is going to plague us until the end of time. It's always been a game. The sanctioning body slows them down and our engineers find a way to make them go quicker."

A LOT OF TALK HAS BEEN ABOUT THE FIRESTONE TIRES AND THE SWIFT CHASSIS, BUT WHAT ABOUT AN ENGINE THAT IS IN IT'S FOURTH YEAR WITHOUT REDEVELOPEMENT. CAN THE FORD-COSWORTH PRODUCE ENOUGH POWER AGAINST THE OTHER COMPANIES THAT HAVE PRODUCED NEW POWERPLANTS FOR THIS YEAR? "I believe so. What they have done with this engine has been incredible. Each year they give the engine more power and make it more reliable and I think we have the best engine out there."

DO YOU SEE A CIRCULAR PATTERN DEVELOPING WHERE YOU HAVE DRIVERS GOING TO FORMULA ONE FOR A FEW YEARS AND THEN BACK TO CART AS OPPOSED TO THE PERCEPTION THAT CART IS LOSING ITS CHAMPIONS TO FORMULA ONE WHICH CREATES A WRONG IMPRESSION? "I don't see that. Alex's (Zanardi) desire was to always do Formula One. He lives over there. He is a European at heart and a Formula One driver at heart. It's what he always wanted to do. The same thing with Jacques (Villeneuve). He lived in Monte Carlo and that's where he wanted to be. I would be very surprised if the champion this year went to Formula One next year. It is just the way it worked out those two years. It was the same with me, my operation was to do F1 and unfortunately it did not work out for me. I think every situation is different. Everyone has their own reason and it's not a set pattern."

DO YOU THINK THAT THERE ARE GUYS IN PLACE TO REPLACE THE LIKES OF ZANARDI? "I believe waiting in the wind are a few other guys. You have (Dario) Franchitti, (Greg) Moore, and Bryan Herta who I think is on the verge of hitting it big. I really don't think that is going to be a problem for us."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Bryan Herta , Tom Anderson