CART Media Conference
May 16, 2000
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. Thanks to all of you for being with us today. Our guest today is driver Michael Andretti of Newman/Haas Racing, who recorded his CART career-leading 39th victory in Sunday's Firestone Firehawk 500 at Twin Ring Motegi, Japan. Welcome, Michael, and thank you for being with us this afternoon.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Thank you good to be here.
T.E. McHALE: In his 17th year in the FedEx Championship Series, Michael established a new record Sunday by posting a victory in his 13th different season of CART competition. He and Rick Mears had shared the previous record with 12 seasons with at least one victory. Michael's 39 career wins are more than double the total of the next closest active driver, Paul Tracy, who has 16. In addition to being CART's career victory leader, he also stands second to Mears in career pole positions with 32; second to Mears in career wins from the pole with 12; and first in career laps led with 6,160, again, 6,160, merely doubles Mears' second place total of 3,286. Headed into the May 27 Bosch Sparkplug Grand Prix presented at by Toyota at his home track of Nazareth Speedway Michael ranks 8th in the FedEx Championship Series with 20th points. The rescheduled Bosch Sparkplug Grand Prix presented by Toyota, race 5 of the FedEx Championship Series will be televised live by ESPN on Saturday, May 27th, beginning at 1:00 P.M. Eastern time.
Q. That long layoff at Nazareth, will it make any different? The weather was kind of up-and-down then; what do you think?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think it's going be much better. For one, it should be a lot warmer, which will make it a lot safer for tire temperatures and things like that. And hopefully, the weather will be a lot more predictable. I don't think we are going to have any snow this time, and I think you're going to see a much bigger crowd because of it. And I'm very happy because -- I think it was a blessing in disguise for the race that hopefully we'll be able to show that there are a lot of racing fans that are willing to come and watch a race, but under more acceptable -- acceptable circumstances weather-wise.
Q. You didn't qualify very well, Mike 15th.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Very disappointed, yeah. It's going to be tough. We're going to test, actually, at Milwaukee this weekend, and hopefully come up with something a little bit better for the race. You know, I struggled there and we're hoping that we can get the car a little better and have a good race car, but it will be tough starting that far in advance.
Q. Taking a look at all of your accomplishments and top so many lists, and not only just in CART, but in -- throughout many disciplines of racing, are you starting to get a sense of or a feeling for where you're at in the idylls of racing history, and where do you see yourself and where did you see yourself, even in a couple of years?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't know, I don't really look at that. I guess the only thing that I look at are the wins category, because that -- that was always my goal when I came in to racing was I just wanted to win as many races as I could. And it's nice to see that I've been able to achieve that side of it. So that's a good feeling. But, you know, I'd love to have a go at that, getting up there to second place, but it will be tough.
Q. One last question, T.E. could probably answer this as well as Michael could, do you guys have a set schedule or for the weekend for the Nazareth; are you going to run a warm-up on Friday?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, there's a warm-up on the mornings -- I think it's 9:00 to 10:00.
T.E. McHALE: I believe that's correct. I don't actually have the schedule in front of me, but what I can tell you is that it's going to be a one-day event. There won't be anything on track.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: An hour practice and then we race.
Q. Any plans for the following day for Sunday?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No. Just be watching NBC, how our friends do over there.
Q. Will part of you, Michael be rooting for Juan and Jimmy, against IRL? Would that enter into it?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think in some ways you'll be wanting those guys to do well, but I'd also like to see Al do well, too. I think I was very happy for Al to win the last race, and he's running very well there, too. Just to see him close to the leader chart in terms of time, I think is a scary thing for the rest of the field, because whenever Al is up in the Top-10, you know, he's going to be tough.
Q. Several readers wrote in to me and I was wondering if you could address the issue of the penalty. It seemed like the penalty you got was almost a double-penalty. If you could talk a little bit about that, and the fact that last time, I think you were put on probation; you went on one of your best runs. Is there something about being taken to that principal's office that drives you on a little bit harder?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't think so. Really, if we would not have had that problem in Brazil, I believe we would have won that race. We've been in position to win a lot of races here, but we've had a lot of bad luck. To answer your question about that, yeah, I feel that we were double-penalized. We did get a penalty in the race and took us out of contention for the win, and then to find out two weeks later, which was the worst part of it, that we had the points taken away, it was just very disappointing. But unfortunately, had to deal with it.
Q. Like in NASCAR, they have some kind of National Stock Car Commission or something that they can appeal to. Is this a non-appealable thing; what's said is done?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: From what I understand, it's non-appealable. I'm not sure there's a whole lot we can do about it.
Q. Nazareth, difficulty passing there, how do you have to approach this? How do you keep yourself from getting ahead of the game? Is it a patience thing; is that against your nature?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think also you're going to have to play your strategies for pit stops a little bit differently. When you're in the back of the pack, you can gamble a little bit more. When everybody pits, you may stay out and hope they catch a yellow later or something like that. I think you'll see we'll be playing things a little bit differently there. You know, we're going to need some luck to get it done. But if we're lucky enough to get up there and get track position, you know, then I think we have a shot at winning.
Q. You had mentioned a couple of minutes about bad luck, bad breaks, well after the weekend in Japan, it seems like Lady Luck was on your side somewhat. Did it feel the same to you?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Oh, absolutely. First when I saw Jimmy smoke out in front of me, I thought, "Well, this was a lucky one." And then all of the sudden I see Juan pulling into the pits and I thought, "Whoa, we can win this thing now." It's just one of those things. I've been on both sides of it, and I figure -- I've always said what goes around comes around, and I guess it was my turn to take advantage of that; whereas, a lot of other people have taken advantage of my misfortunes.
Q. We all talk so much about momentum being carried, and I know this was probably a boost to you and your team. How will you take the positives from this and carry this over into the next race?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't know. You always -- you just you do. You just try to -- it's nice to have that momentum and have that -- maybe just gives each and every one of us a little bit more confidence that we can get it done. Unfortunately, though, we're going into a race weekend where we've already qualified and qualified not so good. But hopefully, like I said, we can go to Milwaukee and get a good test under us, and maybe get the car really good that I can make my way to the front.
Q. I guess with all the circumstances, the weather -- (inaudible) -- how vital is it, you know, that the fans put the fannies in the seats out there at Nazareth on Saturday, is this a make-or-break kind of thing in your opinion, whether the series might stay --
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think it's important. I think, you know, that -- I just feel confident that we're going to fill the stands there, and I think when we do, then CART will look at that race a little bit differently and maybe give it a better date, because I think that's the only thing that Nazareth has been lacking is a good date. You know, there are millions of fans around here, but to put them up in those stands in April here is just crazy. I mean, nobody in their right mind would do it. And to see the people that were willing to do it really says something, you know, that we do have a lot of great fans here. And I believe -- I'm believing, I'm hoping that we are going to get a lot more walk-ups for this one and we'll show that this is a race that should stay on the calendar.
Q. It's a close drive away from your place, you've got to like the economic impact of a race like that?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Oh, absolutely. There's cities standing in line for races all around the world, and here we are, we have one in our backyard. And they are not standing in line for just the heck of it; they are doing it because they know it's very -- it has a big impact on their economy in the local areas. So you know, we're very fortunate to have this race in our backyard, and I'm just hoping that everybody comes out and supports it now that we have a good date.
Q. How do you feel about the quality of racing that the Hanford Device Mark II has created?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: To be honest with you, I haven't really noticed anything a whole lot different. At Motegi, I think the racing was very similar to the way it was the year before. I don't think its affected it. I think it's just made it a little safer, because we're going lower on the straightaways and like through Turns 1 and 2 that was flat, we were going like almost ten miles per hour slower than we were last year.
Q. And would you -- if you could talk to the technical committee and suggest something that would make for better racing on the short oval, what would you suggest to them?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, I think one thing we've got to start looking at it horsepower. We have so much horsepower in these cars now that I think we've got to start cutting it down a little bit.
Q. Just wondering how win number 39 feels, after so many wins feel over the years, like race 25 or that first win in '86?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Every win feels great, but there always are some that are going to stick out from others. The ones that I can really remember like when I won the championship in '91, that was a huge win; coming back from Formula 1 and then winning in Australia the first race, you know, those wins are special. And this one is special, too, because I was able to tie now Al Senior, who is a living legend in the sport. So that feels special.
Q. How long do you see yourself continuing?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't know. After this year, I have another two years left on my contract, and that will put me at 40 years old, and then I just have to sit back and see how I feel.
Q. Can I ask about the rule, if you hit somebody in the pit if they go for medical care and there's a penalty, there's no penalty as I understand it?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't know. I really don't understand the total deal on that rule. The worst part about it is, I mean, it was very evident that there was an injury. He was sent there on a stretcher. So I don't know what the deal is with that rule. The worst part about it is -- what I feel what we need to do is change the procedures of pit stops to get the vent man and the fueler out of the way before we're allowed to send the cars. And I think if that were to happen, you won't have to have those injuries. I think it's going to happen again, you know, before they change these rules. They have got to do it soon.
Q. Is there a danger of trying to hide an injury from CART, do you think?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, maybe. I don't know. That's a good point. I didn't really think about it, but maybe.
Q. I guess you're now the senior driver out there, aren't you?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Second. Second-oldest guy out there. Luckily, Moreno got a ride.
Q. How do you feel? We all remember when you started. Does it really seem like a short period of time since you were just starting in CART?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, it's pretty amazing, really. To think that I am one of the older guys out here is pretty crazy, but then again, you've got to look at the way the sport has evolved. It's a much younger sport than it was it ten years ago. Ten years ago, you had a lot of guys in their 40s still racing, but you haven't have that any more because of the competition, it's just so tough, and these young kids are pretty darned good.
Q. You're not bad yourself. Tell me about the last couple of years, you've been on a different training program, you look fitter, you actually look happier and more congenial at the track. Tell me about how that all came about?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, I'm much more relaxed, but I think that has to do with experience. I think as for my physical side, I've been working very hard on that because I know that I am a little older, and everybody out there now works out and is in peak physical shape. And I know I need to do that to stay with everybody, and so that's the reason why I do it. And it's helped me tremendously in the race car. So that's been really good. But as for me, also with my personal life, everything has been going fantastic, married to my wife and everything -- I'm just very happy right now and very focused on what I'm doing as well.
Q. Talking a little bit about age, one thing that I think is making the series very exciting this year is not only we're seeing winners coming from far ver back but we're seeing the average age be rather high. So we're seeing prowess from a senior group if you will, but in years past, it's been the younger generation. Do you see an advantage that either as, either being younger or less younger?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think that you know there's a balance there. I think when you're young, you have just so much energy and you're willing to take more chances than normal, things like that. And if you get away with them, you know, you're a hero. When you get older, you take less chances, but you rely on your experience to make up the difference, you know that a lot of times works for you. So, they balance themselves out.
Q. Last I checked schedule, June 7, 8, Wednesday Thursday open test at Mid-Ohio. Are you going to be there?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, we'll be there.
Q. What are you hoping to gain?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, we don't get to test much now with the testing rules that they have in effect. So it will be very important and it will be the first time that we have the Lola and the new Ford engine on a permanent road surface. I think it will be a steep learning curve for us there, and most people, you know, because most people have not run on a permanent road course yet.
Q. For a good part of the race, three Lolas were running 1, 2, 3, do you feel that the Lola on the ovals is really the best chassis right now, and also, can you comment on the horsepower that they appear to have?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, first the Lola, I mean, the Lola is a good car. I'm not sure it has a huge advantage, but I think it is a good car and it's been good on the ovals, but I think both teams, as well, in the past had good setups on the ovals. So it's hard to say exactly if it was the car or the setups. As for the Toyota, yeah, it had horsepower. They were strong on the straightaways, but also they were running less wing; so that would be part of it too, why they were a little quicker on the straightaways.
Q. As a proven champion and a very accomplished driver, aside from winning this year's CART FedEx Championship, are you in any capacity involved with helping or mentoring CART's future stars from CART racing to champ car racing?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Right now I have no plans. You know, I'm having a hard enough time taking care of myself right now.
Q. And back to the youthfulness of the sport, if you could, what would you do to improve the visibility of champ car racing by attracting new fans?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't know, I mean, that's not my background, but I think it's something that we need to look at. Unfortunately, I hate to bring it up, but I think one thing we need to do is get this thing settled between CART and IRL because I think we are definitely split right down the middle right now, especially for the oval audience.
Q. From your point of view, what changes, what schedule changes would you like to see regarding the 2001 CART schedule?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, I don't know, I think we right now are just at the limit of what we can do with races. You know, I think if we have many more races, we are just going to burn teams out, because these guys right now are burning the candle at both ends just to keep up with the schedule. So I'm hoping they don't plan on adding too much more to it, because you know, our teams will be worn out. I don't know, if we do go to Europe, which is probably something we need to do for the series because we have so many fans in Europe, you know we're just not going to be able to have any more over here, though and we may have to lose one.
Q. When you said in some ways you'll be wanting those guys to do well, in the 500, I assume just because they are CART guys and you'd like to see them do well at that venue?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Correct. You know, because, you know, we say how great we are now, I hope that now they are going to be compared to the best teams -- one of the best teams that we have in CART and hoping they go over and do the job that we all know that they can do.
Q. So could it prove something should they qualify, should one of them win, what would that do, what would that say in your mind, anything?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, yeah, I think it's going to say a lot considering that they are going over there with, what, four days of practice, or whatever, four or five days of practice before the race, when all of these other teams have been racing these cars for years. And if they go over and do a good job, you though, I think it's going to say something, you know, the type of preparation that we have in our series compared to their's.
Q. I've had a chat with your cousin, John and I'm just wondering, are you excited about your children growing up in the racing industry? I know you literally grew up in the racing industry, and are you looking forward to your children coming up in these ranks, so to speak?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't know. I don't know if I really am. Marco is showing some signs of it. But if he wants to do it, fine, I'll be behind him. But if he doesn't, I'm totally fine with that. I'm just sort of in the middle on it. You know, I just want him to do whatever they really want to do. Whatever they do, I just want them to give 110% of what they are going. It doesn't matter.
Q. But obviously, you would be very supportive?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Oh, obviously, in anything they would do.
Q. The CART and the IRL, do you feel like there can be a solution? I realize that from your perspective you may just be a driver, but you've been a driver for a number of years and you would have as good a perspective as just about anybody.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't know, yeah, I believe that there could be. I believe that if the engine situation was resolved with, you know, the leasing of the engines, if it would be allowed in the IRL, I believe you would have all the manufacturers involved, and I believe then you would have something that would be able to build on to settle this whole dispute.
Q. On a very serious note, Adam Petty, when something like that happens, what reaction did you have and does all racing stop and take a breath? And how well did you know him? I think you knew the rest of the family pretty well and your connection with John and all that, could you talk a little bit that?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I never actually met Adam. We were actually in Motegi and it was -- I think it was the morning -- the morning of the rainout, we were at breakfast and I was told about it, and totally shocked. I just couldn't believe, you know, after Lee Petty dying so close, it was just terrible for the whole Petty family. It was just one of those things, you know. Unfortunately, this is a game that we all know is dangerous and we all know that life has got to go on, but, you know, we always in the back of our minds are praying for them that they are going to be okay. It just was a bad deal.
Q. One of the constants in CART as it has changed in Michael Andretti, with all of the years of continuing winning, might not be as dominant as he once was, people say he might not be as fast as he was a few years ago, but with changes and everything you managed to win every year. Are they more satisfying now to sort of say to the guys that are ten years younger than you, "I can still beat you." Do you get more satisfaction out of a win now?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It's so competitive. It's never been this competitive, ever. And I think it's safe to say this is the most competitive racing in the world, and maybe of all-time that we are experiencing right now. And to win a race right now, it definitely does feel gratifying.
T.E. McHALE: All right, Michael, thanks for being with us this afternoon. Congratulations again on your victory on Sunday and best of luck in your hometown of Nazareth two weeks from now and during the rest of the FedEx Championship Series season. Thanks to all of you who are with us this afternoon and we'll talk to you next week.
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