Andretti Autosport owner Michael Andretti and his son Marco Andretti, the driver of the No. 26 Team Venom car for Andretti Autosport, meet the media ahead of this weekend's IZOD IndyCar race in Kentucky.
Q: Michael, first news broke last week about your team's decision to run with Chevrolet power in 2012. How much are you looking forward to reuniting with Chevy, which you had a very successful partnership with at Newman/Haas in the 1990s?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Actually very excited about it. We looked at all manufacturers and really did our due diligence, and we feel that Chevrolet gives us the best chance at winning, and the way they're going about it and what they're doing, I mean, they're very serious about it, and that's what we like. They're coming in for one reason, and that is to win, and that's what we want to do.
On the other side, it was mixed feelings because we've been with Honda for so long. They've been so great. They've been such a great supporter of open‑wheel racing in the U.S., and I'm so happy that they're continuing their support, obviously. But it's going to be weird not having Honda engines behind us for sure.
But again, we're excited about it. As you said, with Chevrolet we've had great success – I've had great success in my career as a driver with them. It's where I won my championship [in 1991 -Ed.], and I won a lot of races in just three years with them, and so we do have a winning combination between the two of us, and hopefully we can continue that as an owner now.
Q: You mentioned the success that you had as a driver. I know there's two races left in the 2011 season here, and it's been a successful season for Andretti Autosport, Marco being one of the three drivers on your team who has won a race this season. As a team owner, you have to be looking forward to maybe trying to send off your partnership with Honda with some success at Kentucky and Vegas.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No question about it. We're actually very excited for the next two races. Our goal is to win the next two and leave Honda on a winning note. And I think we have a really good legitimate shot at doing it with one of our four cars.
Q: Marco, with, the race at Kentucky this week, and the season finale at Vegas, you've run really well on one‑and‑a‑half‑mile ovals. You haven't had one yet this year so you have to be looking forward to getting back to one of the one‑and‑a‑half miles?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, well I've yet to win on a mile and a half. But we've run strong, I think that's what really keeps us in it. We just came off a pretty good test at Kentucky. Yeah, basically we're in the mindset that Dad just said, and that's win right now.
I think the oval championship is still open for me if we can get in with a win, so that's definitely the plan. I think it's definitely possible.
Q: You mentioned you had a pretty good test at Kentucky. Has the track changed a lot since the last time we were there last August?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Not really, not as much as the tires did. But I think it's the same for everybody. The tires are lacking a little bit of grip, so we just have to adjust. Other than that, it's the same mile and a half. But obviously the competition has changed, as well. It's as competitive as it's ever been. Basically, we just have to do better than them.
Q: Looking ahead to the event following Kentucky, which is Las Vegas, it'll be your 100th IndyCar start. Do you feel like a guy who's about to hit a milestone start in IndyCar racing?
MARCO ANDRETTI: No, especially with only two wins. I'm definitely a little disappointed. I was wishing I would have more to show for it. But it's making me work harder than ever. I've been having fun, so obviously time has been flying.
Q. Michael, looking toward the Vegas race, you spent nearly all your life in the IndyCar Series. Can you put into perspective how fans and media have reacted to Danica Patrick and how she has progressed while being part of your team?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, I think Danica, with what she's achieved for being a woman and first one to win a race and lead laps at Indy, she's brought different, new interest to our sport, for sure. I think that's been a positive for us, no question about it.
But, I wish her luck in what she's going to be doing. I think she has a new challenge for herself, and she's going to try and go do it in a different type of car. It'll be interesting to see how she does. Is our series going to die without Danica? Absolutely not. I think Danica did bring new fans to our sport, and hopefully those fans aren't here only because of Danica. I'm sure she brought fans that normally wouldn't have watched, but now have become fans of IndyCar racing. So as she leaves, I think there are still going to be people who are going to watch our sport because it is the best – I think the best auto racing series in the world.
I mean, it's so exciting. Every race is exciting. So I feel that it's not going to be as big of a deal as everybody thinks.
Q. Andretti Autosport is the only team to have entries in each of the Mazda Road to Indy series, and your cars have also won races in USF2000, Star Mazda and the Firestone Indy Lights. What is it about that system that attracts you to fielding so many cars and drivers?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, I think we have to look at the future of our series, and it's all about building a foundation, and I think this is a great way to build a foundation for open‑wheel racing in the United States. I'm very much behind it, and that's why I'm doing it. Are we getting rich from it? Absolutely not. So why are we doing it? Because we feel like it's what's best for the series.
I just wish some of the other IndyCar teams would support it the way we are, because I think it's very important for the future. We're building our future stars. We have a few in our system right now who I think are the future of IndyCar racing, and so I very much believe in it. My hat's off to IndyCar for what they're doing supporting it and also Mazda supporting it. I've never seen it in the history of our sport where if you win, if you get first prize in the lower level, you win a chance to race in the next level. That's never been there before, and I think that's such a great thing, because if you are a real talent, you have a shot to get to the big cars.
So it's a great system, and I'm really behind it. It's still very much in the early stages, but I think it's growing support, and like I said, I just wish we'd get more support from the other team owners on it because I think it's really important for our future.
Q. We just talked about Marco making his 100th start in Vegas. How proud a moment is that for you as a father?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It's crazy. I can't believe it. It's 100 races already. It's amazing.
Yeah, I'm very proud of what he's done. He's been very strong and it's been fun to watch him grow and learn. He's getting there. He's getting to the point where he's going to become a major factor in every race he's in, and you know, it's really cool to see it happening.
Q. Michael, I understand that Will Power will test the new Chevrolet engine next week for Team Penske. Any indication of when your team is going to get your first crack at it, and when and where you guys will be able to test?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, actually I think they're running today for the first time. We're very much involved with it, as well. It's actually 'Team Chevrolet,' I think is a better way to put it than 'Team Penske,' and yeah, we're going to have a crack at it right after Vegas with our drivers, so we're very excited about the progress, and it's been really good working with the other Chevrolet teams, as well.
Q. Along those lines, did Chevrolet set forth a marketing plan to tie this return to IndyCar with their street car program?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I assume they have, but I can't answer that. I don't know for sure what they've set aside and what they've mentioned that they're doing or made public yet. I don't know.
Q. Michael, is Danica the only one on your team who has actually raced on the mile and a half at Vegas?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I'm not sure if Ryan [Hunter-Reay] has or not. Maybe Ryan when Champ Car was there. But that's a good question. I don't know. But I think they've changed the track, I think, since, if Ryan did race there.
Q. Yeah, they've added a little more banking to it.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, I bet Danica is the only one who has done it with the current configuration.
Q. With the two NASCAR Nationwide races that she competed in, this year she finished fourth, ran every lap, can she share any information with your drivers or is that even transferable?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It's apples and oranges. I don't think there's anything that transfers over, and I think that's something that's very important to know. It's so different that her running there isn't going to help her in any way in our cars. It just shows you how much different they are, and that's why it's such a different challenge for her or anyone else who goes and tries to do the jump from either side.
Q. Did you ever run any of the stock cars?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: The only thing I've ever driven was an IROC car. I've never driven a stock car.
Q. Michael and Marco, too, if I could get both of you to chime in on this: Teams' results seem to rise and fall in all types of sports. Do you believe there's a cycle theory to winning IndyCar teams, and what can teams and drivers do to control the up and down trends?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: That's a difficult thing, you know. I think if you knew the answer to that, you wouldn't have an up‑and‑down trend, would you? I think you can just keep fighting. But I think the thing is when you're up on top, everybody is gunning for you. So eventually they're going to figure it out and then they're going to do a little bit better than you and then you're going to fall – and then you're going to have to go back and try to get to that.
We all try even when we're at the top to keep trying to find the next thing, obviously, but it doesn't always work that way. It's just – that's the nature of our business.
MARCO ANDRETTI: I think he said it right. The hardest thing to do after a win is to win again. But just when you think everything is going well, then you come out next weekend and you're nowhere, but that's just because of how competitive it is. Everybody has to do their part on a given weekend.
But you know, at the same time there's no magic, either. I think as far as the teams go, development‑wise, you just have to keep up with the Joneses and then the driver just has to show up ready and be on his game, as well.
Q. Marco, additionally, sometimes does that give you an incentive at times when things aren't going so well, like, "We'll be back"?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Exactly. I went through five years of that, four years of that, but leading laps and stuff like that, that's what keeps you in it, knowing that you can win it. But yeah, I mean, obviously it is tough to get a win after a win, but at the same time it definitely gives everybody confidence to keep moving forward – actually, as a driver it's making me even hungrier.
Q. Marco, I'm wondering what you're anticipating as far as driving a car that's going to be a V6-powered turbo as opposed to what's out there now with the Honda V8?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Well, to me right now, it sounds like we're going to have more power. I've never driven with a turbo. I'm not sure how much we have to adjust as far as our driving. Just being a selfish driver, we want more power, so I think hopefully that will separate the men from the boys a little bit. The car is going to be lighter, too. Makes a big difference. So hopefully we can get these things going a bit quicker, so it'll be fun.
Q. Michael, do you like the idea that you'll be back to turbo power?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Honestly, I don't know. It really doesn't matter, really, I don't think. I think the sound of it is going to be nice to have the turbos back – I think they always sound good. But I don't know. There's the enthusiasts who think turbo is the only way, but when you're a driver, you can't really tell a big difference. It's no big deal.