CHAMPCAR/CART: Michael Andretti Poised for 2000 Championship

Michael Andretti, CART's winningest active driver, believes this is his best shot to win a CART championship in the past five years. The pieces of the puzzle, from the car package to the team, seem to be in place for the 37 year-old American to...

Michael Andretti, CART's winningest active driver, believes this is his best shot to win a CART championship in the past five years. The pieces of the puzzle, from the car package to the team, seem to be in place for the 37 year-old American to claim his second CART championship since 1991.

Andretti also discussed his key competitors in 2000, what the Handford device means to competition, this weeks Phoenix test with the Handford device, and how the new Ford-Cosworth XF engine compares to it's predecessors.

HOW HAS THE TESTING BEEN PROCEEDING? "The car has been really good. We have been right there with the quickest time everywhere we have been, so it's encouraging. I am looking forward to this year."

THIS WAS THE FIRST CHANCE YOU HAVE HAD TO TEST THE HIGH-DOWNFORCE HANDFORD DEVICE, WHAT IS YOUR IMPRESSION? "It seems to be pretty good. The cornering speeds have gone up, which is a negative, and it actually has not slowed us down on the straightaway to the degree that we had thought it would but, it is much better than having the very high-downforce that we use to have. I really didn't mind the low-downforce rules we had last year, but I guess a lot of the other guys complained about it."

DO YOU THINK THE WING CHANGE IS GOING TO BE GOOD FOR RACING? "I think the racing was fine last year, actually. The only problem we had last year was at Nazareth and that was more because of the racetrack. I thought there was quite a bit of passing at the other racetrack we ran the wing on. I don't think it is going to matter anyway. The racing is going to be good no matter what."

IS THE LOLA AS GOOD AS ADVERTISED? "I think so. I don't think it has a huge advantage over the Reynard, but I think it seems to be good. Our team is good at making the car go fast and I believe if we had a Reynard we would be making that go fast as well."

HOW DOES THE LOLA DIFFER FROM THE SWIFT YOU RAN LAST YEAR? "The Swift bit of a problem with the center-pressure of the car. We fought that all year. It affected us most on the road courses last year because the ride height changes much more which moves the center-pressure around so we were fighting that. The Lola seems to be much better in that regard."

YOU HAVE BEEN ONE OF THE MAIN DEVELOPMENT GUYS FOR FORD SINCE 1992 AND HAVE BEEN PART OF THE XB, XD, AND NOW THE XF ENGINE PROGRAM. CAN YOU COMPARE THE XF, AT THIS EARLY STAGE TO ITS TWO PREDECESSORS. . . "The XB was a very powerful engine, but it had some problems with reliability early on which hurt us. The XD, when it first came out, had similar problems. It was a little down on horsepower too, but the guys at Cosworth did a great job developing it the four years we used it. By last year, it probably had more horsepower than any other engine out there. The XF right off the bat is very reliable and has a ton of horsepower. I feel like the XF is the best engine that Ford and Cosworth have ever produced."

IS IT PERHAPS THE BEST ENGINE ON THE GRID? "Yes, I think it is. If you add up everything - the revs that we are pulling now, the horsepower we are pulling now, the size of the engine, the weight of the engine - we have the best engine out there."

LATE LAST YEAR THE TEAM DECIDED TO SWITCH FROM GOODYEAR TIRES TO FIRESTONE. THIS YEAR, ALTHOUGH YOU DID CHANGE CHASSIS, IT WAS A DECISION MADE LATE LAST SEASON. HOW MUCH AHEAD OF THE PROGRAM ARE YOU THIS YEAR COMPARED TO LAST YEAR? "Well the late tire change hurt us a lot last year. We were on a majorly steep learning curve and it put us behind. We were starting to get a hold of it by seasons end if you look at our results on the road courses at the end of the year, but we definitely gave away some competitive races early on."

ASSESS YOUR ODDS AT WINNING THE 2000 CART CHAMPIONSHIP? "I don't think there is anyone else who has better odds of winning the championship than we have. We are right there with the best if them."

IF YOU HAD TO TAKE A LOOK AT YOUR COMPETITION NEXT SEASON, YOU HAVE GANASSI SWITCHING TO TOYOTA, TEAM KOOL GREEN LOOSING DON HALLIDAY, AND NUMEROUS OTHER CHANGES. WHAT TEAMS DO YOU THINK ARE IN THE BEST SHAPE TO CHALLENGE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "I believe the Kool team will be the team to beat. They didn't change a whole lot, they lost Don Halliday, but they still have all the notes. They know where they are at. They made the fewest changes during the off-season and at the end of the 1999 season, I feel they were the toughest team out there. If we can beat them, I believe we will win the championship."

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST THING THAT NEWMAN-HAAS HAS DONE TO IMPROVE THE TEAM FOR 2000? "We didn't make a whole lot of moves. We lost Ed Nathman so now John Tzouanakis is our team manager. He was our assistant team manager last year. That was probably the biggest change. Everything else is status quo. But that is what you want. You don't want change. Our team is a very tight group."

MANY ARE SAYING THIS IS YOUR BEST CHANCE TO WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP IN THE LAST FIVE YEARS. DO YOU AGREE? "I have to agree with that. The Swift program never turned out the way we wanted it to and when you factor in the Goodyears it never panned out for us. I would say that with the package we have now (Ford/Lola/Firestone) that this it is our best shot. I feel very excited about the season. We just need to focus on finishing every race, take the points when they are given to us, and be smart about it."

-Ford Racing-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti