If you're looking for a team that's invested in multiple levels of IndyCar it's hard to beat Andretti Autosport.
Consider: a three-car IndyCar team, full Mazda Road to Indy involvement AND promoting events in Milwaukee and Baltimore. That's a trifect no other team can match. So what's with the full deployment? Why has Andretti Autosport risen from the ashes to contend in this year's IndyCar series? Why do they love Iowa Speedway? And what was that thing recently with IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard? I asked Andretti Autosport team principal Michael Andretti all this and more on Friday, June 22 at Iowa Speedway.
Michael Andretti: Just got here.
pressdog: Did you guys land out here (at the Newton airport right next to Iowa Speedway)?
Michael Andretti: Yes.
pressdog: That’s pretty cool.
Michael Andretti: It’s awesome.
pressdog: You can jet right out (after the race) , unless you’ve you win and you have to stay for the big…
Michael Andretti: We don’t mind staying for that.
pressdog: Just a couple of questions. The first one is that for Milwaukee, you get universal praise, pretty much for that, but, I wanted to know from your perspective what do you think went right and what needs improving in Milwaukee?
Michael Andretti: I think everything went really, pretty well. There’s things we’re going to adjust, like maybe we’ll put the stage on the opposite side. There’s logicistal things like that we saw, traffic wise things we might do a little differently. Which is normal when you’ve done anything for the first time. But, I think, overall I’d give it an A on the job that our team did in terms of organizing it and everything. I’m hoping we can build on the attendance, and things like that just by now showing that. Because, I think Milwaukee is a show-me. You’ve got to show them that you’re really going to do what you say you’re going to do. I think we delivered on that, so I think next year, we feel very confident that it’s going to be bigger.
pressdog: So, aside from the logistics of the thing there’s still some other areas for improvement , or do you think it’s just a question of building up the momentum and the presentation.
Michael Andretti: Yes, and I think it’s very important to announce that it’s going to be back there right away. That’s always been a problem in the last few years, is, is it going to happen, isn’t it? We want to really make the point that these things are on for next year. We’re making plans now for next year they should start making plans for next year. (Tickets here.)
pressdog: So are the fair board (which owns the track) and all the locals pretty good to work with?
Michael Andretti: Yes, it went really well. It was all very positive, a very positive experience.
pressdog: This promotion wing with your company is sort of a new thing, isn’t it? Is it something you saw yourself getting into or was is sort of a, hey let’s do this now, or what?
Michael Andretti: We got out of it because my partners (Kim Green and Kevin Savoree) took the promotion business, because we were in it (back in the Andretti Green Racing era). We had to get ourselves back going in gear with the team. We felt like it was time to now let’s go out and get back in to it again. So it was just the timing. It’s always been in our plans. We had to go by opportunity and things like that. We were asked by Randy if we would promote it and we said, “Yes we will to help the series”, because I felt it was a very important race for the series.
pressdog: So you’re also jumping in at Baltimore now. That has been sort of a last second deal. How is that going?
Michael Andretti: Alright, I think it’s going good. Again, I think we’re just getting into it. It’s a bigger project for sure than Milwaukee, but we feel confident that it’s going to be a first class event like Milwaukee. (Tickets here.)
pressdog: Obviously, as a driver you enjoyed that and had a great career there. What is it about the promoting aspect that you enjoy most, personally?
Michael Andretti: I don’t know if I enjoy it, per se, I know the guys that we’ve got doing it love it, which is great. I’m not the promoter expert. We hire the guys and we have people and within our team to do it, and they love it when they’re doing it. My biggest thing is, I really want to help support the series, that’s my biggest motivation, and hopefully make a couple dollars on it to that help support our over all racing.
pressdog: So now as a team owner, to switch over to that hat, and workin with your son (Marco Andretti) on the team that you’ve had several years now. What is it that you like about being a team owner the most?
Michael Andretti: I like that it’s never boring. There’s always something, whether it’s from the marketing side, to the operations side, to the competition side there’s always something. It’s always quite interesting and I like that. It keeps the mind … it gets your mind going.
pressdog: I’m sure you’ve been asked if you have an urge to get back in the car, but is there ever fustration with drivers, that they don’t get it, what you see so clearly, or any of that sort of thing.
Michael Andretti: Not really. I mean yes, I guess sometimes it gets some frustration, like you need to be doing this because I know that it’s what you need to be doing, you should know that you need to be doing it. So sometimes there’s some of that. But, overall it’s not really that big of a deal. I think, when you become an owner you’ve got to realize that once you’re here at the track you pretty much up to the people that you have hired to do their job. You don’t have control over it anymore, so that’s hard. From the drivers stand point it’s giving up that control because drivers are control freaks. They want to have control. That takes some getting used to but, I’m there now.
pressdog: Is it difficult for you managing your son (Marco)? I think I’ve even asked this many times before ...
Michael Andretti: It’s a challenge, there’s a normal father-son thing you have to deal with. Then the thing is that you’ve got to show that you’re not giving favoritism, so then you end up almost going the opposite to show everybody that you’re not showing favoritism. We’ll always have that. And then there’s always everybody thinking that he’s here because he’s entitled to be here and all that. Which isn’t the case. There’s things we’ve got to deal with. Then there’s great things too. We’re sharing things that not many other fathers and sons could ever share.
pressdog: Andretti Autosport has a really big track record here at Iowa Speedway, and Marco won last year, obviously. What is it about this race, this track that you guys seem to be on to?
Michael Andretti: I don’t know. I think we’re pretty good on the short ovals and I think it’s just our philosophy, the way we do things as a team. I think we seem to have pretty good feelings for what we need in a race car here, or at these type track, so, hopefully that will continue. I mean we had a good weekend last weekend and we had a good year last year, so hopefully we’ll be able to keep that going but, competition’s tough. (About 36 hours after we spoke Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay won the 2012 race at Iowa Speedway. Marco finished second.)
pressdog: Over all this year has been has been a pretty good one for Andretti Autosport. What do you think is some of the reasons for that, some of the keys? Is there a new car related, or…?
Michael Andretti: No, it has nothing to do with a new car. It has to do with personnel changes that we’ve made within the team as well as our driver line-up (Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco and James Hinchcliffe). They’re getting along very very well, and it’s something you can’t force, it either happens or it doesn’t. They’re all getting along, they go do stuff on their own or together, because they really like each other and they trust each other. Bbecause of that, they work together really well. When the rest of the team sees that, then the rest of the team works that way. That’s a big part of why.
pressdog: So you’ve got Hinch in second for points (going into the Iowa race) and Ryan won last week, obviously, and Marco had a little bit of a struggle this year. Has that been hard on him?
Michael Andretti: It’s tough, because when you teammates are doing well and you’re having bad luck the way he’s having, yeah it’s tough on you. But, he’s keeping his head up. He’s knows that it could turn around real fast. He’s had some really great races that like Indianapolis, he was definitely the best guy out there, he just had bad luck again. He’s had a lot of that this year. As much good luck as some of the other cars are having, he’s been brunting that load of bad luck. But, hopefully it will turn around.
pressdog: Drivers you said are control freaks, but as we know in racing, there’s a whole bunch of stuff that’s out of your control. There’s a lot of luck involved. There’s a lot of other people messing it up for you. Is that something that’s hard to deal with when you’re a control guy?
Michael Andretti: I find you take care of what you can control. I always thought when I was a driver, go out and do my job. I’d do everything and I’d come away from the weekend feeling like I did everything that I could, and if I didn’t get the result I don’t feel down. If I came back from a weekend where I made a mistake, then I can’t live with myself, so it’s that sort of feeling. So, as long as you take care of what you can control then you’re satisfied as a driver.
pressdog: So, you don’t really look at that, the finishing, so much like P18 or whatever?
Michael Andretti: No, because those are the things you can’t control, you know, engine breaks or somebody crashes in front of you or whatever, that you can’t control. But, the stuff that you can control, and if you mess that up, that’s when you have a real problem and you can’t sleep at night. That’s how I see things myself, anyway.
pressdog: I think that’s pretty universal. As a driver and an Andretti do you find yourself doing a lot of mentoring with the youngsters. Especially down in the feeder leagues? I talked to Zach Veach the other day…
Michael Andretti: I try to. I try to help. I’m not in their ear all the time. If I see something, I’ll point it out to them. I want to be there if they have a question, to come to me. Because, you can tell people 'till you’re blue in the face, but until the go out there and do it, and they’ll have no idea what you’re talking about. They’ve got to go out there and experience it and then say, “What about this? What about that?” Then I think I can offer something.
pressdog: Do you get a lot of that, drivers seeking your advice?
Michael Andretti: Yeah, sometimes. You know, sometimes they do, and I try to be there.
pressdog: So, speaking of the feeder series, Andretti has also gotten a lot of credit for being so vertically integrated. I mean, we’ve got those teams down in the ladder and you’ve got this IndyCar team and now you’re promoting. Why did you get into the ladder series?
Michael Andretti: To suport the series. I believe you’ve got to have the base and I think that is bringing up a new talent. Whether it’s drivers, engineers, mechanics. You know. I think that’s the base and I think it’s important that we have a good base. So that’s why I’m supporting them. I wish other teams would do more. It really bothered me, because it’s a real headache to do. It’s not a huge money maker; it’s just, it’s a headache. But I do it because I love the series and I do it because I think it’s important for the series and I wish other owner’s would do that, would follow me on that.
pressdog: When I talked to Zach, he said that your philosophy was really not to be in a big hurry with a developmental drivers. You don’t want to rush them.
Michael Andretti: In some ways, Marco’s rookie year doesn’t show it, but, in some ways I think we rushed him a little bit. I just feel like a guy like Zach, he wanted to go right to, last year he wanted to go to Star Mazda. He didn’t want to do USF2000 first. I just said you don’t want to do that; you’ve got to make the mistakes down lower because, the higher up you go the more costly mistakes are, so you’re only 15 years old or whatever (at the time) so there’s no rush. So, some of these young kids, I don’t want them to rush up there. No reason to.
pressdog: Race car drivers seem to be in a hurry, I mean they……
Michael Andretti: They always do. You know, when I was doing it, I was too, but I don’t think it’s a smart thing to do and they’ve been listening. I think they’ve been happy. In Zach’s case for instance, he came back saying, “You’re right”, which made me feel good. I had some experience in it so I just want to share that. I don’t want to see the dads go out and pay the money and stuff like that, supporting it. It’s like let’s make sure that he’s ready for the next step before you go spend all that much more money to do it. You know, maybe if he doesn’t improve to get to the next step then you might want to have him think about do something else, you know? So you have to make sure that he’s really ready for the next step. That’s my feeling anyway.
pressdog: So how do you feel, in gerneral, that the Mazda Road to Indy is doing?
Michael Andretti: I think it’s doing pretty good. You know, I really do. I think there’s still some tweeks here and there they could probably do but, I think it’s a great series. I love that Mazda’s gotten behind it. I would love to see Mazda be the engine company in Indy Lights. That would be great. And there’s talk about that for the future but, I think it’s a great thing. There’s no other racing where it rewards you to get to the next level. If you win (a points championship) it basically pays for your next level. That’s never been done that I know of anywhere, so it’s cool that you have that. Because, you could be a really good driver and you have a chance of showing that, even if you don’t actually have to budget to go to th next level. Like (Tristan) Vautier (in Firestone Indy Lights), for instance. Tje kid has no money. He won that first ([oints championship) so now he’s been able to pay for it on his performance. I think that’s awesome.
pressdog: Yeah, that’s pretty unusual ..
Michael Andretti: Very unusual.
pressdog: The new car, what’s the differences, the pluses and minuses, what do you think of it so far, half way in?
Michael Andretti: I think it’s race car, right? It’s been good. I’m an owner now and my biggest complaint is that the thing ridiculously expensive, way more expensive than the old car. It’s put real, real strains on all of our budgets, that we’re just choking to death. It wasn’t what was promised.
pressdog: I talked to Ed Carpenter as an owner, he said that there’s issues with it, in the old Dallara you could make a lot of parts or purchase them elsewhere or tweek them or whatever, now it’s pretty controlled by Dallara.
Michael Andretti: Because of the contract that they give, Dallara ... Dallara has control over that, you can’t do antything. You can’t even do a break peddle/ It’s ridiculous. The money we used to save was huge. There’s one part on the car, to give you an example, that we could build for about $500 but we had to buy and it was $6,000 for Indianapolis. That's just one example. It’s not right.
pressdog: Are you guys talking about trying to figure that out or is that……
Michael Andretti: I know there trying to negotiate with Dallara to try to give them incentives to give us more of a break. We’re going to work on that. I think there’s some deals (in the works). It was very off the way that they did it. There was a lot of mistakes made.
pressdog: One last question. I know the whole thing with (IndyCar CEO) Randy (Bernard) and the owners and then your name was associated with (trying to get him fired) and you were very upset about that and denied it. How do you see the relationship with Randy Bernard and the owners right now?
Michael Andretti: You mean me personally or do you mean…..
pressdog: You and the rest of the owners ...
Michael Andretti: I’m fine with it. I was really upset that I was being singled out like that. I just thought that was really bad. I was just discussing some of what was going on and he was looking at it as I’m trying to oust him? And I had the same words with Randy. I think he’s working on it. He’s trying build the trust back. I think he lost trust from the owners with this new car and now he’s got to try to build it back. That’s why he’s working really hard to try to fix some of the mistakes that were made.
pressdog: But he’s making an effort?
Michael Andretti: Oh, he’s totally making an effort.
pressdog: So everything is good?
Michael Andretti: Fine, you know, I mean yeah. He’s got a tough job. I wouldn’t want his job. He’s being pulled every which way and he’s got people compaining every which way and he has to find out whose complaint is real, whose has their own interest at heart and who has the interest of the series (at heart). He always has to weigh those things, so it’s not an easy thing for him.
pressdog: This is my last question. Andretti, without racing, what would that be like? Will you guys just be lost and idle, or what?
Michael Andretti: I have no idea what I’d be doing. It’s scary actually, it really is. It’s my whole life, it’s been my whole life since I was born. It’s a scary thought.
pressdog: So maybe that’s what drives your involvement with the series and supporting the series?
Michael Andretti: Yeah, everything I have is in it. So, I’m going to do whatever I can to try to help make it healthy. There’s other guys like Rodger and Chip, it’s not their whole life ... It’s their life, I mean they love it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s my blood, my life’s blood, so I can’t afford for it to go down so I have to put everything I can into it to try to help make it better.