IRL: Indy 500: Tuesday May 2nd press conference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Michael, your cars seem to be very well-funded. You seem to make this transition from driver to businessman almost seamlessly. What do the sponsors see in your team that they're maybe not seeing in some of ...

Continued from part 1

Q: Michael, your cars seem to be very well-funded. You seem to make this transition from driver to businessman almost seamlessly. What do the sponsors see in your team that they're maybe not seeing in some of the others?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, I don't know. I think we have a really good base of a team. We have great people. I think when the sponsors come to our team, I think they start to feel like they're part of the family. I think what we've been able to do really well is we have so many different sponsors that we've actually been able to bring them all together and introduce each other together, that they end up doing a lot of business to business together. I think that has worked very well for us.

But I think, you know, in the end, it's all about results. I think we've been lucky enough the last three years to have good results. I think that is what keeps them wanting to come back.

Q: Is the B to B thing what a lot of teams are missing, they're still in the old school style of give us some money and let's go racing as opposed to how can my team be a partner with you in doing business?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: To be honest with you, I can't answer that because I don't know how other teams are doing it. I just know how we're doing it. It just seems to be working for us. We've been lucky enough to build our brand. Andretti Green Racing has become a strong brand in racing. That's because of the results.

In the end, that's what it's all about. One philosophy this team has is, whatever money it makes, it goes right back into trying to get the results. That's what we do. It seems to be working for us.

Q: With all the talk of re-knitting open-wheel, are sponsors responding to that? Are they maybe getting in line a little stronger with the hope of something happening in putting the series back together?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think everybody's sitting and waiting now to see what happens. Is it going to be a positive? That would be a huge boost for us. I think one of the biggest problems we have is when we go to a sponsor, that's the first question they ask. It would be nice to go there, not have to worry about that, just talk about the positives of what we have going, not the negative.

We're hoping that this is where it's going.

Q: Michael, can you talk little bit about this used to be the biggest race in the world, but with the sport changing, do you think it's going back upwards of being a big event for everybody?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I believe it is. I think it's still the biggest sporting event. I don't think there's any bigger yet. I think this year there's a lot of neat stories that are happening. I think you still have the Danica (Patrick) thing going. I think Danica is going to have a great month. She's going to be really tough. You have all the -- you have Al coming back, myself and Marco. I think you have a lot of really great stories. I think it's just going to help build it and make it even stronger than it is.

There has been some leaner years for it. Even in its lean years, it was still the biggest event.

Q: Can you talk about the progression of Marco in the car, how you think he'll fare through this whole month.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think he's going to have a really good month. We just need to get some miles under him. It was really good for him to get a race under his belt at Motegi. He just tested at Watkins Glen. He was very happy with the way it went there. He's getting there. He's got everything it takes. It's just now you got to get him the miles and the experience. And the good part about Indy is you get a lot of running time. That's going to be the goal, just have him out there every day pounding around and just learning.

Q: Al, you've watched your son at the track. Michael has done that now with Marco. What do you think it's going to be like for Michael trying to be in a car on his own deal while trying to look at what his son is doing? Is that a difficult task for someone?

AL UNSER JR.: You're asking me that (laughter)?

Q: As a father, how do you think that goes for Michael?

AL UNSER JR.: I've never raced against my son at that level. The only thing I can compare it to is racing against my father, just like Michael. You can get out there and you can race snowmobiles, you can race motorcycles, you can go have fun. But, you know, when you start talking about Indianapolis Motor Speedway, IndyCar racing at that level, a lot of things change.

The only thing that I can tell you is what it was like racing against my father. With Michael racing against his son, I mean, I think he already said it, he's going to be a little bit more mindful than he was when he was racing against his dad because you can go race your dad and want to just beat him and all that kind of stuff. It's not really going to change with your son. Maybe you won't make a move on your boy that you would on your father. I don't know. I just don't know. Just like any competition, I mean, the winner is the one who wants it the most.

I think they're going to be racing each other pretty darn hard out there, just like I'm going to be racing everybody pretty hard, as hard as I can. When you reach that level, things do change. I mean, I think that's a question for Michael, not me.

Q: Does anybody think the unification talks this month will be any more or any less of a distraction than it's been the past couple years?

ARIE LUYENDYK: First of all, coming back to the father-son thing. Personally, if somebody would have asked me, would you like to race at Indy in the same race as your son, I probably would say no. I think Michael might be different than I would be, but just commenting on what Al said. When you come in the pits and you think about what kind of change do you want to make to your car, automatically the first question comes up like, how is Arie Jr. doing? All of a sudden you have two things to worry about, not just yourself, but your son at the same time. I think it's a very difficult task at hand that Michael will have mentally. That's my opinion on that.

As far as unification, I think it's a good idea to talk about that after the month of May because right now everybody's kind of guessing.

Q: Al, doing a one-off effort like this, what do you see the big disadvantage of trying to run Indy only?

AL UNSER JR.: I guess the largest disadvantage would be getting a relationship with the team. I've tried to do everything I can to put people in place that I've worked with before, that know me, that I know them, so on. But we still have some people that we need to hire and so on. We're not going to have the luxury of the other teams having the different races, St. Pete, Homestead, Motegi, to be into a race and to go through the motions, the pit stops, all that kind of stuff. We're not going to have that luxury. Really the biggest challenge is going to be just keeping everybody's head together on race day, just try to make it a nice smooth race for everyone.

Q: With that said, what is a realistic goal for you?

AL UNSER JR.: First off, if we can finish would be a realistic goal. Then other than that, I don't know. I mean, the IRL is so equally competitive now. With everybody running Honda engines, the majority of the cars out there are Dallaras, everybody's on the same tires with Firestone. It's really a whole different atmosphere and so on than like when I was a rookie in the '80s and '90s where you had different engines, different cars, all that sort of thing.

It's very equally competitive. Your pit stops, your strategy, I mean, everything has to fall in place in your direction for you to move up in the lineup. We're just going to go out, we're going to have fun, we're going to do the best we can, and hopefully we'll be up near the front somewhere near the end of 500 miles.

Q: Michael and Arie, what changes have you seen as far as the competitiveness over the years of this race specifically?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, I mean, for me I think I just look at -- you know, it's always been a very competitive race. But I think what makes it more so now is just that the fields are just that much deeper. So it used to be fairly easy to finish in the top five, but now if you finish in the top five, you've done something. It's just because the field is so deep. Instead of five people having a really good shot at winning it, now you have 15, 20 guys having a good shot at winning it. That's what makes it so tough.

ARIE LUYENDYK: I've seen over the years, too, I can't recall looking at the grid one year and saying there's only like three guys that can win this race. I always remember looking at it understand saying, wow, there's 10 or 15 guys that are competitive here. I'm talking about 1997, '98. I mean, all those years.

Really, I think the media sometimes has lost track of how competitive the IRL has always been from day one, maybe not in the very first year when we still used the old cars, but from then on. No, I mean, 'competitiveness' is one of the words that basically goes hand-in-hand with IRL racing. It's always been like that.

Q: I know all you gentlemen love the Indy 500, open-wheel racing. Do you see it kind of sad or frustrating that for many people, media, sponsors, this is the only race that counts or month that counts compared to NASCAR and there never-ending season, chase, all that?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't know who should answer that. I mean, I don't know. Is this a question we get all the time? Yeah. Do I find that our series has gotten better since I've been in it? Absolutely. I think every year our numbers have been going up. I think we're headed in the right direction, I really do. I think we have the best racing product out there. I truly believe that. It's not just because I'm in it.

But it is a little frustrating for me to see that it's not getting its due in the press. But I think, you know, it's coming. It's getting better. With stories like we have going like this for the month of May, that's what we need to do. With the TV package we have now, all that, I think things are looking good. I think they're a lot brighter than they have been in the past if you years. We have to build on that.

One thing I don't understand is I don't understand all our TV numbers. I know I can walk through an airport now, and more people recognize me now than they did 10 years ago, but yet we're hearing that our sport's not that popular. I just don't agree with it. I think there's a lot of people watching and a lot of people that know what's going on. I think a lot of it just has to do with all the negativity that the press always brings on about the split. That's what it's all about. They get lost -- they lose all the good stuff we have going.

ARIE LUYENDYK: I think the Indy Cars have always suffered from that syndrome, that the Indy 500 is their crown jewel, all the other races kind of fall by the wayside. It is true that if you win the Indy 500, after winning that race, you feel a lot different than after, for instance, win -- like I've won at PIR in Phoenix. I always say winning a regular race is like winning a club event compared to winning Indy.

That's how the media also treat the Indy Cars. The media has not followed the Indy Cars the way they followed the Indy 500. It's not really a reflection of the fans not wanting to see anything else. I think it's more of a reflection of the media of pursuing the other races the way they pursue Indy. We're not trying to diss you guys.

Q: It seems as if the Indy 500 has become so much of an event that everything else gets obliterated.

ARIE LUYENDYK: It's like comparing to, let's say -- I'm not a real tennis fan, but I watch Wimbledon. The only cycling race I ever watch is the Tour de France. People tend to kind of get drawn to the big event, the big one. The Indy 500 is the big one for us. It's as hard to win any of the other races. Indy is not like the hardest race to win; it just happens to be the race with the most recognition. It really stands alone in itself as a really large event. I think it's great. I think it's great for us to have that type of event amongst the others.

Q: Al, in the five or six weeks since you were on the call last, can you take me through your preparation, what you've done.

AL UNSER JR.: Well, we've been working on our sponsorship, for sure. That's been the main push. I've been back at Indy, gone through the shop looking over the car, pointing things out to the guys, just basically preparing in that way to get the month started off good and have the car ready. I'll be running on ROP, which is rookie orientation day, on May 7th, on Sunday. Just get out on the track and hopefully the guys will have the car ready to go and so on.

Really that's been the main push, is getting things ready for the month of May and, again, it basically came down to chasing down the sponsors, getting this thing funded.

THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you so much for taking the time this afternoon to join us. We really appreciate that. Best of luck to all of you this month.

-ims-

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