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CART Media Conference

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Michael Andretti
September 28, 1998

MIKE ZIZZO: Good afternoon and thank you for joining us to today's CART teleconference presented by MCI. I'd like to welcome our guest today, Michael Andretti, of Newman/Haas Racing. Michael is currently 6th in the Series Championship with 112 points as he heads into this weekend's inaugural Texaco Grand Prix in Houston. Michael has been paced this season by a victory at Homestead and four runner-up finishes in the No. 6 K-Mart Texaco Havoline Swift Ford on Goodyear tires. Before we get started with questions, I'll throw the first one out to Michael. Michael, tell us about going down to Houston, and Texaco's backyard, also co-owner Carl Haas'. This will be his race. He's promoting it, and give us your feeling about what it would be like to possibly win this race.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: This weekend is huge weekend for our team. It's in Texaco's backyard, and it would mean a lot to Carl Haas. We definitely have an incentive to want to do well.

Q. Welcome to Texas, finally. Michael, this course is only 1.68 miles, and I'm wondering how difficult is that going to be for these cars. I'm not sure how wide it is, but it seems to be awfully tight to me for this powerful and this fast of a car?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah. I mean the length is not necessarily the difference; it's the layout, what it's going to be like. And for us to really comment for sure on what it's going to be, you look at it on paper, and you just can't really tell for sure what it's going to be like. I really can't comment on it until we're down there. I know that it's going to be very wide for a street circuit, so that's one positive for there, for one. And looking at the layout, there may be a spot for passing at the end of the straightaway. Looks like it's a fairly good straightaway there. We're opening that having the width and having the length of that straightaway. Going into the slow corner will be the place where it will be -- we'll be able to pass because that's always the biggest complaint on the street circuit is there's no places to pass. So hopefully the way it is, it will have a place.

Q. I want to follow up, I know you'll be going to Houston, and that will be the first time CART has raced in the state, and yet we have the Texas Motor Speedway up in Fort Worth. Number One, I know there's been a lot of politics in that decision not to come here, but one of the problems was speed. Would the Hanford device make that possible to race on a speedway like TMS?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No, I believe it -- I don't think it's a political problem. I think politically we were ready to race there. I think it was a safety issue, and I think it's still an issue for us, even with the Hanford device, with that amount of banking and that sort of layout, we would still be going way too fast, and we feel it would be way too dangerous, the sort of G's that we would be pulling through the corner, would be bigger than anywhere else that we ever raced. So we -- I think it's definitely just a safety issue more than anything.

Q. Mike, when you're going to a new track like this which you've never seen before, how do you approach it? Do you have any apprehension and concerns about a new track in which you've never raced?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Not really. I guess you could look at Vancouver. That's exactly what happened there. It was a totally new racetrack, and that's the way it is here. In our series it seems like every year we have at least one new racetrack and you just go and deal with it. It's the same for everybody, and you hope that your team has done a little bit better job in their homework than the other teams and then you just approach it from there. So you just take the best educated guess and go.

Q. Vancouver was a prime example of a safety concern, which you all had, once you got there. Was it the sort of thing you worry about going to a new track, how dangerous it might be never having been driven on?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Sometimes. But we all had this question of that danger going into it before the weekend, actually. We questioned what it was going to be like, and as it ended up the drivers' concerns were correct. Whereas when I look at the Houston track, I don't really see in the layout, from what we have seen. I don't see any real safety issues there.

Q. If I may ask one quick question, Vancouver, the schedule came out today, Vancouver has an asterisk beside it. Michael, would you reiterate your concerns about Vancouver, and what has to be done before that asterisk is removed beside Vancouver's name for next year's race?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think there's a few things. From the safety issue it has to be that last turn because you are headed for a huge bridge abutment there, if something went wrong, and it's a definite safety problem there. And then there's also other issues, as well, that need to be addressed within the way -- the hospitality areas were, and things like that.

Q. Michael, a quick question, you spoke about the first-time tracks. Can you kind of explain to everyone how important that first practice is and how much you do learn and kind of where there are some passing areas, and some areas you thought may have been able to do things you can, or areas you think you can make up key time on people?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It's really not the first practice. I think every single practice of a race weekend like that is very key, because it's such a steep learning curve, and every mile you can put on the track is that much more you're going to learn. So I think every minute of practice is very, very important. So as for finding places to pass and things like that, that pretty much happens quickly. But it's adjusting your car and learning what your car wants, where you need that time. And you need every second of practice, normally. You need to take advantage of every second of practice, I should say.

Q. What's the situation, I hate to keep asking about tires, but this seems to be like the third year in a row where we've ended up talking a lot about tires and whether you have a chance of winning a race with Goodyear tires. Can you say anything about that?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It's a frustrating issue for us. We have taken a gamble -- see, our problem is we've taken a gamble by going with the tire that there's only a few cars out there that have that tire. So if that tire misses it by any bit, you're going up against the rest of the field. But we've also gone with the gamble that if that tire works better than the other tire, we only have to race against a couple of cars. So right now it's been working against us more than it's helped us. But we still are hoping that we're going to get it figured out with Goodyear, that we're going to have that advantage, and instead of racing whatever, 18, 19 cars, we'll only be racing six cars. So it's hurt us for sure, I think, but you've got to look at a company like Goodyear. It's a huge company, a company that wants to win and is going to try to do whatever it can to win, and you know sooner than later they've got to hit it. And you know when they do, you want to be with them because you'll have the advantage that not many guys have.

Q. Just a quick assessment, four seconds, any one of those could turn around and we could still have a race here. Just a quick assessment of the whole season in again.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: The frustration is the biggest key word for me, just been really competitive. And it seems like every race we have something that goes wrong, either a mistake that we make or something just weird goes wrong, the tire blows on the last lap. It's just been that sort of year. To have the year go with like, say, Zanardi's way, we could have won the championship. If Zanardi had our bad luck, we've been as competitive as him race in and race out. But he's taken advantage of problems we've had and made it work, and it's just very frustrating for me because we've had a really good race car this year, and the engine has been really good and Goodyear has gotten much, much closer. And there's only a few places I feel that we weren't competitive, and the rest of the time I feel we had a podium car every race.

Q. I had sort of a follow-up which basically was my question, but now there's a few races to go, more races than you had in the past at this point. How are you going to approach these? Of course you want to lead every lap and win every race.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It's pretty simple. The goal is to win the next race no matter where you are in the championship or whatever. But we also have a legitimate shot of finishing second in the championship, and there's a lot of money for finishing second in a championship. I think we have a good shot at winning the last three races, and if we do, we could be second in points, which would be good, considering the problems we had. Plus there's a million dollars in winning that last race, which is a pretty nice incentive, as well.

Q. A little follow-up for that, as well. As you go into it, everybody has to look ahead to next season. You've focused this year; you had the bad crash; you've had the good times and the bad times and the terrible disappointments. What personally did you have to call on to keep yourself focused on being in the position now to maybe finish second?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Past experience, because I've been here so many times in my career. I've been in position where I've just could have won 11, 12 races in a year and maybe only win two or so. And that's the way you do, you've just got to look at it this way, just keep trying, keep hammering, and sooner or later you'll knock off three or four in a row. It's just the way the game works. And I'm very proud of the job that we've done in terms of being competitive, because we really have been doing a good job in that way. No matter what type of racetrack, we've been pretty competitive everywhere. And as long as we can continue to do that for the rest of the year and also for the future, we're going to win our share of races.

MICHAEL ZIZZO: Michael spoke of challenging for second place, currently Jimmy Vasser is in second with 136 points, Michael is 24 behind, and he has finished second in the points championship five times in his career as well as won the title in 1991.

Q. I was going to ask you just again about the -- you've had a lot of success on these temporary street circuits, and obviously with all of this concern about the previous one in Vancouver, and the first question today was about the track in Houston, maybe some of the potential drawbacks that might be there, but you don't know until you race on the course. When you raced in Vancouver just a few weeks ago, was that the worst setup you've ever seen. I know people have talked about Detroit for years, and I think there was one time after the Detroit race where the drivers said they're not going to go back there next year, unless things are changed. And to my knowledge I don't think things are radically changed if at all, but the drivers were sort of back there. But do you feel that as drivers --

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, I guess to answer your question, I think what you're getting at is will we be going back there, even if the drivers are complaining about it. The problem we had with Vancouver that the drivers have a legitimate concern with is safety, whereas Detroit was not really safety. It was just that you couldn't pass. So I think that's where the drivers have a real say in what the deal should be because there was a real safety concern there. That needs to be addressed, for sure.

Q. One last question I was going to ask you, with Zanardi gone, now there's some -- well, there's some suggestion, too, that the -- the series has lost its headliner. They've lost the guy that had a lot of charisma and color. And not just in terms dominating the series, but in bringing that sort of personality back to the series. Is that going to be missing as well as Zanardi's driving ability? And the second part of my question is, what is your contract situation with Newman/Haas? You've driven for Chip before. Would you be interested in maybe going to Ganassi, especially given the success they've had in the equipment they've had just seems to be impeccable?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: To lose Zanardi, yeah, that's a loss. But I'm sure there's somebody there ready to take over that position. There's a lot of talent within this Series, and I can see there's a lot more coming, as well, when you look at the other formulas that we have. So I think there's always going to be somebody there. Our racing will go on, and it will get stronger and stronger, and we will develop more and more personality as time goes on. So it's a little bit of a loss, but I think it's not going to kill us.

Q. What about the big Ganassi seat being open, is that something you'd be interested in?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I'm signed through another four years after this, so I don't have to worry about that. And I'm very happy about that. I think our team is equally as capable of getting the results that they have gotten. It's just for whatever reason we didn't, just the breaks of the game. And I really feel that sooner or later we're going to get the breaks and we're going to run off with a championship or two.

Q. Michael, if you could describe the progress of the Swift chassis from '97 to '98, on a scale of 1 to 10, are you at about six and a half, seven, five? Where would you put it and why would you not be around a ten on that?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, I'd say on a road course it's about the same because I think the car was very good -- I'm sorry. On the oval, the car was very good right out of the box. So I'd say it's been equally competitive since day one. As for a road course, I'd say we've gotten an eight or nine out of the car compared to where it was last year, much, much better, much more competitive. Swift has done a good job improving the car.

Q. One other follow-up, if I may, please. You're talking about Goodyear tires, obviously a multi-national corporation, a big development budget, and next year they're not going to have the formality of Formula One to deal with. What do they need to do to give you a tire to bring you up to 10s on the road course and the ovals?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: We're very close, but close in this game is very far, because it's everything. You're talking hundredths of a second difference that we're talking about here. And we've gone from being I think a second behind to within a couple of tenths, and I think they've made great strides and I think they're going to continue to improve to get there. They're starting to get the speed of the out of the tire, it's getting better, and they're starting to get the durability. Those are the two things you need. And they are getting closer and closer. They're learning like crazy. And the decision is going to have to be made -- we have three more races with them, are we going to be with them next year? I don't know. But one of the things you do have to look at is, well, they're not going to be in Formula One, so maybe they can put out more resources. We have some big decisions to make at the end of the year in the tire department. But basically where they need to improve the tire is to give us a little bit more speed and more durability and we're there. It's not a big jump that we need to make right now, just a little bit.

Q. In any sport when a team gets so close and can't get over the edge with the exception of that one victory, after a while people start, within the team, pointing fingers at one another. I don't know, maybe I've missed it, but I haven't seen any of that with the Newman/Haas team. Who keeps you guys together and in that forward motion that you seem to still be in?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I believe experience. There's a lot of experience within this team, and this team has gone through a lot of tough times but has dug itself out. And I believe that that's what everybody looks at. I know that's what I do, personally. I look at my past experience. If I would be going through this time and it would be my first or second year of racing, I'd be shooting myself in the head. But knowing that I've been here before, and I've gotten myself out of it, I can build on that, and that's the way this team has been. This team has been down but has come back, and each and every one of us within the team feels that we are capable of doing it on every weekend. And we all know sooner or later we're going to get our breaks, and we're going to get our licks in.

Q. Other than the car, and the chief engineer, a driver's best friend in times like this, is usually people closest to him. This is your bride's first year of dealing with these frustrations, how has she handled it?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: She's been great. First of all she was there last year, this is her second year, and last year was frustrating, as well. She's just a hundred percent behind me and backs me up in everything I do, and that's all you can do. She does feel the pain when I feel the pain. That's what hurts her the most is when she sees that I'm down. But I just tell her that, don't worry, we'll get through it and there's going to be good times ahead.

Q. I'd like to ask you as a driver, if the big accident you were involved in this season, if you feel there's an excessive amount of replays of something like that?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: That's part of our sport, you know.

Q. Yeah, I realize that, but somebody involved in it do you think it's overdone?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I mean unfortunately, like I said, again, those are the things that are going to get the highlights, no matter what. And that's the part of our sport that I don't always like, but we just deal with it, because that's a fact of life. I'm not upset about it. It's just the way it is. And it will be shown for a few times and then eventually goes away. When I see it, it doesn't bother me in any way, shape or form. I can sit here and watch it now and it doesn't bother me.

Q. Michael, I have a question for you. There's been a lot of talk in the recent years about merging CART with IRL. I was wondering if you can say from your perspective what would be the pros and cons of merging the two leagues back together?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: There's really only pros, but the problem is how do you do it, make it equal for both. It's such a difficult thing, because both sides are so far apart in terms of their rules. One side would have to really take a hit, and I don't think one side is ready to take a hit. It's a very, very difficult thing to work out, because I feel that both sides wish they were together right now, but the only problem is neither side knows how to make that happen. That's why I think this is going to go on for a while yet, because there is no real answer to this problem.

Q. Obviously it's been I guess seven years now since you won the championship, and it's been said before, you've been very competitive, obviously your skill is very good and very up there, you've always been near the top. Looking forward to next year, what do you think, I guess from your own perspective, it would take to clinch the championship next year?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Same thing I say every year at the beginning of the year: To finish all races. We did a horrible job of that this year. We have to work on that and get that done. For whatever reason, not all of it was our fault, just being in the wrong place at the wrong time or whatever, and other things going that we have you just have no control over, that's where the breaks of the game come in. We've got to stay competitive, and if we stay competitive and finish all the races, we win the championship. That's what we need to do.

Q. I understand the course in Houston is exceptionally smooth. Is that going to help with more passing, perhaps?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It might. It depends. It's the same for everybody. Sometimes more bumps make a better opportunity for passing, because you can get your car working better than the other guy's car over the bumps. From that standpoint I'm not sure it's going to change it. But from the driver's standpoint of complaining about bumps of the course is going to be nice. It's going to be really nice, especially down there, because it's going to be so hot, because bumps physically beat you up in the car. So if the track is smoother, it's going to be much better physically to deal with the heat that we're going to have to deal with down there. So that will be a positive, but will it help for passing, I think probably not. I think it's the layout and the width of the track that will help that.

Q. Two questions that kind of go the same way as to where the car is now. First, when you watch a CART race, if you dare watch an IRL race on TV, can you see all those empty stands in the places where NASCAR goes. What do you think about that and why isn't that enough to make these two sides decide that enough is enough? And also, with Zanardi going off of Formula One, I'm sure that CART, it's considered to be a feeder Series for Formula One, you want to be your own best Series in the world, and what does CART have to do from stopping that kind of thing happening?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, Zanardi was in Formula One before he was in our championship.

Q. He really did it here, his whole thing was here --

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: The main reason he's going back, is because he wants to live in Europe. That's where he's from. I think he enjoyed everything here. It's just that he doesn't want to live over here. I think that's, in the end, that's the main reason why he's going over there, and I can tell you that Jacques was the same way. He wanted to live in Monte Carlo. That's where he lives and that's why he did it. So I don't see us as being a feeder Series for Formula One. I don't think that that's true. As for the IRL thing, and again, I mean we all know that we need to be together, but you give me an idea how to do it.

Q. How about locking you in a padded room?


Q. How about locking those guys in a padded room and don't let them out until they make sense of something?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: The only sense is going to be that either one side or the other is going to have to take a huge hit. And I don't see either side willing to take that hit yet. There's no way CART wants to go with the IRL rules. There's no way IRL wants to go with the CART rules. So, I don't know what the answer is.

Q. We have a couple of guys who do all the management stuff for us and they say next time you talk to Michael Andretti tell, him we'll put that thing back together.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It sounds like it's such a simple thing. But it's like slowing the cars down, to give you an example, sounds like such an easy thing to do. That is one of the most difficult things that this Series has to deal with is how to slow the cars down. It sounds very simple, put a bunch of guys in a room and do it. No, it's not that way. There's a lot more to it than that. So to say that it's that simple a thing is really not right, because both sides are very, very far apart.

Q. Could you talk about what's needed to be done at Vancouver, just the way you mentioned that last turn it sounds -- the problem is identified. But do you understand, Michael, how the thing is going to be straightened out?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think you have geography being your problem. And I don't know what the answer is. Somehow I guess they need to slow that last corner down where you're not facing that big cement thing. That's a safety issue. And also, I think, somehow they need to make up another passing area. And one way is to take it along the straightaway because that straightaway is very short.

Q. But you guys would race there without the passing possibility. The problem is that last turn that's really --

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, from the driver's standpoint, that's all we can really say is the safety issue. And the rest becomes the other issues of the hospitality area and things like that, which were a total joke in my opinion. Big time racing and to have our motor homes and our whole hospitality area where it was, is not right in my opinion.

Q. I wasn't there. Somebody mentioned it was dirty, and the ground surface was, is that it?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It was awful, yeah.

Q. Tell me, Michael, is there a committee set up like with the driver's safety committee to look at the track to okay it for next year, or how will that be straightened out?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: There is a committee, and also we'll be relying on Wally and Kirk Russell, as well. There is a committee set up, and I'm sure they're going to run it past the drivers before they make any final decisions.

Q. So you don't know whether there's any deadlines on that or anything?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't know if there's any deadlines. I'm not privy to that information.

Q. Just one incidental aspect to Dan's last question, Michael. In your estimation, as we said earlier, you've done really well on the street courses, was that the absolute worse course, the Vancouver course I'm talking about, in terms of safety? Like you've probably been on tracks before where you were concerned about different safety areas, but --

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't think that's the most dangerous track I've driven on, but times are changing, too. We used to race at places where now we say to ourselves, "I can't believe we ever raced there." So we're in a position now that we shouldn't have to race at a place that's dangerous. So I think that's what we have to look at, especially when you look at our scheduling and look at how many racetracks that are in line for a race. So I think we have a little bit more leverage in that way, to make sure we're on safe racetracks.

Q. But it wasn't a situation -- I know you had a very lengthy drivers' meeting on the Saturday afternoon before that race. Have you ever seen among your fellow drivers as much concern about a race course as there was during that meeting, because I was told it was almost an unprecedented meeting in its length?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No. We've had other concerns. We've had other meetings at different racetracks. And I've got to say that eight out of ten times those things were addressed and fixed next year, and that's the way it should be.

Q. Now, you've done very well on the temporary street courses, and there is a certain obvious skill in driving those courses versus an oval. Why have you been successful? And I wondered if maybe your attitude because you've always been an aggressive driver, maybe you have been just as aggressive on a street course as you've been on an oval, and maybe some of the other drivers maybe pulled back a little bit. Would you say that's the case?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I have no idea, I really don't. I don't know why. Maybe because a big percentage of the races that I have driven in my career are those type of races. I guess if you look at it percentage-wise, that might have something to do with it, but I don't know.

MIKE ZIZZO: That will wrap up today's teleconference. Thank you for joining us, and good luck in Houston this weekend.

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