IRL: Andretti getting comfortable with idea of retirement

Wins at Indy, Motegi would be fitting ways to end illustrious career. MOTEGI, Japan, Thursday, April 10, 2003 -- Michael Andretti has 45 days remaining in his race-driving career. There is little doubt in his mind that he is making the right ...

Wins at Indy, Motegi would be fitting ways to end illustrious career.

MOTEGI, Japan, Thursday, April 10, 2003 -- Michael Andretti has 45 days remaining in his race-driving career. There is little doubt in his mind that he is making the right decision to retire at the conclusion of this year's Indianapolis 500 on May 25.

His own race crash at Phoenix last month followed by the injury to fellow Andretti Green Racing driver Dario Franchitti in a motorcycle accident this week have solidified his belief that he must step out of the cockpit and run the team's Indy Racing League IndyCar^Ù Series operations from the office, shop and pits.

He will drive in his penultimate race, the Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi Sunday in Japan, and then go through all of the testing, practice, qualifying and his 14th Indianapolis 500-Mile Race before stepping aside.

Andretti said he cannot maintain his focus on racing and the business and leadership end of his team at the same time.

"I feel like my driving -- it is mostly when I am out of the car -- suffers. I don't think I give the engineers all the time that I need as a driver. I feel like that is a big thing.

"The ownership is a big distraction, so from that standpoint it has been tough, and I think I can handle it through Indy. If I want to make a year of that, I think my driving would start to suffer."

Andretti purchased a large share of Team Green Racing from owner Barry Green in December and shares ownership with Green's brother, Kim, and longtime Team Green associate Kevin Savoree. Other team drivers are Tony Kanaan, who captured the first two poles of the season and won at Phoenix, Franchitti and Dan Wheldon.

When Andretti was involved in a crash with Gil de Ferran at Phoenix, he said his immediate reaction when he climbed out of his smashed car was one of an owner. "This is going to cost me a lot of money," he thought.

Then he learned another lesson of being a car owner when Franchitti suffered a slight fracture in his back when his motorcycle malfunctioned and crashed during a visit to his native Scotland on the way to Japan. Fortunately, the team had Wheldon, the team's test driver, to step into Franchitti's Alpine/Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda/Firestone car for the Japan race.

Franchitti is expected to fully recover and should be ready to drive by Opening Day for the 87th Indianapolis 500.

Plans already had been in the works for Wheldon to make his rookie debut at Indy in a fourth car, the 16, 26T Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda/Firestone car.

Andretti said he really felt what it meant to be a car owner when Kanaan won the Phoenix race after his accident. Andretti joined Kanaan on the podium and said he was as excited as he if he had won himself.

"I think Tony is going to win a lot of races for us," Andretti said. "And he is definitely a big part of the future of Andretti Green Racing, along with Dario. And also having Dan, another rookie, is going to be really good.

"But it's just been a dream so far, and Tony's really helped fulfill the dream by giving us our first win."

During his illustrious IndyCar career -- it began on Oct. 8, 1983, at Las Vegas with a 19th place finish -- he has won 42 races, third all-time, won the 1991 CART championship, led 398 laps at Indy and drove a season in Formula One.

Still, Andretti insists thoughts of his impending retirement have not changed his aggressive driving style.

"I do not think so," he said. "I hope (the Phoenix race) shows that. I think it would have been very easy to just say -- 'O.K., go Gil, and not to try to fight for position.' That's not the way I want to go out. I want to retire knowing that I was still competitive, knowing that I could still win races. So that is the way I am going to drive.

"I am going to drive as hard, give it everything I have these last two races and hopefully we will come away with a win before (I retire). Especially, it would be nice to win my last race."

A victory in the 87th Indianapolis 500 would ease a lot of Andretti frustration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 1991 he and Rick Mears put on a classic duel down the stretch, each making a brilliant 220 mph high-side pass in Turn 1. However, it was Mears that made the last one and won the race, with Andretti trailing him in second.

The next year Michael dominated the race, leading 160 laps. But 11 laps from the finish he was on the sidelines due to a fuel pressure problem. His laps led total at Indy is the most by any driver who has not won.

"It is so important for me," he said about his final Indy. "I would love to retire having Indianapolis under my belt."

But first comes Twin Ring Motegi on Sunday. Andretti's focus is on that race first and ranks its status highly. No Honda-powered car has won there since CART first started racing at the Honda-owned oval. This is the IndyCar Series' first visit.

"Next to Indy, it could be one of the biggest races ever to win," he said. "I mean, it would be so big to be able to win that race for Honda. So it is very special to me, I know that.

"Honda has been so great to me, and I would love to given them that present -- or one of us. I think that would be just awesome. So we are going to try very hard to do that for them."

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Dan Wheldon , Jim Beam