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CART Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Michael Andretti
July 17, 2001


T.E. McHALE: Thank you and good afternoon to everyone. Welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. Thanks to all of you for being with us today. Our guest this afternoon is Michael Andretti of Team Motorola who drove to a spectacular last to first victory in last Sunday's Molson Indy in Toronto Ontario Canada. Good afternoon, Michael. Congratulations on your latest win.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Thank you.

T.E. McHALE: Thanks for being with us today.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: My pleasure.

T.E. McHALE: Michael, driver of the No. 39 Motorola Honda Reynard stalled in the third turn of the first green flag lap Sunday and did not get restarted until he had fallen to last place in the 26-car field. But he gradually fought his way back into contention; took the lead on the 71st of 95 laps, and went on to the record 41st victory of his CART career. The win was his 7th at Toronto giving him more victories at a single venue than any other driver in FedEx Championship Series history. His other Toronto triumphs came in 1989, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995 and 2000. He also posted his 12th finish of fifth or better in 15 career starts at Toronto. The 25 laps Michael led improved his CART career leading laps led total to 6,509; nearly doubled the total of second place Rick Mears who has 3,286 laps during his storied career. Michael also extended his CART records by scoring at least one victory in his 14th different FedEx Championship Series season and by making his 279th CART career start. Perhaps most importantly Michael's victory moved him from 6th to second place in the FedEx Championship Series Championship. Heading into Round 11 this weekend's Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota at Michigan International Speedway, Michael has 73 points; 11 fewer than Championship leader Kenny Brack f team Rahal who has 84. The Michigan 500, presented by Toyota, Round 11 of the FedEx Championship Series will be televised live by ABC TV this Sunday July 22nd beginning at 1:30 P.M. eastern time. With that we will open it up to questions for Michael.

Q. Michigan obviously kind of a bitter-sweet for a lot of us who enjoyed the race this week being the last CART event here. You talked about Michigan as being a race that, hey, you are just happy if you and your car can go home in one piece. You have got to have some good memories about this place. Share a memory or two about Michigan.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, yeah, I have a couple of good memories and that would be 1987 and 1989, those were two pretty big races for me because they are the only 500-mile races I have ever won. So they were definitely pretty special. And last year's race was fairly special too. We put on pretty good show there with Juan. That was one for the highlights. I have mixed feelings about it. I think from a fans' standpoint it's going to be a loss for TV. But from the drivers' standpoint and everything, I am just -- I am relieved that we won't be going back there because the way the rules are and everything, the way the racing is -- we all go in there and hold our breath for the three days that we were there hoping and praying that nobody gets hurt. I don't think that's right.

Q. Congratulations, Michael. I was wondering you said you don't think that's right. Have you ever -- have you voiced your concerns with CART? Have you been able to say maybe these rule changes are great for the show but not great for the drivers?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Oh, yeah, I think all the drivers have voiced their opinions on it. The problem is we voice our opinion but we really don't have an answer. There is no answer to slow the cars down, that's the problem with the tracks like Michigan. The way technology is today it sounds easy but it's not that simple to just say we are going to slow the cars down. That's the problem we have. So yeah, we voiced our opinions on it and you know, and CART has heard us. I think that's one of the reasons why we are not going back there.

Q. Is the show worth the risk though?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, maybe for you, but when it is my legs and my life, probably not.

Q. Two questions. How much will you miss not running at Nazareth, first of all? And second of all, has anybody ever contacted you about driving in Winston Cup?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, you know, there again, we have mixed feelings on not going to Nazareth. It is my hometown race and I am disappointed that we are not going to be there. I am disappointed that we are not going to have the race -- at the moment we don't have a race in the northeast. But on the other side of it is, you know, it is a track that's a little small for our cars, and it's hard for passing, and also you know, living here and everything, I am just a little disappointed that the fans didn't come out and support it more. Obviously if we would have filled the stands the last race that we were there, I think there was a shot at getting this race to stay on the schedule. But it was a beautiful day in May and nobody showed up for the race. That sort of made it too easy for CART to say it's not going to come back.

Q. How about the Winston Cup?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, I have had in the past, yeah, I have had offers to do it. I really have no desire. I don't feel like starting -- for me it would be like starting over in a way because I have never driven those cars and I am not willing to give up a year or so of learning to do it. Especially this time in my career, and also the schedule is very grueling. It's a huge commitment and I am very happy with where I am at the moment.

Q. There has been a three-year tentative agreement with -- to keep the CART race in Vancouver going. Given your affinity for Toronto your thoughts about racing in Canada and keeping the Vancouver event going?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think it's exciting because the people in Vancouver and the fans and the city really supported that race as well. And it's a big event there and it would have been a real shame to lose that off our schedule, so I am really happy that CART chose to keep that race on. From the business standpoint, it's really good. From a personal standpoint I am happy because I love the races in Canada. I love going to Vancouver, and I am looking forward to, from what I am hearing, there's sounds of another race coming in Montreal. So I think that will be really exciting for our series because the Canadian fans have been fantastic at supporting our series.

Q. Let's face it, it gives you another venue to conquer up here.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: There you go.

Q. Talk a little bit about the championship and the race for the season, what is it going to take in your mind to feel that, hey, I am back on track to go at this thing? In terms of podium finishes and wins and losses, is there a comfort zone you'd like to be at within the next two or three races, three or four races?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, and I think that is just finishing in the Top-5 I think is going to be so crucial between now and the end of season and I think the guys that does that the most times is going to be the one that wins the Championship. That's what we need to focus on is just finishing those races and hopefully winning another one or two along the way. But the main focus has got to be we have got to finish them.

Q. With the new Hanford device that is going to be used this coming weekend have you had any discussions with anyone who has tested it, with a bigger vertical flap on it?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I am just wearing the same one that I have worn.

Q. I am sorry the Hanford device, not the HANS device.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, the Hanford device, I don't know, I am just, you know, I think it's going to be wheel-to-wheel racing. Unfortunately I think the test they had in Michigan wasn't real great for that because the test was scheduled right after the NASCAR race there and I think all the NASCAR rubber was still on the track, I think it made the track very slippery so the guys weren't really able to run close to each other like they think -- like I think it is going to happen. I thinks once we get out there, everybody together, it is going to be very similar to the way the racing has been. Now it is going to be maybe a couple of mile an hour slower, but that's about it. But it is still about going to make a bigger hole in the air and if it is going to do that it is going to make it easier to draft so you are going to have pretty much what we have had the last couple years.

Q. Possibly even better?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't know. Depends which way you look at it. Maybe better from your standpoint.

Q. You and I had talked after the race on Sunday, you said that you had a great time being able to race in Toronto because you didn't have to worry about fuel. The last caution or the last pit stops are always governed by whether you have to conserve to finish, but there is no more fuel shortage anymore. Any reason to have fuel limits on the cars at this point? Should you be given almost an unlimited supply and let your race --

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: That's normally not the problem. The problem is like you say like if yellow would have come out earlier than that, that would have been right at the edge, we might have all had to conserve to get there that one last yellow. My thing is I think, you know, they need to come up with a formula that, I don't know, that takes all that side of it out of it, like maybe everybody has to pit on the same lap or something like that. I think that would make that better because, you know, you could run flat out the whole race knowing that everybody has got to get to that place and everybody has got to pit at the same time and there is going to be no more having to stretch your stop longer than the other guys because while you are on the track and they are getting -- they're going out on cold tire you can make up four, five seconds; then that's how you pass. So guys purposely don't race real hard, they just race to conserve full to get those extra couple of laps. Which I don't think is good. I don't think that's good racing. I think if everybody is pitting at the same time then you don't have that advantage, then it comes down to the driver and the car that is working the best. Plus the pit crew comes into it even more because you know, it is not because a guy -- a guy's not passing in the pits because he went further. He is doing it because his pitstop was quicker, if you understand what I mean.

Q. There's some talk maybe CART moving to the road course in Fontana; any feelings on that?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: That road course will never work, no way. That's an impossible thing, no way.

Q. I'd like you to think about this question as not Michael Andretti the veteran Champ Car driver with all the wins and the great spectacular win, I want you to think as Michael Andretti, the businessman who is also involved in business with himself and with his family. Looking at the turbulence in the CART office this year, the things that have been going on, and the turbulence with races being cancelled; there's no TV package right now; the turbulence with all the engine manufacturers that have been resolved just recently, you know, when you are done driving, you are not going to walk away from racing. I am sure you'd like to have a team of your own and I am sure you'd like to know about the CART Series being around. How comfortable are you feeling right now with the way things are playing out and not only as a driver, yes, but as a businessman and somebody who is concerned about the future of this series and concerned about being a possible team owner yourself in the very near future?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, you are always concerned about it. But you got to have faith in the leader. At this moment I still have faith in Joe Heitzler. I think, no, there's not a TV thing, but I think there's going to be one. I think -- I know he is working very hard on it, you know, this engine thing hopefully is all worked out and I am hoping he is getting through the problems. Unfortunately he can't tell us all because it's a public company, he can't tell us everything he is doing. But I think he is getting closer to getting everything, hopefully all those issues fixed so he can start just concentrating on making our series better. So we got to give him that. He came in only recently and so he came into a lot of problems that he has got to first try to iron out. I think we still got to give him time to get it worked out and hopefully by the end of this year he will have those worked out and have a plan in place to put CART where it needs to be. It needs to be back in the forefront of auto racing in the United States because it is an awesome series; we have an awesome thing to sell here and I am hoping he can do that. If he fails to do that, then we got some problems. But at the moment, I still have faith in Joe.

Q. You talk to the other drivers, I am sure there has been conversations about this situation. Without saying specifically as a representative for the drivers, do they feel the same way you are or are there jokes between the two of you that, hey, we might all be driving just ovals next year?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Not yet. I think there are concerns for sure, but I think on a whole the drivers still have confidence in Joe, and we have met with Joe and he's said some very good things. And unfortunately he can't tell us everything he is doing, but I think he is leading on to some really good stuff. So we are all hoping that that is going to work out and I think most of us as a whole we still have the confidence that it is going to be okay.

Q. In light of what happened at Texas and I know your thoughts on Michigan, you explained your thoughts coming back to Michigan, if you can look ahead for a minute to the German track, another big two-mile oval that you are going to be racing on later this summer. Have you had a chance to test on it and do you have some of the same concerns about that track as well?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No, because we know the banking is going to be a lot less and that's the biggest thing. We need -- as a series we need tracks with low banking because the high banking just -- it just doesn't work for our type of car. There's a lot less banking there and I talked with guys like Bryan Herta and Bryan said he might even be down-shifting there in a couple of corners which is great. I mean, that's what I think we need to be doing, and so I think it is going to be a positive. I think it is going to be a good event. Bryan thinks it is going to be a good track, and so I don't have those same concerns for there.

Q. I am wondering over the years as you become, in essence, the senior member of the group out there on the track, it seems like you have gotten a little more laid back, you are a little more mellow than you used to be. Do you feel that it is something you have worked at or is that something that is coming naturally?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think it is naturally. I think it is experience. I think the -- you are younger, you still have a lot of unknowns and you are just uptight about it and you don't know what to expect. And now that I am a little older, a little more experienced, I just feel more comfortable that I have an idea of what I am up against so I am more calm about it, I guess, because I have a pretty good idea what to expect.

Q. It comes across both to us and the media and to people at the track very well as well. I have heard more than one comment about that with you. Looking ahead to the future, how many more years do you think you are going to be racing?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Who knows. At the moment I have another two years left on my contact and that puts me at 40 years old and actually Barry has an option of taking another two after that. We have just got to play it by ear. At the moment I am still feeling good. I am in the best shape of my life, and I am still running halfway competitive, so as long as I feel like I can do that and still have the drive to want to do it, I will be doing it. But I don't know how long it will be going on. It could all of a sudden overnight, boom, it just isn't there. But at the moment I don't see it. I still feel good. I still feel like I can go for a long time. We will just have to wait and see.

Q. You are still having a lot of fun, I guess?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, it is still fun. It's a lot more hard work than it ever used to be, and you work a lot harder for a lot less, but when you do get the result though it does definitely feel good.

Q. Earlier this year in another teleconference you had talked about taking 100 horsepower out of the engines as a way to slow the cars down. I am wondering if that was still a possibility, if it was still an issue; still thought that was a way to --

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think they need to take 200 horsepower out of them, be honest with you because the manufacturers will get another 100 back just by development in probably a year or so. They need to make a big move. I think their next engine formula needs to be that way and my feeling is I think it needs to go more towards where the IRL engines are to get the horse power down in that range and hopefully and come up with an engine spec that is similar to that, that will make it a lot easier for CART teams to go and do Indianapolis as well; make it more cost effective.

Q. A question that I have had often: Do you think that racing is -- the competition between the drivers, do you think racing would be better if the cars were slower and give the control of the cars back to the drivers?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Absolutely. You can't tell the difference between 200 and 250 out at Michigan, for instance. Fans can't tell the difference. It is only a number. They come to watch competition. They come to watch the passing, the side-by-side racing. That's what it's about. So to answer your question, it is that; it is not the speed.

Q. You talked a little bit about the schedule being really tough, especially for NASCAR, and your schedules here and getting tougher and tougher. You also talked about CART trying to get back in the forefront of racing in the U.S.. What is your opinion on the push for more and more foreign venues - not only has the travel got to be crazy for you guys, but so many of the races back to the states are either going to be taped delayed or in the middle of the night or something crazy. Seems like you are conflicting with what we are trying to do here....

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No, I don't agree with you. I think that you got to look at CART, you got to look at the support that CART has gotten over the years of; where it's grown. It's grown hugely internationally, and I think it's very important for us to get races over in Europe. We have millions of fans in Europe. I think it is important for us to get over there and have a show for them. But I think we also have got to get -- move our events over here. I think what has kept CART alive since the CART and IRL split has been the international influence. We cannot turn our eye on that. We have got to still continue to cultivate; along with though getting it nationally stronger.

Q. How does the travel affect you? You, as the drivers, going over to Germany, is that something you are looking forward to or dreading?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It's a hassle, no question about it, but, hey, that's life. Life is sometimes a hassle. But I think it's good for us to be there. I think those fans over there are going to be in culture shock. They are going to be over there, they are going to be at a race and be able to see the whole racetrack. They are going to be at a race, they are going to be actually get a chance to get close to the drivers, to actually get close to the race cars. That's something that those fans have never experienced. I think it is going to be a real shock for them and it is going to be a pleasurable shock for them and I think that is only going to make CART stronger.

Q. Can you tell me how you are coming along with the development of the special head rest that you were trying out in your car for safety?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: The HANS device you mean?

Q. I thought you were also working on something actually to do with the car.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No. I don't think so. I think the rules mandate what we do with the padding all around the cockpit and our head and everything. Then we also have to wear the HANS device which I think is a great thing on the ovals. No, we really -- I don't really understand the question.

Q. Will you be wearing the HANS device on road courses?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: At the moment I am not been able to make it work for me on the road courses still restricts my breathing a lot. So we are still working to try to get it that way. It is going to be a difficult thing I think for all the drivers to be able to wear it.

Q. This being Team Motorola's rookie season, are you satisfied with how everything has gone through this point in the season and are you poised to make a run at the Championship?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I am excited that the way this team came together. We have a lot of really good people in this team; people that have won a lot of races; that have experienced success, and I felt it right away when I did my very first test with these guys. And these guys want to win and they know how to win. So coming into the first race we felt -- I felt and I know they felt the same way that we are going for the Championship. This is not just a rookie team. This is a team put together of a lot of experience. I think we all felt that we could win right away. The only disappointing thing is it took us this long to win. I think we could have won a few more races earlier in the year that didn't go together. So to answer your second -- first part was how satisfied I am with the season? Halfway satisfied. I think it could have been a little better, but now after last weekend I feel a little better that we finally broke the ice and won a race and I am hoping that that will just get us on a roll. But I think this team is very much capable of winning it.

Q. You have had the opportunity to drive the Montreal track in that one year that you drove Formula 1. How do you think that track will be for the Champ Cars?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Good. I think it is going to be a good track. I really like that track. I drove there in Formula I. I drove in Atlantics. It is a fun track. I understand -- I think they are going to change it a little bit. I am not sure it is going to be the exact track or is it ---

Q. There's talk of maybe shorting the hairpins..

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: But either way, whether they change it or not, I think the basics of the track is going to be really good for our cars.

T.E. McHALE: With that we will wrap it up for the afternoon. We would like to thank you, Michael Andretti, for taking the time to join us. Best of luck in the rest of the FedEx Championship Series Season.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Thanks very much.

T.E. McHALE: Thanks to all of you who were with us today. Good afternoon and we will talk to you next week.

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