Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
May 16, 2012
THE MODERATOR: Thanks for taking the time to join us today. Obviously I'm sure everyone is aware of Michael's Hall of Fame career as a driver. He has won two Indy 500s as a team owner and several IndyCar Series Championships. With the month of May upon us and five cars on the track, in fact, practicing right now, what have your impressions of the month been so far?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Actually quite good. I think for one, the weather has been unbelievable. I don't have remember Indianapolis being this way, so that's nice. The new car, everything there, all of the worries that everybody was having, I think we put to rest pretty quick. The car seemed to be performing really well.
Everything is going great with Chevrolet with us, and our team, and we have been quite happy. The most important thing, the drivers are happy with their cars. They are happy with them in qualifying in them and racing in them. So far, so good.
THE MODERATOR: I know when you have five cars running, when a team goes to run, everyone seems to join you guys and run some big drafting sessions. Has it been a challenge to run your program knowing that when the team goes out, everybody is going to basically follow you.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: A little bit. It does mess up some of the stuff we want to do with the drivers. They like to choreograph it a little bit. They always try to when they go out there, but somebody gets out there in the middle of it and messes the whole thing up.
But that's part of the deal, because people, when they see we have all five cars in pit lane, they know we are ready to go do that, so they all sit and wait until we do it and get out there and simulate racing traffic for themselves, but that's part of the deal.
THE MODERATOR: Earlier today it was announced that Andretti Sports Marketing has joined forces with Race On LLC to promote the Grand Prix of Baltimore on Labor Day weekend. Speaking as an Andretti Sports Marketing head, what makes that attractive to the company?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: The first thing obviously was the success of it last year, being a participant and seeing what a great response it was from the community and how many people were out there, and the track itself, the whole setting, it was just a great event, and when we got the call from JP Grant, asking if we would get involved.
We were asking: Well, what's going on?
He said: Well, there might not be a race. And we're like, whoa, whoa, it's too important to our series to lose an event like that.
So we decided to step in and have a look at it. And the more we dug into it, the more due diligence we did, we thought we could come in and help make a difference, and that's why we're here. You know, we feel that this event has huge potential to be, I think, one of the biggest, if not the biggest street race in the world.
So, you know, we are going to strive to try to make that happen.
THE MODERATOR: You mentioned trying to make the race a world‑class event, but with the short time line between now and Labor Day, do you have confidence that the team you've assembled can pull things off and make it a world‑class event?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, I feel very good about the operation side. There's certainly a time to make sure that that is going to go off the way it's supposed to.
As far as ticket sales, we feel we are going to be okay. We announced we are going to go on sale May 28, which I think is a good day, right after Indianapolis, so that's going to start to get the excitement of Indianapolis and we'll start thinking about that. I don't think anybody really thinks about what they are going to do on Labor Day anyway until then. So we don't feel like that's going to be a problem.
The only thing is, the biggest challenge is the sponsorship, because a lot of budgets are closed this time of the year. But having said that, we feel we are close to halfway of our realistic goal already and we have just announced the event; so we feel that we should be able to hit our numbers.
Our numbers are not as big as they will be next year. Next year's numbers we feel are going to be really big, because we are going to have time to go out and sell it and we are going to be able to hit people right before their budgets close and things like that.
But overall, I think we feel that we can still pull this thing off and make it a better event than it was last year, and the reason I say that is because it was the experience from last year‑‑ there's things that could have been done better and we know that because of the complaints or whatever, and we are going to make sure that we fix those things and make it even more of a pleasant experience. So, we feel good.
Q. How do you feel about changing the rules for qualifying?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It's fine. It's the same for everybody. I think from our standpoint, I don't care if we are running 215 or 225. I don't think it really matters. It's just a number. It's not going to affect the competition in any one way. I think the same guys are going to be at the top whether they are running 225 or 215.
For the fans' standpoint, to make the numbers standpoint, I think the pole will probably be around 222 or so, then fine. I'm okay with it.
Q. You have five cars on the grid, you have Milwaukee coming up and now you take on Baltimore. Are you spreading yourself too thin?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No, because we are staffing up to do it. We are not just using everybody the same. We are getting really good people, so it's allowing us the chance to hire really great people, as well, and to get into our organization.
So, no, we're okay.
Q. Running during happy hour, what has the driver's reaction been to the toe and the hole in the air that's getting purged this year compared to last year's car?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It definitely pokes a bigger hole. It's funny, you can pick up a draft from further back, but the real effect comes from the last, I don't know, five or six car lengths. All of the sudden the car just totally accelerates and it's very similar to what the HANS device did back in the early‑‑ around 2000, 2001 or whatever it was. So it's similar to that.
But, you know, I think what it's going to do is make for some exciting racing, because I don't think anybody is going to just be able to stay up front. I think there's going to be a lot of back and forth, so it's going to be crazy.
The biggest thing I'm worried about is when you start to get that suction, you get it late, in the end there's a straightaway and all of a sudden you get a huge run on somebody that the guy that's in the lead might not realize that the guy is there when you get to the apex of the corner because he had such a run on you. So I'm a little worried about some of that happening into turn one and turn three.
Q. Marco touched on you and he kind of breaking up; you going to Ryan's car and Kyle Moyer going to his car to call his race. Talk about the decision to jump on Ryan's car.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, we are always trying to make things better, and you know, at one point we thought it would be better if I was on his radio, when I was on his radio, obviously there's the father/son thing and people, when they hear us talk, and we talk like a father and son, and people get intimidated by it because we are a little like short with each other, like fathers and sons can be and people think, oh, man, it's bad. So we decided, fine, we'll just put Kyle back over there, so that's all we did.
Q. Just wondering, I don't mean to talk about down things, but just your thoughts about Dan Wheldon, I think you guys actually had a deal going into this season and stuff, and his tragic end, and just wondering if you had many thoughts about him this month, this week, getting ready for the Indy 500, the fact that he would have been the defending champion, and how do you compartmentalize all those things?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I mean, yeah, you definitely have thoughts about Dan. He just was a great guy, and, yes, you're right, we actually were going to sign the cop tract right after the race for him to drive the car this year, the Go Daddy car, actually, and it just was a real shock. He was just a great guy. He was great driver and more importantly, a great person and a huge loss for the sport.
It was a reminder of our sport. We have a tough sport here, and it's no different than it's ever been. Sometimes people get complacent and think that those things can't happen, but unfortunately you're going to get reminded every now and then and that's what happened.
Just one of the realities of our business.
Q. Was he a natural in Indy, he always seemed to put himself in contention no matter who he was driving for; is there such a thing as guys having a knack for that track and that race?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Absolutely. He just took to that place like a duck to water. From day one, he was very comfortable there and he just always‑‑ like you said, he just always had a way of having himself in the right position at the end of the race.
One thing about Dan was he knew how to win races. There's a lot of people that are good racers but they just don't know how to win races. Dan knew how to win races.
Q. You're a former driver of great repute, and you decided to become an owner; looking at Sarah Fisher and her operation, humble beginnings, what are your impressions of her operation and what are the challenges that you can enlighten people about being an owner that clearly she is going through, also?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: She's done a great job. I think they put a great little team together, really great people, and most importantly, they have got good drivers. That's the big key.
She's always had cars‑‑ when you look at driving at Indianapolis, they know what it takes to get around there. So they are doing a great job. I think she was able to get a partner in there to help her out, and I think it's been working really well for them, and I'm really happy for them.
It's great to see and I think it's great for the series and it's great to have a young kid like Newgarden up there, and driving for Sarah makes it that much better, because she's a great name and she's very popular. Very happy to see it for them.
Q. Have you felt any impact from the departure of Danica's departure from the series?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Actually, no, not really. I think what it has allowed to happen, I think you're hearing a lot more about our other drivers. We have such great talent and great personalities and I think they were sort of in the shadow a little bit, and I think it's exposing them more, which I think is actually a positive for the series.
Q. Have you paid attention at all to her transition into NASCAR this year at all, and what have been your impressions if you have?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: She's having a tough time over there right now.
Q. Speaking of Dan, to lighten things up, once upon a time you had Dan, Dario, Tony playing tricks and now you have Hinchcliffe with you; outside of the race car, has he brought his sense of humor into the team meetings and/or other times?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: He totally has. He's been a great breath of fresh air to bring in, and he sits in with everybody. Everybody loves him. The camaraderie is as good as when we had it then. That's one of the reasons why we are getting the results we are having right now is because our drivers are all really getting along, and they are having fun. They are in meetings, joking and having fun, and that's what you know things are going good.
Q. Having three engines available in the series now, is there such a thing as ever making engines totally equal, and are you concerned about the juggling that could go on over the next several years as guys try to align themselves with the right engine; what are your concerns along those lines, or do you have any?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, I mean, obviously you want to ultimately be with the right one at the right time. But the league is doing things a little different than what we have done in the past and they are not really going to allow manufacturers, if they do have an advantage, to keep that advantage for a long time. So they are actually going to re‑evaluate the engines like midseason and if one is below a certain threshold, then they are going to be able to make the adjustments however they do it, with boosts, whatever, to make them more equal.
I think they are going to make sure that there won't be one that just totally has a huge advantage over the others. So I think that's a good thing.
Q. But you have a vested interest in the series obviously and Chevy has done a good job. Is it disappointing to see what Lotus has done in the first step?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: You have to cut them a little bit of a break. Their program came together very late. So you've got to give them a little time yet. Like I said, in June sometime, I think they will evaluate and at that point they will probably give Lotus something to make them more competitive, which is part of the agreement that the manufacturers have. I would say probably by mid year they are going to be back up there.
I think the other thing is, Lotus is down, but I really believe that Chevy and Honda have been like equal, very close, and I think just the difference has been, I think Chevrolet put together a hell of a team of teams, and I think that's the big difference so far.
Q. What's the biggest advantage to being with Marco and what's the biggest disadvantage? What's the thing that makes it hardest for this to work?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: With me on the radio? I think people are hearing us‑‑ we don't fight but you raise your voice to him but then the guy also get all intimidated, like, oh, they are fighting. No, it's just talking to each other like fathers and sons do a lot of times.
So there's definitely positives and negatives and having him on the team. The positive is it's cool to have the three generations and blah, blah, blah, but then the negatives are, it is your kid, and so you have to always be very conscious to make sure that everybody is treated equally on the team.
There's always going to be people thinking, well, because it's his kid and blah, blah, blah. That's a big negative, especially for Marco, because they think he's only there because he's my kid and that's not true. He's there because the sponsors love him and No. 2, he does a good job. He's quick.
So anyway, you know, there is positives and negatives.
Q. Isn't it time for that to go away‑‑
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: There's always naysayers and people saying that. Unfortunately it's still out there. It will be great when he starts winning more races and I think that will shut a lot more people up. He's getting himself more and more competitive. He's had a really tough year this year. Like if he can do‑‑ if it can go wrong, it's gone wrong with him this year.
But you know, hopefully he'll be able to turn it around here. I think if he wins this race, it might shut some people up.
Q. How do you assess him now?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: He's doing a good job. He's doing more and more confident. I see it in him, and I've been saying it, he's getting ready to do his big breakout.
Q. We have seen Randy Bernard making changes to the sport, you've made a massive investment into the series with the team and promoting a couple of races now. What kind of reaction are you seeing from the marketplace from those that are potentially sponsoring your events, your cars, so forth and so on, what's the vibe you're getting? What's the outlook on the series in the business world?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think there's a very positive vibe out there. I think there's a lot of good things happening. On the vent side, there's a lot of good stuff happening with the teams. It's been good. I think it's great having the engine manufacturers in there. I think that's bringing a lot to the party. So I think we have a lot of really good stuff happening right now, and I'm just hoping that we continue to grow, and I know our numbers are still not where we want them to be, like on TV and stuff, but at least they are going in the right direction and going up, so that's good.
THE MODERATOR: We thank Michael for his time.
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