David Reininger - motorsport.com Michael Andretti announced today his entry in the 85th running of the Indianapolis 500 in May. Andretti, who last competed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1995, will attempt to start in his 12th Indy 500...
David Reininger - motorsport.com
Michael Andretti announced today his entry in the 85th running of the Indianapolis 500 in May. Andretti, who last competed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1995, will attempt to start in his 12th Indy 500 driving an Aurora-powered Dallara entered by Team Green of Indianapolis.
Andretti will drive No. 39, the same number he uses in CART competition, prepared by Panther Racing, co-owned by John Barnes and Gary Pedigo. Panther Racing fields an entry in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series for Sam Hornish, Jr., who won the IRNLS season opener at Phoenix.
The official announcement, expected last week, was made this afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Barry Green, owner of Team Green, acknowledged the complexity of finalizing the deal, "It did drag on," said Green, "it dragged on a lot longer than I had hoped. But there were a lot of pieces to put together. We have a lot of partners at Team Green. Thanks to Motorola, Archipelago, Klein Tools, and Firestone, we've been able to put it together and make it happen."
Andretti has six top-10 finishes in 11 Indianapolis starts, with a best of second in 1991. He has led in five races for a total of 382 laps, the highest total of any non-winner in the history of the race. His father, Mario Andretti, won the 500-mile classic in 1969.
"First, I have to thank Barry," Andretti said. "Barry knew that when we signed the contract, one of the things I really wanted was to drive at Indianapolis. He promised me that he would do whatever he could to try to make it happen, and he did. He did everything that he could and he put together a great effort, a winning effort."
"This is a big undertaking. I just thank everybody because they all knew how bad I really wanted to do this and I feel like they worked extra hard to make it happen."
"I'm really tickled to be back. I think we have a real good shot at doing well here, maybe my best shot ever."
Andretti tested a Panther Racing Dallara at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday and Monday. "The first few laps in the car, I was like, 'Whoa, this is going to be tough'. It was quite different. It took a while to get use to it," Andretti said.
"We made great progress throughout Sunday and we made the car feel pretty good by the end of the day. We made some changes overnight. Monday morning the car was really quick. We ran really fast. I felt really comfortable. We ran full tanks for thirty laps and the car felt really good throughout the whole run. I came away with a really good feeling, a real strong feeling that we have ourselves a really good combination here."
Panther Racing, testing at Homestead for the upcoming Infiniti 200 on April 8, received a double bonus by providing Andretti seat time in the car. Not only did Andretti get a chance to drive the team's Dallara, the team obviously received precious feedback regarding their race setup for round two of the IRNLS.
Andretti will continue to test for his return to the Indy 500 with a two day test at the Speedway in April. "We will be here testing on Easter Sunday and Monday. After the first day, I should be feeling pretty normal. The team has a good setup here. They ran well here last year. Doing those two days down at Homestead helped me a lot. I understood the car a lot more after the first day of running. I felt a lot more comfortable. After yesterday, I felt I could have raced the car."
Upon his release from Newman Haas, Andretti became a free agent, seeking a team that would present him with an opportunity to return to the Indy 500.
"It was starting to feel like we may never get back here. Last year, watching Juan run out front was really depressing for me. Because I felt like if I would have been here, we could have kept him honest. I thought, this isn't fair. I need to be there too. That's when I really set it in my mind that I was going to try to do whatever I could to get back here."
"Last year, when I became a free agent, when I was let go by Newman Haas, we started to really investigate both sides, CART and the IRL. I started to really understand what the IRL is all about, and I sort of liked the direction that they were going. A lot of things they're doing, they're doing right."
"We all have to come to the realization that there's always going to be two series. I think the IRL's side of it is, they're not going to try to compete with us. They're going to be the oval series of America. And CART, we are the international series that runs on all different types of race tracks."
"We talked to several IRL teams and actually came close to doing a deal before doing a deal with Barry," said Andretti, who drives the Honda-powered Team Motorola car in CART.
Andretti will face strong competition at Indianapolis this year. He knows what he's up against with Ganassi and Penske, but he has yet to race the competitors of the Northern Light Series. "We're staying focused on the whole field," said Andretti, "not just a couple of cars."