CART Media Conference
March 10, 1998
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everybody. Welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. Thank you all for taking the time to join us today and we look forward to your continued participation every Tuesday at 1:00 pm eastern throughout the FedEx Championship Series season. We are excited today for a couple of reasons. Firstly, as some of you may know, Championship Auto Racing Teams Incorporated began trading publicly on the New York Stock Exchange this morning. We will be holding a conference call with President and Chief Executive Officer, Andrew Craig at 2:30 eastern this afternoon to discuss CART's move into the stock market. You may participate in the call by dialing the same number you dialed to participate here. That will be 800-857-0033. We are also pleased to have as our guest this afternoon Michael Andretti - CART's all-time victory leader and defending champion of Sunday Marlboro's Grand Prix of Miami presented by Toyota and Miami Homestead Speedway. Michael drove the Swift chassis to victory in its CART debut at Homestead last year marking the first victory for an American made chassis in the FedEx Championship Series since Gordon Johncock drove a Wildcat to victory at Atlanta on April 17, 1983. Michael's 36th career victories are tops on the all-time CART career list. And, he is tied with his father, Mario, for second place with 30 pole positions in his career. He ranks third on CART's Career Earnings List with $14,704,619 and third in career starts with 211. He finished 8th in last year's PPG Cup Championship with 108 points. At this point, we will open it up for questions.
Q. If you could just talk in general about how you feel the Swift will be this season at Homestead in particular, and then beyond?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I am very excited about the season. There was a few problems with the chassis that were inherent in the design last year. We just really couldn't fix it until the new car came out. So you have these theories on what it is and you hope that you fix it. The first time out with the car, we were all very happy. Christian and myself, after driving it, we were very happy. We felt that they had fixed the problem; especially on the road courses where we had the problem. So, from that standpoint it was very good. And, also, the tire situation is much, much improved. Goodyear has really stepped it up and the tires are much, much better than they were last year which I think is going to help our Swift look better as well. So, we are very excited going into this year. I think we are going to have a really tough combination. I think, you know, this is as good as a shot as we have had in the last probably three or four years. So, we are excited.
Q. Are you buying any CART stock this morning?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: We were looking at it, four sure. We were probably going to purchase a little bit. See how it goes.
Q. On a little more serious side, you were concerned along with a lot of other drivers at Fontana last year with the lap speeds getting up to 240. How do you feel about what has been done so far to the cars to slow them down, make them a little bit more stable?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I am very happy with the concept that they are coming up with to slow them down. DeFerran drove this new wing at Fontana and he drove it for the first time and right away, it pretty much did what we had hoped it would do. It made the cars slower. But, yet, it didn't make him undriveable. And, that sounds easy to do, but it is very difficult to do. But, it sounds like they have the right Formula of trying to figure out how to slow us down at those places. I think we are going in the right direction. I think right now with what they have, we have the potential of slowing them down close to 20 miles per hour.
Q. I was wondering what do you think about the new 110 percent qualifying rule?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think it is a good rule. Our series has become so competitive and the quality of the equipment and depth of the equipment is way better than it has been in the last five years. And, I think now it is time to set down some rules. I mean, to get rid of some of the cars that probably really don't belong out there. I think you are going to be surprised. There probably wouldn't be too many that you will be sending home because it has become that deep of a field.
Q. Michael, you kind of hit on that a little bit talking about how competitive this series is and the depth of the good equipment and everything. You have been doing this for a few years. Is it really something that you see now is just really peaking or is it just every year it seems like there is good competition?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, I mean, every year you think, well, this has got to be -- it can't get anymore competitive than it already is. And then we get out there and we get everybody out on the track at the same time and, geez, you say it is getting tighter and tighter. And you wonder how than can be. And it truly amazes me how competitive it is - the quality of the field, the equipment, and the drivers and the teams, the people in each organization, is just incredible. And it just -- it makes it really difficult because it is so competitive. It is great for the fans, though. I mean, I think we are going to put on some great shows again like we have in the last few years.
Q. This weekend in the F-I race there was this great controversy about Coultard allowing Hakkinen to win. What do you think of about that and would you ever be in a situation where either you or Christian would let the other guy win?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I would say in the situation there, I mean, it was from, what I could see, being from the outside is I couldn't believe doing something like that in the first race. Now, if that was the last race, it was coming down to where it had an affect on a Championship standings then I would say, okay, it would make sense for one to slow down and let the other one win; which if I was coming down to the last race and Christian had a chance of winning the Championship or whatever, I would give up a win for him to do that. I think he would probably do the same thing because that is what it is about being a teammate. But, doing it in the first race, I will guarantee you, that won't be happen being Newman/Haas anyway.
Q. What do you think it does for the image of car racing when that sort of thing does occur? Is it a black-eye? Does it reflect on all of car racing...
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: A little bit. That one, yeah. I would say, again, I think it depends on circumstances. Where, just like I was saying, if it is going to affect the Championship, I think it is okay. But, here, it didn't affect anything. I just didn't understand why it happened. I mean, yeah, the team sort of made a mistake with miscommunication. But, obviously, miscommunication means that there is a mistake on both sides. So, I just couldn't understand that. But, what can I say?
Q. The last two CART Champions won races, but they also were very consistent.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yes.
Q. Will you talk a little bit about what challenged -- you know, you have from Team Ganassi in that respect and what you people are doing to -- what you are doing to address the problem of winning races but also having that kind of consistency?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: That is what it is all about, and, really, that is why Ganassi has won the Championship the last two years because they have had the most reliable car. It is not only competitive, but reliable. We had a competitive car last year, but we weren't reliable. We dropped out of eight races or something, and you are not going to win Championships that way. What we have done, within the team, there has been a lot of changes in personnel. We have Ed back who, to me, is one of the best guys out there. And, his main objective when he got here and what he set in his mind was we have to get our reliability better. That is what he is going to be really concentrating on. We are trying to attack that area and make sure we finish every race because you are not going to win every race but to win a Championship, you are going to have to finish every race and that is going to be our goal this year.
Q. Just to follow-up on that a little bit, you and Ed go back into those years when you won the Championship and stuff like that. How happy are you to have that back, just that relationship with him?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Very happy to have him back on the team. He is such an asset not only within the team and what he knows, he is an engineer first of all, and he knows what it takes and he can communicate well with Peter Gibbons and Brian Lisles, our engineers. And, I think just from that standpoint they speak the same language. Also having Ed there during a race is going to be a huge plus, calling the race because he is very good at calling races and that can win you a lot of races where that was a weak area for our team the last few years. So, from that standpoint I am very excited to have him. So, it is just because he knows how -- he has been there. He has been there for many years and he knows how the whole team works. He knows how the whole system works, and he knows how to win races. So having Ed there is going to be a huge plus for our team, I think, this year.
Q. You don't think about during the race how much that means to know how to call a race,?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It is huge.
Q. Tell us what calling a race is.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: You have to be ready to make a call. You have to constantly go into a race, you have to be calculating and thinking, well, what if this happens or that happens, and how to react to that situation. And, Ed is one of the smartest guys I have ever known and he has a way of calculating, computing those things right now, so can make the call, you know, if the yellow comes out at a certain point and you have so much fuel in your tank and you need to make it to the end, he can make the call right now, okay, now is the time to pit, bring him in right now. Those sort of things really can win you races.
Q. I was just looking at the schedule this year and normally in past years when you have got into September, the season has been winding down and usually in past years it ended in Monterey, except for last year. Now, you have got 19 races and you are going into November. What do you think that effect will have on the drivers, in fact, there might even in future years -- I don't know -- their schedule might even go up to 20 or 21 races, but you are going right from the beginning of March right into November, and I mean, is that going to be a factor in deciding the Championship in just the stamina of the drivers might be a factor, I would think?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, I mean, partly from the driver's standpoint, but mostly from the team's standpoint. Because those guys, between races, you know, they are not only working -- they probably only sleep probably about 10 hours the whole weekend on a given race weekend, but then when they get home, they have got to turn those cars around; get them ready for the next race. So, it puts a tremendous amount of stress on the team. That is where I think, you know, could be the deciding factor at the end of the year. Probably the most organized team, with the best people, may be the ones that have an advantage at the end of the year after 19 races. Hopefully Newman/Haas is one of those teams.
Q. How do you feel about it personally? I mean, do you -- is that a lot of races?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It is a lot of races at a time, but I think what you have to understand is that it sounds like it, but if we weren't at the races, we would be testing anyway. So, from that standpoint, from a driver's standpoint, we are still going to be working whether we are in a race or testing. Sometimes you work harder at a test, on a three-day test than you do on a three-day weekend of racing.
Q. You have to be proven, but do you think that would be the Max, 19, I mean --
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't think you can go many more races than that because of the stress on the teams. I don't see how the teams can handle that. This is -- these cars are not stock cars. In stock cars they can close the garage area at 5 o'clock at night and come back the next morning and there is not much to prepare with these things. But, with our cars, I mean, they just take so many man-hours to prepare them. They are so much more sophisticated, technology-wise, and because of that, they just take so many more man-hours and, you know, I don't see where the teams can handle much more.
Q. You talked earlier Michael about slowing the cars down. I realize there is a tremendous safety factor involved here. But, fans, a lot of fans are dazzled by high speeds, dazzled by numbers. There was a lot of excitement last year when Mo hit 240. Do you think slowing them down while certainly in the best interest of the drivers and maybe everybody else, will turn off some fans or the casual fans at least and cause them to look elsewhere maybe for their excitement?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't believe so because we have been slowing cars down since I have been in the series anyway figuring out ways of slowing them down and one year at Indy we were qualifying at 220; then they make a rule change; then we are running 210. So, it has been -- It is not like this is something new. We are constantly trying to slow the cars down and there is times when the technology beats the rules some years and you get those big jumps in speed. But then the rules come back and then they slow them down about 20 miles an hour. But in two years we will probably be back up to 240 miles an hour. That just seems to be the way the cycle goes. But if you don't keep these speeds in check, I mean, who knows what the limit would be. It would go beyond the limit of the physical side of it. And, that is not what we are here to do. I think the fans cannot tell the difference between 220 and 240. I mean, it is a number -- it sounds exciting, but really when it comes down to it, they are not there to just watch 240 miles per hour. They are there to watch 30 cars out there racing each other wheel-to-wheel and you are still going to have that. If you do the rules right, you may even have more wheel-to-wheel running than you did when you were running 240. So I don't believe that that will hurt that in any way.
Q. When you have a season like you did last year, eight different times you had to say "What if," does it make the off-season a bit more difficult for you mentally?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No, actually it makes you even hungrier and the whole team as well. It is just not me personally. I think it exposed a lot of areas of weakness that our team has had and we have made the changes within the team to make sure that that doesn't happen next year. And, also myself, I made a few mistakes last year and so you learn from it. You just -- it doesn't affect -- no, it doesn't keep you down, doesn't knock you down. If anything, it makes you dig in a little deeper.
Q. On my last birthday I said I wasn't getting older, I said I was just gaining more experience. Have you gaining more experience every year as well; are you becoming a different driver?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I would have to say, yeah. The more experience you get, the more confidence you have and the more you learn to deal with different situations because you have been in those situations before, so -- yeah, I would say you get better. The whole thing now is to keep my physical side up so that doesn't affect me that I am getting older. Right now I feel like I am in the best shape of my career. So, I feel like because of that, with my experience and the shape that I am in right now, hopefully going to be driving the best that I have ever driven in my career.
Q. More patient driver?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, I would say I am. Last year, except for the end of the year where I made those two mistakes I was showing a lot more patience, but the reason I did those mistakes but I felt like, well, I have got to try make up the difference now because we have dropped out of so many races and we were having tire problems and things like that. But in the beginning of the year and also the end, you know, from the -- most of 1996 I thought I was very patient and a lot of wins came to me because of that. So, yeah, I think I have learned to be a little bit more patient.
Q. Let me ask you IRL questions. Have they tapered off at this point and how much is not being at Indy still in the Andretti's minds these days?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, it is definitely in our minds. It is something that just will always bug me and the questions still come up, I think -- I think the IRL is something that will be a thorn in our side for a long time. It is just a shame that it is even there. There is no reason for it to be there. Just imagine if Indianapolis and CART were together right now with the way times are going for auto racing, how big both would have been, how much bigger they both would have been. CART has grown -- it is amazing how CART has grown considering that we don't have Indy. But, imagine if we had Indy, how much better Tony George would be off and how much better we all would be off. So, it is something that will always irk me.
Q. Sorry I brought it up, Mike.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah.
Q. I know you were supposed to be here to do a shakedown, but before I get an answer to that question, I was looking at some video of WGN in Chicago at noontime and they have got an awful lot of trucks backed up there. Did you get your haulers out there?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Be honest with you, I don't know. I don't know what the deal is. All I know is they cancelled it yesterday, they said it didn't look like the weather was going to cooperate and we were not going to be able to shakedown.
Q. There might be some snow on the track. It is cold here. I know you feel good about the cars. I saw the Swift here the other day and they are pretty nice.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, it is a nice piece. Mark Hamford did a great job on the aerodynamics of the car. It is much better than it was last year; along with basically our team Peter Gibbons and Brian Lisles coming up with some of the other problems that it had within the design of the suspension. It is much more sound and much better. So, I think the car is a really good car.
Q. It looked that way. Best of luck and hope to be talking about you Sunday.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Thank you.
T.E. McHALE: We will open it up to general questions.
Q. I want to go back a little bit to that thorn in your side and, you know, I know most of the drivers in the paddock haven't forgotten about racing at Indianapolis. Is there ever a thought that, you know, you are very right in what you say that if the two series were combined just look at how big they are. Have you ever thought that when it comes down to it, it shouldn't be an us versus them; it should be us and them versus a series like NASCAR when it comes to the fan's popularity and certainly the TV ratings, and maybe if it was looked at that way, there would be a little less antagonism and maybe a little bit more of a common ground to be able to work with?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: That sounds reasonable, but the problem is one of the sides is not reasonable in that way. I think that has always been our contention. If we were together -- I really feel if the two would have joined forces and been together at this time, we would be probably not as big as NASCAR, but we would be competing with NASCAR and be a much more thorn in NASCAR's side in that way. But, because of losing Indianapolis, you know, it was a shame and it hurt both -- it hurt Indianapolis more than CART even. I think Indy is just -- never will be the same unless you get this resolved. I think the whole city of Indianapolis is taking a huge hit over this.
Q. Michael I was just going to continue that theme a bit. You were saying that Indianapolis probably wouldn't be the same, but I just sort of wonder if the -- if racing, a little bit like the population growth in the States, is going west and south, and really like an event like the Fontana, your finally might become -- might supersede Indianapolis. You have the better racers in that particular race. I just sort of think of maybe Indy as something that is kind of rooted in the past and CART is moving forward --
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Absolutely. I mean, CART is moving forward. We are growing. We are definitely growing. But, we are not growing at the rate we could have grown. And Indianapolis is going -- is doing the opposite. Indianapolis has shrunk. It is not -- it is not a real race anymore and really the tradition and everything has been destroyed there. So, from that standpoint, I don't think it is going to be that hard to really -- for us to have a show that is going to be better than Indianapolis. But, I was just pointing out the fact that if we were together, we would have been so much better off.
Q. Just a supplemental question here. Besides the sort of usual contenders for the title this year, is there anyone that you have seen in practice or in spring training or just in the test results that maybe is not normally; somebody you think is going to be a contender, but looks very promising or a team or a particular driver?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It is difficult. I don't know who to even say. I mean, there are -- all the teams that won races last year, I believe, every one of those teams is going to be in contention for the Championship. So, I feel that you know, the PacWest Team has come up the last few years. Forsythe Team is probably going to be tough this year. Those are ones that they have won a few races last year, but weren't up there all the time and I believe now we will be racing them race in; race out.
Q. How do you think the single tire rule will affect the racing this year?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't think it is going to really affect what you see, you know, from the fan's standpoint. All it does, in some ways, it is good for us because we don't have to sit down and analyze okay which tire should we go with. So, from that standpoint, it helps us out a lot so we can concentrate more on just getting our car to work better. But what it does, it gives you one less tire for the weekend; which, at some places, because your tire wears so hard, you might end up finishing practice five minutes earlier because you don't have the tires to do it. But, other than that, I don't think it is going to be a huge thing. I think hopefully it will force the tire manufacturers to be a little more conservative on the tires they pick, especially on the ovals, so you won't have as many marbles which is always a problem when you are into a tire war. If guys have these softer tires out there you create a lot more marbles from the rubber that comes off the tires creates a dangerous situation on the ovals. So, hopefully, that situation wouldn't be as bad.
Q. Michael, help us on a future story that we are doing on the retirement on Bobby Rahal; your thoughts about Bobby what he has meant to the series and maybe what he has meant to you?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Oh, Bobby Rahal, you know, he is a big part of the reason why this series is what it is today. Bobby had won three Championships; won a lot of races; been a great spokesman for CART for however many years he was in it. So, he has been a great asset for all of us and for me personally, he has been a huge thorn in my side. I lost three Championships to him where I finished second. And, I have a lot of respect for Bobby. He is a great driver. He has won that -- he is one that I would go wheel-to-wheel with into any corner, not thinking about it in any way knowing that we are both going to come out the other side. I think we both have a lot of respect for each other in what that way.
Q. You and Al over the years gained a lot of fans and fan appreciation for what you have done on the racetrack and Bobby, in some respects, to the casual fan at least has been very quiet even though successful. Do you think he is not misunderstood, but doesn't get the credit by the general fan that he should be getting?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Probably. I think -- Bobby has got a different style. And, style has really worked and paid off well for him. That is just being there, you know, just being in contention all the time. And, he can run easily third or fourth all day and end up winning a race. But from the fan's standpoint that maybe is not always the most exciting to win. Where I think myself and Al have been more a little charger where we would come up from the back and we would drive as hard as we can and we probably gave a lot more -- gave a way a lot more wins than we should have because of that style. Especially me, and but, yet for the fan, I think they like that sort of thing. So, I think maybe that is part of it. I don't know.
Q. This year you are going to be going through this whole year and it is this NASCAR 50th anniversary thing, Winston Cup, everywhere you go, you are going to hear all this kind of thing; it is almost like a cult following over there now. Kind of an almost World Wrestling Federation kind of thing?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: You said it. I didn't.
Q. What do you think CART can do to just grab at least some of that, if not the total intensity of that, but at least some of that fan base that --
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: That is so difficult because I think our fan base is quite different, really. I think if you look at the demographics, we are much different demographics, you know, I think there is some cross-over but not a whole lot because I think those fans just-I don't know how to explain it-but I am sure if you broke down the demographics, if you looked at the way the fan that we go after and the fan that NASCAR goes after, it is two different types of fan and how to do what they are doing, I think CART is trying to do that. We are trying to get us out there more. We are trying to get us licensed more. We are trying to get that sort of exposure. That is what we need to do. Will our fan be as much of a cult type following? Probably not because that is not the type of fan we have, I think.
Q. What I am kind of getting at, if you say the 3 car and NASCAR, the name immediately comes to you, you say the 24 car, you say the 28 -- you say those cars --
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: They are trying to do that in the Champ Cars that we have because if you notice now the way that number structure is, everybody staying the same number year to year because they thought that No. 6 is basically -- when you say No. 6, that has been my number now for the past three, four years. And, so on, I think, you know, we are trying do that sort of thing in trying to get that sort of - what is the word I am looking for - association with the number and the car and the team-type thing. It is hard, I mean, NASCAR has done a fantastic job. They have just -- I don't think you can put your finger on one thing that they did right. I think they have been doing a lot of things right.
T.E. McHALE: Thanks, Brenda. We will wrap it up for today. We certainly want to thank Michael and for being our guest this afternoon. Thanks, again, Michael, and best of luck in this weekend's Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami presented by Toyota which airs live on ABC TV at 1:30 P.M. eastern time. Again, a reminder to those of you who are able to participate, we would encourage you to call back at 2:30 on this same number 800-857-0033, and talk to Championship Auto Racing Team President and CEO Andrew Craig about the IPO. Thanks again to all of you for being with us this afternoon. We will talk to you next week.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|