CART MEDIA CONFERENCE
March 16, 1999
MIKE ZIZZO: Michael Andretti now joins us for the second half of the CART teleconference. Michael is the driver of the Kmart/Texaco/Ford Swift on Firestones. He heads into Sunday's Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami presented by Toyota at Homestead as the event's two-time defending champion. He is also CART's victory leader with 37 in his 16-year career. Michael, thank you for joining us today.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: My pleasure.
MIKE ZIZZO: And I'll kick off the questions and get us going here. I would gather that the initial thought in everybody's mind today is just how the transition has been to the Firestones.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It's been incredibly good, surprisingly actually. We figured there would be a much more -- a steeper learning curve than there really has been; so we've been very happy. We put the tires on, and in the first three laps of the run down in Homestead, we were about four-tenths quicker than we had run before; so, we were quite happy.
MIKE ZIZZO: We'll open the floor to questions.
Q. I know this is sort of open-ended, but could you just sort of give me an assessment of last year? You got off to such a great start, and I know there were a lot of disappointments. If you would evaluate on how that sets you up for this year.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Last year actually had the potential of being a very good season but unfortunately we just had a lot of things go wrong. A lot of them were out fault and a lot of them were beyond our control. Just one of those years where nothing seemed to click, especially at the beginning of the year. We won the first race and probably should have won the next four or five after that, but always had something go wrong: Motegi running out of gas; bum tire in Long Beach; Nazareth crashing; Milwaukee crashing. It was just that sort of year. But at least we are competitive. We know we have a good car. We know we have a good engine and, you know, now we feel that we're on even ground with everybody else with the tires; so we're very excited about going into this season.
Q. If I can follow up on that real quick. When things start going wrong, is it really a temptation to press? I know that you might not say it, but obviously sometimes you probably were trying to overdrive because you were trying to make up for tires. But as the season goes along, did it wear on you?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, it would wear on you, but unfortunately I've been in that position many times; so I didn't really find myself doing anything different or driving any differently because I know how this game is. It can just all of the sudden turn around on you for no reason and everything start going your way. So from that standpoint, I didn't feel like I really did anything differently. But it just is frustrating. I mean, it works on your insides a little bit, but as for the actual driving on the track and stuff, I don't think I was doing much different.
MIKE ZIZZO: Quick note on Michael before we go onto the next question: He's attempting to reach a CART record at Homestead. He is the first driver looking to win three consecutive season-openers.
Q. When you look at this season and the change that you made to the Firestone tires, I know that physically for the car, it's something that you have to look to as a positive. But mentally does it put you in a more positive mode?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It's incredible the way the whole team has turned around, not just me. I think the whole mental attitude on the team is totally different now because now we feel like we are on equal ground with everybody else, and we know that we are good enough to beat everybody else; so, yeah psychologically it was a big boost.
Q. How disappointing considering your long relationship with Goodyear to finally -- you and Carl and the team have to make the change?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It was very, very difficult. Goodyear is a great company. They have been great supporters through all the years and they are a company that's going to get it. I have no question in my mind that eventually they are going to get it. But right now we have to look out for ourselves and take care of our sponsors, and we just felt that at this time it was going to take probably up to ten races for them to catch up, and we just at this point could not give that away.
Q. And a final question. Everyone seems to be having trouble with the '99 Swift with the exception of the Newman/Haas ^^^ team. Why is that?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think it's a pretty obvious it just basically comes down to setup. We've been working with this longer and that's got to be the reason. I don't understand what the problem is with the other guys, but I really believe the car is the best car out there. And you know we'll have to show it on Sunday and if we show it on Sunday, I bet you they are all just going to change their minds about it.
Q. Question about the tires. I know that seems to be the subject du jour. There was all rumors, et cetera, that you guys were toying with this idea before. How close were you to making this change like last year or the year before?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: There were times when Carl was thinking about it for sure. But it always ended up that, you know, we just felt that Goodyear was going to get it, and so we were, you know, sticking with them. After doing all the testing that we've done, I feel that that -- we all felt that at this moment in time that we weren't going to be there.
Q. Just as a follow-up to that because we on the outside don't know exactly how these things go. How much input did you have into this? You are the one that had the flat tire at Long Beach and you're the one that really knows how the car performed on the tires. Did that increase, decrease? What was your input?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: This was a team decision. I had my input for sure. I am part of the team, but so did the engineers, team manager, and ultimately the team owner is the one that made the decision. We all gave our input, and Carl made the final decision.
Q. You just mentioned about the tires a moment ago. We'll come back to that in just a second. But you're starting with a great package this year. The competition in CART is tremendous, incredible. A couple hundredths of a second will put you five cars back. Talk about that a minute.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Drives you crazy. From our standpoint -- from a competitor's standpoint, it's tough. We are just scrapping for every little thing, and, you know, it just makes it very, very tough. But it's great. It's great for the series. It's great for the fans and you know, I think we put on some great shows and great racing. And what's amazing is for open-wheel racing to be that close is just incredible, I think. It's one thing to have fenders and to be running close the way they do, but for us not having fenders and still running wheel-to-wheel and sometimes even touching is pretty incredible; and I think we put on a pretty good show.
Q. Definitely a good show. Some of the other people that have the Swift car have decided to go to a Reynard. Talk about that a second.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't think they are abandoning it. I think they are just going with what they know at this moment and they will continue to develop. They are just are in a steep learning curve. We've had the advantage of working with the car now for a few years, and it's basically been an evolution process for the car; so we pretty much know what it needs and they obviously don't. But they know what a Reynard needs; so it's a little easier for them to make that work for them. But I think they will find as the season goes on that, you know, being with the Swift, they are going to -- it will pay for them.
Q. You said when you put the Stones on it in three laps, you knew you were better?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, in three laps we ran one of the quickest times that had been run to that point. I ran like a 25.0 on my third or fourth lap, and that to me is pretty incredible.
Q. It seems that Patrick and now Robby Gordon is claiming that the center of pressure with the undertray has been too far back and created way too much understeer and that they haven't ban able to compensate for it, and it sounds like you guys haven't had that problem?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't agree with that at all. You know, I look at them but then you've got to look at Richie Hearn. I think he ran pretty quick with the Toyota down at Homestead. I think he ran a 25.2 or something; so he's right in the ballpark. They can blame whatever they want. It's just they have just not come across the right setup for the car. That's basically the problem.
Q. Has Cosworth addressed the reliability issues that they had in spring training?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yes. They knew what the problem was there, but there was nothing they could do before it there. It was just a bad batch of valve springs basically.
Q. Just talk about possibly putting a CART race out at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and I wonder if you could just comment about racing here and also adding an oval and at what point is your schedule just going to have too many events?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: That's our problem. Unfortunately, our cars take a lot more work than the stock cars do. And so because of that, it puts a real strain on these teams to be able to keep up with a schedule like that. So, you know it's a tough situation. It's a situation that CART is going to have to figure out a way to deal with. If they are going to be adding more races, maybe they are going to start banning testing or something like that. It's a problem. But, it's nice to have that problem. I believe that a lot of venues do want us will, and hopefully they will figure out a way to work it out.
Q. This weekend you're sharing the track, I believe, with the trucks. Is there any concern about mixing the rubber?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: A little bit, but it's the same for everybody; so you just deal with it. I just hope they don't run the trucks before we go out to qualify, because that's when it's a little bit unfair for the guys that go out first. But we deal with that at every race track. There's different types of race cars that run before us and sometimes it is a problem and sometimes it isn't.
Q. When you look at this whole season, what are the keys to your team or anybody else catching that Chip Ganassi team? Do you still look at these gays as the team to beat this year?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: There's no magic to what they do. It's just detail. They really pay close attention to detail, and I give a lot of that credit to Tom Anderson. I think he does a fantastic job with organizing that team and running it, and you know, that's the measure that we have to go up and against and that's what we have to do. We have to make sure that every little thing is taken care of, because it's those things that catch you out. That's what caught us out of a few races last year, just little detail items that weren't taken care of; so that's where we have to do, and what we have to do to beat them.
Q. A lot of the guys in Winston Cup say its frustrating trying to keep up with Gordon Hendrick and those guys do. Is the analogy similar at all in CART?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Not really, because I know we can beat them. Many times last year we had them beat, but in the end of the day they won because of what I just said that detail; so a lot of times we actually beat ourselves is what I'm saying. It's not like we were dominated.
Q. You mentioned technology earlier. As the technology increases, the speed increases, lap times go down. What are your feelings on how fast is too fast and some of the steps that have been taken to slow the cars?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think there's been huge steps to slow the cars down. Especially on small ovals I think you'll find as we get to places like Nazareth, Milwaukee, new Chicago track, our times are probably going to be two seconds slower than what they could have been this year because of the new rules that they are doing, and I think it's very good that they are doing that. It's going to make the cars much harder to drive for us, but it's going to bring the driver back into it a little bit more and it's going to make it safer as well. There may be actually more crashes, which is funnier to say more crashes, but they are not going to be as serious because you are going to be going through the corners 20 to 30 miles per hour slower than if you had crashed with the old rules. So I believe that CART is doing a good job in trying to contain it. It's a continuous problem. It is a problem that will continue to plague us to the end of time because its been there every since I joined CART or open-wheel racing. It's always been a game. Engineers figure out a way to make them go quicker, and every year it's something that has to be addressed.
Q. A lot of talk has been coming up about the Swift chassis and the Firestone tires and everything. What about an engine that's now in its fourth year without any major redevelopment. Can the Ford produce enough power against the other companies?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I believe so. What they have done with this engine is incredible, I think. Every year they just give it more power and more reliable, and I believe that we probably have the best engine out there, I believe.
Q. The fact that there are more some teams using the Swift chassis that year even though some of them have had some problems, do you think that will generate more feedback that will make the chassis better, similar to what say Reynard has with 20 drivers?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Probably not in terms of competitiveness with the car, but maybe more in terms of reliability, because things do break on the car. You have more cars doing miles; so they will break quicker; so you can try to fix it quicker. But as for the speed side, of it I don't think so because nobody is going to share any of that information.
Q. Considering all the things that went wrong last year, it could have destroyed a team, I suspect. Did the team go through a period of crisis or soul-searching? Heads didn't exactly role. How does a team emerge from such a bad year?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think because you have to sit down and evaluate exactly what happened and you know a lot of it was beyond our control. It was just bad luck. I think we've got to always look at the positive side. The positive side is we were in a position to win many races, and there's not a lot of teams that can say that; so we do know that we can be competitive and we just try to build on that.
Q. There's a guy that's been to Formula 1 and back, obviously with Alex and Jacques, they are going over there and experiencing probably some of the stuff you experienced in the sense that if you don't have the right car, it's a lost cause. Can you see a back-and-forth situation developing where guys go over there come back, and try? Is there going to be a circular pattern rather than CART is losing its champions to Formula 1 which creates a wrong impression?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't see that. I believe that all along that Alex's desire was to do Formula 1 because he lives over there. He's a European at heart and he's a Formula 1 driver at heart. So that's something he always wanted to do, along with Jacques. Jacques lived in Monte Carlo. That's where he wanted to live, and that's where he wanted to really be; so I don't believe that that's what it's all about. I believe you're going to see you know -- I'd be very surprised if the champion of this year goes to Formula 1 next year. It's just the way it worked out those two years. And same with me. My aspirations were to do F-1, and unfortunately, if didn't go right for me but for reasons we all know. But you know, it's just -- I think it's just every situation is different. Everybody has their own reason. It's not like it's just a set pattern.
Q. This is not related, but I don't recall what you said at some point last year but it surprised me only because as long as your father lasted, there's always this impression that, hey, Michael is going to be around another 10 or 15 years. There was some quote at some point that made me wonder about that. Do you have any grand designs or did you say anything last year that was a matter of frustration?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't see myself -- there's no way I'm going to be going 15 years. I can tell that you right now. There's no way any driver out there can do that anymore. Competition has just changed and the pressures and everything is just way different. You know, Dad was a total exception, but he was still hitting it when it wasn't at that point. I really believe he wouldn't have been able to do it now the way it's been last couple of years. It's just really, really hard to explain unless you're actually doing it. It's even hard for me to explain to Dad, as much as he knows how competitive is really is, and how it's changed. I think the days of drivers running to 50 years old are over.
Q. How about your own thoughts? I mean, Bobby what, 44; do you have any magic number?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Bobby had a great career, but I really don't want to get in the position like Bobby was in. He hadn't won a race since '92 and I really don't want to be in that position. If I feel like I'm not winning and being competitive, I don't think I really want to be doing it then. It's something that you can't say right now what you're doing to do. You have to play it year to year and see what's really going on and see how your desire is in five years or whatever and take it from there.
Q. If you could talk a little about the series losing two pretty popular driver at that time; and sort of a related question, I think there's a lot of wind going around, but there's talk that Jeff Gordon might race at Indianapolis. Could something like that be possible today?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I believe that, yeah, especially now it would be a lot easier for Jacques and Jeff Gordon to run Indy because I --
Q. I meant in the Formula 1 race.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: That's total, total rumor. I won't even comment on that. There's no way that that could happen.
Q. You have two very popular champions that caught the public eye's and fancy.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I believe that waiting in the wind is another two or three guys that are going to take that place. I think that you look at guys like Franchitti and Bryan Herta as well I think is on the verge of hitting big. I really don't think that that's going to be a problem for us.
Q. Michael, you said you're not going to drive for another 15 years. How long do you plan to drive and what's in store after that? Your dad eluded to some time owning a team. Could we see a team Andretti with father and son?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: That is something that would definitely interest me. I would like to somehow stay involved once I would retire. I think what Bobby did was a great thing. He's now set. He has a very well-established team. And I think it's going to be a lot of fun for him, and he's still going to be able to stay involved with the sport. And that's what I'd like to do when I go beyond the driving years is somehow be involved with a racing team.
Q. And how much longer do you intend to drive?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I know that I'm going to be at least an least another four years. I can tell that you because of my contract. After that, I'll just have to sit down with my wife and myself and see how I feel see if I still have that same desire that I do today right now and then we'll see.
Q. I was amazed to hear you say four-tenths quicker after three or four laps with Firestones. I thought the advantage there was all going to be over the course of a tire run.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: That's what even put a bigger smile on our face. We had do a few 40-lap runs and it was incredible how they held up so we were -- we were very excited about it.
Q. So they are everything you thought in durability, but they also are a faster tire?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I didn't really expect that. I think maybe some of the problem we had on the Goodyear tire, maybe we just weren't quite set up for and it and the Firestone tire just complemented us or something. I don't know.
Q. Could you talk a bit how the decision -- how you finally came to the decision, not in terms of who made it, but did you have like one last test that you gave the Goodyear?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, we did. We knew -- the tests that we had before spring training was not very good, and we knew when we were going to spring training that it wasn't going to be a good spring training, that we already knew, but there was a test after spring training that we were going to say, okay, they have got to show us right here that they have it and they didn't. You know, they made gains but not in our estimation. We didn't feel like it was big enough gains.
Q. Where was that test?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: That was at Homestead as well.
Q. On the oval as well?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yes.
Q. Did Goodyear know how important that test was?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yes, they did.
MIKE ZIZZO: If I could just ask you a final we. Earlier today we announced form ace of a CART All-star Team. Your dad we have named the centerpiece trophy after the Mario Andretti trophy. Can you tell everyone what it would feel like for you possibly of winning that trophy named after your dad, how special it would be to keep it in-house?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: That would be huge. Again it would be one of those special moments that me and Dad have shared and you know for me, personally it would be really, really huge to be able to share that moment -- another moment with Dad in the CART series; so, yeah, I have something else to shoot for.
MIKE ZIZZO: Thank you very much for your time today, and we appreciate everyone else joining us as well and we look forward to seeing many of you down in Homestead.
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