IRL: AGR's winning environment

IRL: AGR's winning environment

It's been a whirlwind nine days for Dan Wheldon, winner of the 89th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race on May 29th. "It's still not 100 percent sunk in yet but I'm so proud of what I've done," the Briton declared. "Indy is the best, most satisfying race...

It's been a whirlwind nine days for Dan Wheldon, winner of the 89th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race on May 29th. "It's still not 100 percent sunk in yet but I'm so proud of what I've done," the Briton declared. "Indy is the best, most satisfying race in the world to win and this has been a amazing week and a bit."

Dan Wheldon.
Photo by Michael C. Johnson.
Just this morning Wheldon took the time to speak with his three teammates - Dario Franchitti, Bryan Herta and Tony Kanaan - to "thank them for making me the driver I am," he confessed. "This is BS; these are just the facts. This is very, very special at Andretti Green Racing," Wheldon proclaimed. "Can you imagine three teammates in any series who get along like this?"

Wheldon has more than three experienced, devilish teammates on his side. He has Michael Andretti, who has won just about every race possible and now owns title to the Indy 500. "It's nice to have Michael as a mentor but you have to remember there are two sides to Michael Andretti. He's my friend and my boss and he differentiates the two really well. To have someone like him is comforting; he's given us all a very comforting environment."

Wheldon still contends his one problem at Indy was qualifying. "I wish I did start better" at Indianapolis, where he had the 16th grid spot. I was so determined to win this race. The early stints moving up helped at the end and it's been such a lot of fun this year. I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did," he laughed.

Team co-owner Michael Andretti chimed in, "All four of our drivers have run well and made their mark, too. Bryan's got two poles, Dario's had the best car at several races and Tony's always up there all the time," Andretti grinned. "Dan just seems to get the breaks at the moment but they are all doing a good job.

"Dan's at the top of his game right now. He's taken his teammates' experience level to heart and that just makes him tough to beat," Andretti contended. "Our team has such a great foundation. We had just some areas to build on and move up" when Andretti, Kim Green and Kevin Savoree started AGR back in 2002 and moved to the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series in earnest together with engine maker Honda in 2003.

"The relationship these four guys have is truly good; they really do get along. And with no testing and limited practice time you need good information. We gather their data and keep it going," Andretti explained. "You've got to be a team player at Andretti Green Racing. Everybody's into it and that's why it works."

Andretti is "still amazed" by Wheldon's win because "Indy has been such a tough place for me over the years. That sip of milk was so sweet," he grinned. "Please recall that in every part of the race our cars were up front and yeah, it was great."

Conversation about Indianapolis inevitably turns to the accomplishments of rookie Danica Patrick. Neither Wheldon nor Andretti begrudge her the success she's had, starting and finishing fourth at her first Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

"Danica who?" Wheldon asked. "If I were a business guy, why not put her on the cover of my magazine (in reference to Sports Illustrated's cover last week)? She did a good job but my satisfaction at winning this race is very special. I'd put a hot chick on my cover any time," he said.

Michael Andretti.
Photo by Michael C. Johnson.
Andretti agreed. "Danica is a big story and she's done a good job. She's the first woman to be competitive [in major open wheel racing] and I think this is one of the greatest things to happen to us.

"People now know who Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon are because of her. She handles herself so well and she's got the right attitude: she wants to win." With television ratings up an astonishing 40 percent for the 2005 Indy 500, Andretti believes that "Danica accounts for 30 percent of that."

What goals remain for Andretti Green Racing and his four madcap drivers? "We want to win races so that we can win the championship," Andretti stated. "In 2004 our goal was to win the most races (which they did), win Twin Ring Motegi (ditto), take the Indianapolis 500 (Kanaan was second to Buddy Rice) and win the championship," which AGR did with Tony Kanaan. "I think we're online to do all four in 2005," Andretti declared.

But enough about Indy and past results. This weekend presents a new challenge for Andretti, Wheldon and his three wise, experienced teammates. "Texas is a very, very intense form of racing at 220mph-plus. You have to have your car set up to win at the end of this race because it's won and lost by inches," Wheldon explained.

"To lose [the bombardier Learjet 500] by inches, well, I'd be pissed. This is such a fun place to race," he said.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice , Kim Green , Danica Patrick