CHAMPCAR/CART: This Week In Ford Racing

This Week in Ford Racing August 17, 1999 FedEx Championship Series Michael Andretti and the Newman-Haas Racing team look to ride past one-mile oval successes as they prepare for the inaugural race at the new Chicago Motor ...

This Week in Ford Racing August 17, 1999

FedEx Championship Series

Michael Andretti and the Newman-Haas Racing team look to ride past one-mile oval successes as they prepare for the inaugural race at the new Chicago Motor Speedway.

Andretti, who's Newman-Haas team is headquartered just 30 minutes outside Chicago doesn't see racing at the team's home track much of an advantage for him, but he does see it as a motivator for his Kmart/Texaco Havoline crew.

Andretti also shared his thoughts on the expanding CART schedule. He believes in the importance of seeking out large metropolitan cities for expansion, but doesn't feel that they should come at the expense of races such as Elkhart Lake and Mid-Ohio. Races he refers to as, "The backbone of the series."

He also discussed the hectic schedule that the drivers and their teams are in the midst of, which has them racing ten times over the past thirteen weeks, the surprises of the season at its three-quarter point and the fight for the Championship.

IS THERE ANY KIND OF HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE FOR YOU RACING AT CHICAGO? OR, IS THERE ANY KIND OF SPECIAL FEELING FOR YOU GUYS WITH THE RACE BEING SO CLOSE TO THE NEWMAN-HAAS SHOP IN LINCOLNSHIRE, ILL.? "Yes there is. It's the home race for the team and everyone has been getting real pumped up for it. The Chicago race is important for us because the team is only 30 to 40 minutes away from the track. Is that an advantage for our team? No. I wish I could say that it was. It's nice to do well in your own backyard. I have that feeling in Nazareth. The team will have that feeling because their family and friends can come to the race and they get to perform in front of them. The party after the Chicago race will be very big. I'm hoping it will be big anyway. That would mean we finished strong. It will be great to race in Chicago because it is such a huge market. The race is so close to downtown that there is a potential to have a huge crowd. This will be the closest race for our fans in Indy now and it's easily within driving distance. We get some of our highest TV ratings in the Indianapolis area despite the fact that we don't race there anymore. I hope the race will be a huge success. I hope we get some new fans in the Chicago area also."

NO ONE HAS BEEN AROUND THE CHICAGO TRACK AT SPEED YET. WHAT KIND OF RACING CAN THE FANS EXPECT TO SEE? "Very similar to Milwaukee I think. It looks like the track layout is going to make it possible to do a lot of passing."

YOU HAVE HAD A LOT OF SUCCESS ON THE ONE-MILE OVALS. YOU HAVE POSTED FIVE WINS AT MILWAUKEE AND TWO AT NAZARETH ON THE SERIES' OTHER ONE-MILE OVALS. WHAT IS IT ABOUT THESE TRACKS THAT SEEM TO SUIT YOUR DRIVING STYLE? "They are fun to drive, especially if your car is working right in traffic. I think that is the key. Knowing the feel of the car and what it needs to make it better is key. That's one area where experience helps. I sort of know what I need, and it's not necessarily the fastest car, but a comfortable car, and that is what I work toward."

RACING WITH THE SUPERSPEEDWAY WINGS ON THE SMALL OVALS HAS BEEN AN ISSUE AT EVERY TRACK WE HAVE VISITED THIS YEAR. DO YOU THINK IT IS GOING TO BE AN ISSUE AT CHICAGO AND WHY? "Again, I think it will be much like Milwaukee. I think it was good racing in Milwaukee. The racing was fine in Milwaukee. You can spin and not hit the wall, and that is only because we are going through the corner just that much slower because of the wings. P.J. (Jones) spun twice and didn't hit anything at Milwaukee, so from that perspective, I'd say (the wings) are achieving their goal. I am for it."

WHO DO YOU SEE AS YOUR CHIEF COMPETITION GOING INTO CHICAGO? "Paul (Tracy) and Dario are running very well. The Ganassi team. I think there are a lot of people that are going to be tough."

THERE HAS BEEN SOME TALK THAT CHAMP CARS SHOULD NOT BE RACING ON THE ONE-MILE OVALS BUT SHOULD RATHER FOCUS ON THE ROAD COURSES AND SUPERSPEEDWAYS. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS? "Well, I think the diversity of the tracks in this series is one of its strong points. I think we have a good balance right now. I wouldn't change it. Personally, I would say we need to get rid of the high-speed ovals because they are the really dangerous ones. We have enough of those right now. Two is plenty. We only have three one-mile ovals we race on, Milwaukee, Nazareth and Chicago, and then we have the ovals that are a little larger than one-mile such as St. Louis and Homestead. I think we have a good balance."

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR CART TO CONTINUE TO EXPAND INTO LARGE METROPOLITAN MARKETS SUCH AS CHICAGO AND, IF SO, SHOULD IT BE DONE AT THE EXPENSE OF SMALLER MARKETS? "CART needs to be very careful not to lose any more races like Cleveland. Cleveland is such a great race and such a well supported race all around, from the city, down to the fans, and we cannot give up any more of those races. We cannot give up Mid-Ohio, and the Elkhart Lakes of the series they are the backbone of the series. So, having said that, we need to have a balance. We need to bring our show to downtown areas but we cannot get rid of the Mid-Ohio-type tracks because these are really the ones that made the series what it is and the fans show very good support."

LOOKING AT THE CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLE, YOU ARE SITTING IN THIRD, 28 POINTS BEHIND FRANCHITTI. WE ARE COMING DOWN TO THE HOME STRETCH OF THE 1999 SEASON, AND STRANGELY ENOUGH, WHEN PEOPLE TALK ABOUT THE CHAMPIONSHIP FIGHT, THEY DON'T SEEM TO NOTICE YOU SITTING IN THIRD PLACE PERCHED TO POUNCE ON THE TOP TWO GUYS IF THE OPPORTUNITY ARISES. HOW DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL? "That's fine. I am happy with that role. Hopefully we can do that. I think we have the team and the combination right now. The Ford engine is really coming on strong and it has gotten much better to drive on the road courses. That, along with the Firestone tires, which we now understand a lot better than we did, puts us in a great position. I feel strong now. We don't have a weak track coming up."

LOOKING BACK AT THE PREVIOUS 14 RACES, WHAT HAS BEEN, FROM YOUR POINT OF VIEW, THE BIGGEST SURPRISE OF THE 1999 SEASON? "That no one has really been able to grab hold of the Championship yet. We thought Juan (Montoya) was going to grab a hold of it and go and then he had his problems. Then Dario had his problems, and I had mine. So, it is one of those things where the team that can finish the rest of the races is going to be the one that wins the Championship."

YOU ARE ONE OF THE ELDER STATESMAN OF THE SERIES. WHAT CONTINUES TO MOTIVATE YOU? ESPECIALLY THIS SEASON THAT SEES THE SERIES NEARING THE END OF A STRETCH OF TEN RACES IN THIRTEEN WEEKS . . . "It's tough. To keep yourself up is not easy. Being in the Championship fight helps though. I just have the same old goal I have always had, and that's winning races. Every time I get to a race it's another chance to win, and that keeps me going. But, I tell you, after Laguna Seca I am going to be beat. I don't have any time to rest. After Chicago I go to Sebring to test for five days and on top of that, I have a baby coming too!"

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti