CART Media Conference
July 6, 1999
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everybody. Welcome to the CART media teleconference. We'd like to thank all of you for taking the time to join us this afternoon. Our guest today needs no introduction. His accomplishments in the FedEx Championship Series speak for themselves, but we'd like to welcome Newman/Haas Racing driver Michael Andretti and thank him for being with us today. Good afternoon, Michael.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: How are you?
T.E. McHALE: We're all right. Michael, the driver of the No. 6 Kmart Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift is in his 17th season in the FedEx Championship Series and holds the CART career record for victories with 38. He also owns 82 podium finishes, tops among active drivers, and is second in CART annals with 31 career pole positions. He's the defending pole sitter for this weekend's Texaco/Havoline 200 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. With his victory in the May 29th Motorola 300 at Gateway International Raceway, Michael tied Rick Mears' CART record of 12 different seasons with at least one race victory. His next win will tie him with Al Unser, Sr., for third place on the all-time Champ car victory list with 39. Beyond that Michael, who is far and away the CART career leader in laps led, needs just nine to reach the six thousand mark for his career. He enters Sunday's Texaco/Havoline 200 with 5,991 laps led, more than 2700 more than second place Mears who has 3286. In addition to his a aforementioned victory at Gateway, Michael owns podium victories of second at Homestead and third at Cleveland and has scored PPG Cup points in seven of nine starts this season. He heads into Sunday's 10th round of the championship in fourth place with 78 points. The Texaco/Havoline 200, round ten of the FedEx Championship Series, will be televised live on ABC TV on Sunday, July 11th, beginning at 2 p.m. eastern time. With that we will open it up to questions for Michael.
Q. You're coming to Toronto next week off of Road America, one a street course, the other a road course. Anything you can correlate between the two, anything you can pick up at Road America that you can use when you get to Toronto?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Probably not a whole lot. A little bit, but not a lot because they are two different tracks, you know, two different types of tracks, I should say. Basically CART has four different types of race tracks they race on. You have street circuit, road course, then you have the natural road course and the high speed oval and small ovals. Those four are really quite different from each other. There's not a whole lot that we will use. It's probably going to be more stuff that we learned at Long Beach and things like that that will help us out there.
Q. What do you like or dislike about the Toronto course?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I really like the racetrack. You know, I was a little bit partial to the old layout. I really liked that last turn that used to be there. Now they had to get rid of it because of I guess they had to put some buildings in there or something. I was a little disappointed in that. But the rest of the track, I just really like. I think it's a fun track to drive. It's one of the best street circuits anywhere, I think.
Q. When you hear somebody cite the accomplishments that you've had in your 17-year career, what goes through your mind? Do you ever get used to hearing that stuff?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Just I wish I would have had more (laughter). Greedy, you know. I'm pretty proud of what I've been able to do. I really achieved the goal that I wanted, and that is to win a lot of races because that's my immediate goal all the time, is to win the next race. You know, to be able to be leading that category means a lot to me right now.
Q. When you won at Gateway, how big a relief was that? The season hasn't been that bad, but again you've had near misses.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Right. It felt really good. We all needed that win really bad. The way we won it was fun, too. We had a good battle there with Helio. Helio did a really good job and really kept the pressure on. To win in that fashion makes it feel even better. It was a big win for us. Hopefully we can notch a few more before the end of the year.
Q. When you were a young driver, one of the real young guns, compared to some of the guys that we talk about today, was it easier beating the veterans than it is for you as a driver who is a veteran beating the young guns of today?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: That's a good question. It's tough out there. I think maybe it is a little bit. You know, the talent out there is so strong right now. What makes it even more so is I think the teams themselves, everybody is so close together now. There's really no way to get an advantage out there anymore. It makes it hard to beat those guys. Maybe it is. For me it's a little harder now than it used to be.
Q. I'm wondering, the closeness that the series now has about it has changed anything at all? Is it a bit more cut-throat than it was or is there the same differences, major differences to it than, say, a Formula 1 weekend?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I still think it's quite different than F-1, just the way it's all structured. It is more competition-oriented. Everybody has a lot of respect for each other out there, I believe. It's not necessarily -- I wouldn't call it cut-throat. I think guys are out there still doing good, fair racing. It's more good, fair competition, where in F-1 you just never know. You always got to watch, knives are flying all over the place (laughter). It is quite different in that way. It's very enjoyable from that standpoint. That's what I really enjoy about the FedEx Championship.
Q. You're about the only person running Swifts. Is it just because you have more experience with them? Why is it you're so much better with that chassis than anybody else has been able to come?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't know. I think our team just has more experience with it. Because of that, it works well. There are not a lot of Swifts out there, but the ones that are out there have gotten some good results. You look at PJ at Nazareth, finishing second, which is his best finish ever. I think the car is very competitive. There's times when the other Swifts have run pretty quick, as well. To be down on the car I think is not fair.
Q. You and Christian have been very consistent this year. Do you think you two are going to be able to battle it out for the win?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think Christian is going to be very difficult to beat there. He's one of the guys we have to beat. We had a good test there. I think we should be pretty competitive. I'm looking forward to this weekend.
Q. Who else do you have to beat this weekend other than anybody?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think Montoya, he's been very strong, Franchitti is going to be tough. You have to look at the Players team. There's so many guys out there you you've got to beat.
Q. Just going back to something about F-1. Based on your experience in F-1, seeing how Alex Zanardi is doing this year and the success Montoya is having, do you think that's affecting the way people view CART versus F-1 because you're seeing a lot of the drivers coming and going, seeing the successes?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It's very unfair in so many ways to do that. I know exactly what Alex is going through. You know, you can't forget about a lot of other guys. Look at Villeneuve. He was here and won the Championship here, went over there and won the championship, took him just as long there. I still believe and I know that our talent is as deep and as strong as F-1. The problem is in F-1, what makes it different is over here all the equipment's very close so you can show your talent a lot more, whereas in F-1, the equipment is so different from team to team that a lot of times you can be the best driver ever, and if you're not on the right team over there, you're not going to be able to show it. It's just I think the structure is so different, and because of that it makes it hard to judge. A lot of times it's a lot easier for a good driver to get good results over here than it is over there because all the teams are equal over here so you can show your talent, where over there it's a lot more difficult unless you're with a McLaren or Ferrari.
Q. You've been having a very good season so far, but Montoya has been having an even better season. What do you think it's going to take to turn the tables on him and still win the championship?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It's going to take us to just keep finishing races. I think if we keep finishing races, we'll keep the pressure on him. We gave away a few races. You look at Milwaukee, that one hurt us very badly because I believe we would have picked up a lot of ground on him there. We can't let that happen anymore. We can just hope that he gets a few bad breaks like we got in the beginning of the season. In this game, things can turn around very quickly, so there's still a lot of racing left. We just got to keep the pressure on him.
Q. Do you have any comments on the loss at Cleveland from the calendar?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Disappointed, very disappointed. I think Cleveland was a very good race for our series. For one, it was a great racetrack. We always put on great races there. The fans were really great there, as well. I'm quite disappointed that they weren't able to put that one together.
Q. Road America and Toronto, two races that clearly should have been yours last year. Talk about that and talk about the racecourse at Road America.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Last year was a little disappointing. I mean, you know, the way it worked out, we would have only finished second at Elkhart Lake, which would have been a good result. We blew a tire on the last lap and ended up in the wall. Toronto, we had a really good run going, but unfortunately my rear tires wore out and I wasn't able to hold off Alex near the end of the race. Again, we had two good results, a lot of points for a championship, but they were disappointing, especially the one at Toronto because we should have won that one, but unfortunately we just ran out of tire. I love Elkhart Lake, it's one of my favorite race tracks. It has everything: long straightaways into the slow corner so you can do passing, you have a lot of fast corners, uphill, downhill. It just has everything you would want in a racetrack. I just really enjoy it.
Q. Given your comment on that, would you like to see a course like Road America added?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Oh, yeah, it would be great if we can get another one. I don't know of any other course out there like Road America. It's really a nice track. I mean, to me, the next closest one that I've ever driven on is probably Spa in Belgium that's like that.
Q. How about Road Atlanta? CART may run there next year. What do you think about that track?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: We'll see. It's okay. It's not one of my favorite race tracks, the layout, although they have changed it. I haven't driven there since they changed it. You know, I guess I can't comment on it because I haven't seen it since it's been redone. It worries me a little bit if we were to go to Atlanta, I just don't know how we would do down there. It is the heart of NASCAR country. It would be quite interesting to see what would happen.
Q. Could you tell me or could you talk a little bit about the general mood that you detect for next year's Formula 1 return to the United States? Is it something that you feel is fairly eagerly anticipated or has Europe kind of misjudged the mood a little bit?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't know. I think they're sort of misjudging it a little bit. I think there's going to be some interest, but I think it's going to be -- I don't think it's going to be as big of an event as a lot of people think it is, in my opinion. I think the demographics are quite different in Indianapolis, and it's going to be a bit of a culture shock for the fans when they do get there, when they find out that they can't even get within a quarter of a mile of any race cars or any drivers. I think that's going to be a big adjustment for the fans over here. I think you're going to have interest the first year, but I think it's going to turn a lot of fans off for the following years.
Q. Is enough being done to promote it at the moment?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't know of any promotion.
Q. In your 38 wins, is there any one driver that you enjoyed beating more than the others?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Enjoyed beating? Well, I think I've had some great races with Al, Jr. he's a great one to race against. He was always good and fair. We had a lot of good wheel-to-wheel races, including my very first one at Long Beach, which is still a very memorable one. Al was always great to race against.
T.E. McHALE: Thank you, Michael. We'll let you go back to your R&R. Michael is taking a few days off before getting into the meat of the FedEx Championship Series schedule with six events scheduled in the next seven weeks. Thank you for being with us this afternoon. Best of luck in the Texaco/Havoline 200 and the rest of the FedEx Championship Series season.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Thank you, very much.
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