CHAMPCAR/CART: Michael Andretti interview transcript, part II

Michael Andretti, part II You and I had talked after the race on Sunday, you said that you had a great time being able to race in Toronto because you didn't have to worry about fuel. The last caution or the last pit stops are always governed...

Michael Andretti, part II

You and I had talked after the race on Sunday, you said that you had a great time being able to race in Toronto because you didn't have to worry about fuel. The last caution or the last pit stops are always governed by whether you have to conserve to finish, but there is no more fuel shortage anymore. Any reason to have fuel limits on the cars at this point? Should you be given almost an unlimited supply and let you race...

Michael Andretti: That's normally not the problem. The problem is like you say like if yellow would have come out earlier than that, that would have been right at the edge, we might have all had to conserve to get there that one last yellow. My thing is I think, you know, they need to come up with a formula that, I don't know, that takes all that side of it out of it, like maybe everybody has to pit on the same lap or something like that. I think that would make that better because, you know, you could run flat out the whole race knowing that everybody has got to get to that place and everybody has got to pit at the same time and there is going to be no more having to stretch your stop longer than the other guys because while you are on the track and they are getting -- they're going out on cold tire you can make up four, five seconds; then that's how you pass. So guys purposely don't race real hard, they just race to conserve full to get those extra couple of laps. Which I don't think is good. I don't think that's good racing.

I think if everybody is pitting at the same time then you don't have that advantage, then it comes down to the driver and the car that is working the best. Plus the pit crew comes into it even more because you know, it is not because a guy -- a guy's not passing in the pits because he went further. He is doing it because his pitstop was quicker, if you understand what I mean.

There's some talk maybe CART moving to the road course in Fontana; any feelings on that?

Michael Andretti: That road course will never work, no way. That's an impossible thing, no way.

I'd like you to think about this question as not Michael Andretti the veteran Champ Car driver with all the wins and the great spectacular win, I want you to think as Michael Andretti, the businessman who is also involved in business with himself and with his family. Looking at the turbulence in the CART office this year, the things that have been going on, and the turbulence with races being cancelled; there's no TV package right now; the turbulence with all the engine manufacturers that have been resolved just recently, you know, when you are done driving, you are not going to walk away from racing. I am sure you'd like to have a team of your own and I am sure you'd like to know about the CART Series being around. How comfortable are you feeling right now with the way things are playing out and not only as a driver, yes, but as a businessman and somebody who is concerned about the future of this series and concerned about being a possible team owner yourself in the very near future?

Michael Andretti: Well, you are always concerned about it. But you got to have faith in the leader. At this moment I still have faith in Joe Heitzler. I think, no, there's not a TV thing, but I think there's going to be one. I think -- I know he is working very hard on it, you know, this engine thing hopefully is all worked out and I am hoping he is getting through the problems. Unfortunately he can't tell us all because it's a public company, he can't tell us everything he is doing. But I think he is getting closer to getting everything, hopefully all those issues fixed so he can start just concentrating on making our series better. So we got to give him that. He came in only recently and so he came into a lot of problems that he has got to first try to iron out. I think we still got to give him time to get it worked out and hopefully by the end of this year he will have those worked out and have a plan in place to put CART where it needs to be. It needs to be back in the forefront of auto racing in the United States because it is an awesome series; we have an awesome thing to sell here and I am hoping he can do that. If he fails to do that, then we got some problems. But at the moment, I still have faith in Joe.

You talk to the other drivers, I am sure there has been conversations about this situation. Without saying specifically as a representative for the drivers, do they feel the same way you are or are there jokes between the two of you that, hey, we might all be driving just ovals next year?

Michael Andretti: Not yet. I think there are concerns for sure, but I think on a whole the drivers still have confidence in Joe, and we have met with Joe and he's said some very good things. And unfortunately he can't tell us everything he is doing, but I think he is leading on to some really good stuff.

So we are all hoping that that is going to work out and I think most of us as a whole we still have the confidence that it is going to be okay.

In light of what happened at Texas and I know your thoughts on Michigan, you explained your thoughts coming back to Michigan, if you can look ahead for a minute to the German track, another big two-mile oval that you are going to be racing on later this summer. Have you had a chance to test on it and do you have some of the same concerns about that track as well?

Michael Andretti: No, because we know the banking is going to be a lot less and that's the biggest thing. We need -- as a series we need tracks with low banking because the high banking just -- it just doesn't work for our type of car. There's a lot less banking there and I talked with guys like Bryan Herta and Bryan said he might even be down-shifting there in a couple of corners which is great. I mean, that's what I think we need to be doing, and so I think it is going to be a positive. I think it is going to be a good event. Bryan thinks it is going to be a good track, and so I don't have those same concerns for there.

I am wondering over the years as you become, in essence, the senior member of the group out there on the track, it seems like you have gotten a little more laid back, you are a little more mellow than you used to be. Do you feel that it is something you have worked at or is that something that is coming naturally?

Michael Andretti: I think it is naturally. I think it is experience. I think the -- you are younger, you still have a lot of unknowns and you are just uptight about it and you don't know what to expect. And now that I am a little older, a little more experienced, I just feel more comfortable that I have an idea of what I am up against so I am more calm about it, I guess, because I have a pretty good idea what to expect.

It comes across both to the media and to people at the track very well as well. I have heard more than one comment about that with you. Looking ahead to the future, how many more years do you think you are going to be racing?

Michael Andretti: Who knows. At the moment I have another two years left on my contact and that puts me at 40 years old and actually Barry has an option of taking another two after that. We have just got to play it by ear. At the moment I am still feeling good. I am in the best shape of my life, and I am still running halfway competitive, so as long as I feel like I can do that and still have the drive to want to do it, I will be doing it. But I don't know how long it will be going on. It could all of a sudden overnight, boom, it just isn't there. But at the moment I don't see it. I still feel good. I still feel like I can go for a long time. We will just have to wait and see.

You are still having a lot of fun, I guess?

Michael Andretti: Yeah, it is still fun. It's a lot more hard work than it ever used to be, and you work a lot harder for a lot less, but when you do get the result though it does definitely feel good.

Earlier this year in another teleconference you had talked about taking 100 horsepower out of the engines as a way to slow the cars down. I am wondering if that was still a possibility, if it was still an issue; still thought that was a way to --

Michael Andretti: I think they need to take 200 horsepower out of them, be honest with you because the manufacturers will get another 100 back just by development in probably a year or so. They need to make a big move.

I think their next engine formula needs to be that way and my feeling is I think it needs to go more towards where the IRL engines are to get the horse power down in that range and hopefully and come up with an engine spec that is similar to that, that will make it a lot easier for CART teams to go and do Indianapolis as well; make it more cost effective.

A question that I have had often: Do you think that racing is -- the competition between the drivers, do you think racing would be better if the cars were slower and give the control of the cars back to the drivers?

Michael Andretti: Absolutely. You can't tell the difference between 200 and 250 out at Michigan, for instance. Fans can't tell the difference. It is only a number. They come to watch competition. They come to watch the passing, the side-by-side racing. That's what it's about. So to answer your question, it is that; it is not the speed.

You talked a little bit about the schedule being really tough, especially for NASCAR, and your schedules here and getting tougher and tougher. You also talked about CART trying to get back in the forefront of racing in the U.S.. What is your opinion on the push for more and more foreign venues - not only has the travel got to be crazy for you guys, but so many of the races back to the states are either going to be taped delayed or in the middle of the night or something crazy. Seems like you are conflicting with what we are trying to do here....

Michael Andretti: No, I don't agree with you. I think that you got to look at CART, you got to look at the support that CART has gotten over the years of; where it's grown. It's grown hugely internationally, and I think it's very important for us to get races over in Europe. We have millions of fans in Europe. I think it is important for us to get over there and have a show for them.

But I think we also have got to get -- move our events over here. I think what has kept CART alive since the CART and IRL split has been the international influence. We cannot turn our eye on that. We have got to still continue to cultivate; along with though getting it nationally stronger.

How does the travel affect you? You, as the drivers, going over to Germany, is that something you are looking forward to or dreading?

Michael Andretti: It's a hassle, no question about it, but, hey, that's life. Life is sometimes a hassle. But I think it's good for us to be there. I think those fans over there are going to be in culture shock. They are going to be over there, they are going to be at a race and be able to see the whole racetrack. They are going to be at a race, they are going to be actually get a chance to get close to the drivers, to actually get close to the race cars. That's something that those fans have never experienced. I think it is going to be a real shock for them and it is going to be a pleasurable shock for them and I think that is only going to make CART stronger.

Can you tell me how you are coming along with the development of the special head rest that you were trying out in your car for safety?

Michael Andretti: The HANS device you mean?

I thought you were also working on something actually to do with the car.

Michael Andretti: No. I don't think so. I think the rules mandate what we do with the padding all around the cockpit and our head and everything. Then we also have to wear the HANS device which I think is a great thing on the ovals. No, we really -- I don't really understand the question.

Will you be wearing the HANS device on road courses?

Michael Andretti: At the moment I am not been able to make it work for me on the road courses still restricts my breathing a lot. So we are still working to try to get it that way. It is going to be a difficult thing I think for all the drivers to be able to wear it.

This being Team Motorola's rookie season, are you satisfied with how everything has gone through this point in the season and are you poised to make a run at the Championship?

Michael Andretti: I am excited that the way this team came together. We have a lot of really good people in this team; people that have won a lot of races; that have experienced success, and I felt it right away when I did my very first test with these guys. And these guys want to win and they know how to win. So coming into the first race we felt -- I felt and I know they felt the same way that we are going for the Championship. This is not just a rookie team. This is a team put together of a lot of experience. I think we all felt that we could win right away. The only disappointing thing is it took us this long to win. I think we could have won a few more races earlier in the year that didn't go together. So to answer your second -- first part was how satisfied I am with the season? Halfway satisfied. I think it could have been a little better, but now after last weekend I feel a little better that we finally broke the ice and won a race and I am hoping that that will just get us on a roll. But I think this team is very much capable of winning it.

You have had the opportunity to drive the Monteal track in that one year that you drove Formula 1. How do you think that track will be for the Champ Cars?

Michael Andretti: Good.  I think it is going to be a good track.  I
really like that track.  I drove there in Formula I.  I drove in Atlantics.
It is a fun track.  I understand -- I think they are going to change it a
little bit.  I am not sure it is going to be the exact track or is it   ---

There's talk of maybe shorting the hairpins..

Michael Andretti: But either way, whether they change it or not, I think the basics of the track is going to be really good for our cars.

T.E. McHale: With that we will wrap it up for the afternoon. We would like to thank you, Michael Andretti, for taking the time to join us. Best of luck in the rest of the FedEx Championship Series Season.

Michael Andretti: Thanks very much.

part I

-CART-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Bryan Herta