Q&A with Michael Andretti and Danica Patrick
Andretti Autosport team owner Michael Andretti and IZOD IndyCar Series driver Danica Patrick participated in a Q&A session following the announcement that Patrick had re-signed with the team and will race in the IZOD IndyCar Series in the No. 7 Go Daddy Dallara/Honda.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, and welcome, everybody, to today's IZOD IndyCar Series conference call. Our guests today are Danica Patrick, who yesterday announced she has signed a new contract with Andretti Autosport and will drive the No. 7 Go Daddy Honda‑powered Dallara in 2010. Danica finished a career‑best fifth in the IZOD IndyCar Series last year and had a best finish of third at the Indianapolis 500.
We're also joined by Michael Andretti, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Andretti Autosport. Thank you for taking the time to join us today.
Danica, some very exciting news for you yesterday. You're returning to Andretti Autosport and are sponsored by Go Daddy. How relieved are you to finally have your IZOD IndyCar Series plans finalized?
DANICA PATRICK: It's really good. It's a really good feeling to announce our IndyCar program and our new sponsor, which is really exciting. It's always fun when you've got new colors and a little bit of a change. So I'm really excited.
Q. You mentioned the new colors. The No. 7 does have a unique color scheme. How did you like neon green before it showed up on the suit and the car?
DANICA PATRICK: I actually think they're very catchy colors. They show up really well on the track, which is really the most important thing, and I've always known those are the Go Daddy colors. So I think they did a really nice job putting the suit and the car together. There is quite a bit of green on that suit, but people not only won't miss me on the track, but they won't miss me in the pits.
Q. Michael, obviously this is one of a series of announcements your team has had recently. First, can you comment on the change to the management structure of what is now Andretti Autosport?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, we're really excited about all the things happening here. A lot is happening the last couple months, and we were finally able to make our announcement where I was able to take over full ownership. You know, we've already started making some changes, and one of them is bringing Tom Anderson on board, who is going to run all of racing operations for us.
Very excited about Tom and having him involved, because I worked with him back when I raced for Chip Ganassi back in '94, and we've just ‑‑ he's a guy that I have a ton of respect for, and I think he's just going to bring so much to our team. I'm really excited about having him involved here.
You know, that's the biggest change at the moment there. But I'm also excited that we've been able to finally announce Danica continuing with us. She had a great year last year, and I think there's a lot more to come.
And we're excited about Go Daddy, having them come in and take over the colors of the car. It was great. They've been so great to work with. Bob Parsons, who owns Go Daddy, and everybody there, has been great to work with. So I can't wait to get into next year. I think we've got a lot of good stuff happening.
Q. Speaking of next year, Danica has talked about how you've helped her develop as a driver. Are you going to stay on board as her race strategist?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: We haven't decided the whole structure yet on who's going to be where. We're actually in the middle of talking about that right now, so I don't know what's going to happen yet.
Q. Congratulations, Danica and Michael. I know this has kind of been something that's been out there for quite a while, and I want to commend Danica for pretty much what she had said back in August, which was that she intended to stay with Andretti Autosport, and that's exactly what happened.
For Danica, how difficult was it, though, waiting for November 30th to come when you could finally get all this out and actually talk about it?
DANICA PATRICK: Yeah, it's challenging because I understand how the media was quite persistent, which I understand. But it was frustrating for probably all of us to not be able to really say much. Some of the time I'm sure we were working on things and bringing things together. But it's nice to finally do it and set the record straight on the plans for next year.
Q. I noticed yesterday on one of your television appearances, it seemed that one of the hosts basically wanted to keep asking you about NASCAR, and you stopped him and said, "This is an IndyCar, not a NASCAR." How much of that has kind of been boiling up inside of you to kind of let everybody keep things in the perspective that they are?
DANICA PATRICK: I understand the level of curiosity on the NASCAR side of things, so I do understand that. But the primary focus of Monday was to announce our IndyCar (Series) program and our new sponsorship with Go Daddy. It's important that everyone was focusing on that and not things that aren't true.
Q. And where do you stand on any outside activities outside of the IndyCar program?
DANICA PATRICK: As I said, I've made no mystery that I'm curious about NASCAR and I would like to do it. As a driver if I had the chance to be able to run in both series and try it and challenge myself, I would like to do that.
Q. Michael, congratulations on getting a lot of things clarified here recently.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Thank you. We're still working on getting more stuff, but we're getting there.
Q. From an owner's perspective, and I guess around motorsports it never ends, but all the rumor, innuendo, speculation, is it a distraction to you as you're trying to move ahead? Is it a source of amusement for the team or just the way it'll always be?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think a little of both, a little of everything I should say. Sometimes it can be a little bit distracting. Other times it is very amusing to see what they create sometimes. But it's part of our business. It's always been there and will always be there. I've been involved in a lot of rumors in my career, and it's just part of our game.
Q. Danica, could you give a little better sense of where the possibilities rank for NASCAR? Not necessarily teams, if you've talked to them, but are you just in casual conversations at this point, or are you really talking about something for 2010?
DANICA PATRICK: We've been working on this and talking to people since the summer. No, we are serious about this, and whether or not things come together or not, we won't know. But there's no contract and there's no deal right now, but as I said, if I could do both, I'd like to do that.
Q. And by serious, I didn't mean your level of interest, I meant closeness to making something happen. I mean, it is December 1st; we're approaching very quickly some deadlines I would think.
DANICA PATRICK: I think we still have time. February is when they start, so there's not as much time as there is for an IndyCar (Series) season, but there's still time. Even if things go until the last minute, there's still a little bit of time left.
Q. This question is for Michael. You mentioned Tom Anderson coming aboard. Can you go into maybe some more detail about bringing him in and the advantages, benefits you're going to have of what he brings to the table here in the future?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think he, for one, brings a ton of experience. He's seen it all. He's won everything. So you have that experience. He's coming in here to add to our talent pool, which we have a ton of talent here, and I think he's just here to just hopefully not change things but just hone things in and make us better than we are now. That's basically what we're hoping to get from Tom. And I'm very, very confident we're going to.
Q. You said you had a chance to work with him over a decade ago back in the mid‑'90s. With bringing him in, how important was that a goal for you when you restructured this whole team and this whole thing came together?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It's always been a goal of mine to work again with Tom. Back when I was searching for teams to actually get involved with, I actually talked with him about getting involved with me, but unfortunately he had already done a deal with Adrian (Fernandez) at that time. So that far back, I've been wanting to get together with Tom.
We've always kept in touch, and it was just one of those things where it seemed like everything just dropped out perfect. Fernandez Racing was getting ready to part ways, and we were having our changes here, so it was like perfect timing, and it just worked out good.
Q. Danica, if you're curious about this and if you were to try to take on NASCAR, can you kind of talk about the steps? I mean, you're not going to jump into a Cup car at Daytona I don't imagine. Would you do like a little ARCA, a little Nationwide? How would you like to see the progression?
DANICA PATRICK: In all of the talks over the summer, (and) in meeting with people, there was a lot of emphasis on learning, so I'd be very prepared to start small and grow and really learn the cars. So if it were to happen, I would be open to all suggestions.
Q. Danica, first question for you, your curiosity with NASCAR, is that more a competitive curiosity to see if you can get in and drive a stock car, or is it just sort of a common‑sense business move to explore an avenue that could really prove to be quite lucrative for you?
DANICA PATRICK: It's come up in the past to run NASCAR, and I never really was ‑‑ my heart wasn't there. I didn't want to at all. I wasn't really curious. And trust me, there were financial reasons why it would have been a much better idea. So that takes that out of the equation.
I've always thought that the most important thing for me in my career is that I go with my gut and I go with what I want and not worry about the rest. And so now my curiosity is there and I'd like to just try it, and I'd like to see how I get on with the cars. I just think the racing looks fun.
I enjoy IndyCar racing through and through, but I mostly enjoy the oval racing. I think that when you have wheel‑to‑wheel racing all day, it's challenging. Don't get me wrong, it's very stressful, but it's a lot of fun at the same time, and they have a lot of that. I think the racing looks fun.
Q. For Michael, is there any concern that she could be going out there and sort of exploring this new venture in conjunction, I guess, for lack of a better term, at the same time as her day job and is going to be outside of your organization and your oversight? Is there any concern having your drivers out there trying something new beyond, I guess, your oversight?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, I guess it's always a concern for sure, but having said that, I also support her, and if she wants to try it, because first and foremost, she is a race car driver, and I've been there. You always want to challenge yourself. For her to go and give it a try, I don't want to get in her way if she really wants to do that.
But the goal will be we'll have to work the programs to make sure that the IndyCar is still her main focus because still the main goal is to win Indianapolis and the championship with Danica. And I think we have a good shot at it. We want to make sure that it still is going to be the main focus.
DANICA PATRICK: And to back up what Mike just said, that is the main focus. I've been lucky enough to come close a few times to winning the Indy 500, and that is a serious goal of mine. IndyCar is always going to be the focus, if the other series were to happen.
Q. Do you have a certain number of days or events, or are you limited to a certain number of days you can spend or events that you can spend on stock cars and/or are there certain months where you have to solely dedicate yourself to Andretti?
DANICA PATRICK: That was something that we did have to talk about and work out with Michael and Andretti Autosport on the schedule. And yes, we did work that out. As I said, the primary focus is IndyCar and the Indy 500, but in and around that, there's opportunity to drive the car, as well.
Q. Can you say like are you limited to 10 events, 12 events, eight events?
DANICA PATRICK: It's not necessarily an event amount that I'm limited to, but the focus would be to run before and after the IndyCar season. That's the best opportunity.
Q. Mike, a clarification, is this a three‑year deal or a two‑year with an option?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: With Danica?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It is a two‑year with an option.
Q. Your option on the third year?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It's a joint option, I think.
Q. Where do you stand on the fourth car? Do you expect it to happen?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Yeah, I do. I feel good that we're going to get something. I mean, we still have a ways to go, but it's still early. I think we have a real good shot at having four cars.
Q. Have you singled in on the one driver who wasn't allowed to talk at the IZOD announcement?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Who are you talking about?
Q. Not Ed Carpenter (laughing).
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: We have a lot of interest in Ryan (Hunter-Reay) for sure. If it would all work out, it would be great. I think he'd be really a good addition to our lineup, and I think he could help push the other ones and make us all better. That would be our first choice at the moment.
Q. Danica, I just wondered if maybe you could share with us a little bit of what your thought process was, because as Michael alluded to, I'm sure you also were amused at times reading all the speculation and the rumors and the things where people had you going. In your mind were you always going to be back in an IndyCar this year, or did you really think about maybe doing something else? How did it finally ‑‑ how did you make that decision?
DANICA PATRICK: I think that all those things are true. We evaluated our options mid‑summer as to what was possible and the opportunities, but I really want to win the Indy 500, and I really like driving for Mike, and I like my teammates. I wanted that to happen if it could, so we just had to evaluate. But yeah, it is always funny to read what people are saying. Sometimes they're onto something and sometimes it's completely left field. So it is entertaining.
But like I said, I'm curious about NASCAR, but curious doesn't mean I wanted to jump in with both feet, and I still love IndyCar racing and where I'm at and the team that I'm with.
Q. When you and I had our little chat on the pit wall at Iowa where they were trying to get the weepers dried, one of the things you were curious about was kind of the direction of the IndyCar Series because at that time the future of Tony George was uncertain. He would later leave, and since that time there's been some dramatic changes. There's been a new series sponsor come in. Jeff Belskus is showing some direction in his regard, and also on the business side Terry Angstadt was key in getting the IZOD deal together. How much is all that kind of giving you optimism for what this series can achieve and a reason why you want to remain its biggest name?
DANICA PATRICK: There were a lot of changes. One of the most positive for me regarding the IndyCar Series really, I think, was some of the changes internally within Andretti. Those were some of the things that made me the most happy to see, because we struggled this year. I don't think any of us will say we had our best year or a great year. We had a tough year. And changes are a great thing to see from my perspective.
The changes within the series, I have to say that there have been a lot of struggles across not only just racing but the world with the economy and with the things that have shifted within companies. But I would have to say that the IndyCar Series has really stood pretty strong. There's been some impact on some level but I don't think as much as others. And to pick up sponsors is a really great thing.
There are some positive things, but I've also expressed some concern for just the races that we're going to and the style, and I can't help but point out how excited everyone was to watch those races on mile-and-a-half’s at Chicago and places like that where it was just wheel‑to‑wheel and people couldn't get enough of it. And we're losing a little bit of that.
That is a thought in my mind, but I've had conversations with people at the league, and they agree. But there's things that I don't understand as a driver business‑wise, and I'm sure they're making the best decisions possible for us as a series to stay strong and continue and do some of the other things that we want to do.
Q. Both you and Michael can weigh in on this one, but I mean, has there been some things that ‑‑ it appears that Jeff Belskus is really going to run this series as a business entity, and there's really nothing wrong with running it as a business entity. Are there things that he has done that you guys look at and say, wow, this is a good idea; this is probably the direction we should have been going in all along?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I mean, I can't say that there's any direct thing. I mean, I really believe that ‑‑ I know Jeff is doing a lot of things, but I think I'm more directly connected with Brian Barnhart and Terry Angstadt, and I think they're doing a really good job. Terry worked his butt off and he was able to get us a series sponsor in these times. I mean, that says something. So he's doing a good job, as well as we're going to a place like Brazil, which is going to have a major impact on our series. So there are things that those guys are doing themselves that they've been able to, I think, spread their wings a little bit. And I think they're doing a really good job.
I like a lot of the moves that they made, and a lot of the things that we hear, the direction that we're going. I don't know if it's all Jeff, but I know that, like I said, Terry and Brian I do know and I'm in contact with them a lot, and I think they're doing a really good job.
Q. And finally to wrap up with Danica, we all know what IZOD is, clothing, apparel. Are you really looking forward to kind of getting cut in on some of the Calvin Klein swag while you're at it? I'm sure you could do some serious damage to that sponsorship.
DANICA PATRICK: As a girl I'll take all the freebies for sure. But yeah, it's definitely exciting and entertaining. It's cool to have a sponsor that ‑‑ dress for the part that you want, not the one that you have. I think that they've really stepped up, and I think everybody looks sharp, and I think that the company that IZOD is with their real core sort of history of building brands I think is really exciting, and everybody in the IndyCar Series should be excited about that because it's something that we need a little bit of.
Q. Danica, I'm interested in your assessment of the Push‑to‑Pass feature that was introduced about the middle of the year. It seemed like when it was introduced, it had a positive effect on improving the racing. Seems like by the end of the year it turned into a push‑to‑avoid‑being‑passed. What's your impression of that feature and the aero changes they've made to try to enhance passing?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, I think it's a good thing. I like that they're trying to get us able to run closer together and give us a way to break it up a little bit. We're so dead‑even that the Push‑to‑Pass is a nice option. But it's not enough. I mean, that's why the push‑to‑not‑get‑passed, I think everybody started to get used to. They got familiar with the system and what it was capable of. I definitely started using it as a push‑to‑not‑get‑passed, because the ‑‑ it's just that little bit of momentum you lose sometimes that lets somebody get underneath you, and if you can sort of make that up with the Push‑to‑Pass with the little bit that it is, sometimes that's all you need.
To actually pass somebody you need a pretty darned good run, and I don't think that the Push‑to‑Pass has quite the capabilities to make it a pretty darned good run. Now, it does add RPM to each gear shift, so on the tracks that we were shifting gears a lot, like take, for instance, Homestead at the end of the year where you're downshifting one or two gears, you get all that extra RPM in every gear, and that does have a little bit more of an effect. But I think when we're just full speed running around in one gear, it doesn't have quite the impact.
So I love the direction; I think that it was a really positive thing. I think that the red tires were also really great. But again, my criticism so that is that they're just not enough. We need to have things that force us to be disciplined and potentially have that pay off later in the race or later in a stint. But the direction is the right one, and it's a good way to break up how even we all are.
Q. Well, if there's more that you think needs to be done, do you have any suggestions for what more could be done?
DANICA PATRICK: I just mean that the Push‑to‑Pass needs to be more horsepower and that the red tires need to be much more temporary and be worth maybe a little bit more time but only worth 10 laps instead of a full stint. But like I said, it's the right direction, we just need them to take it a little further, I think, within the parameters that have already been set.
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