An interview with:
T.E. McHALE: Good morning, everybody. Great to see all of you back with us after a long off season. Welcome to the first of our series of trackside media briefings in 2015. Thanks for making the time to be here.
During this very long off season, one of the dominant stories was the plans of the gentleman to my right. We're pleased to have something to say about that today. I'm going to introduce Michael Andretti to tell us what's going to happen with Justin at this point in 2015.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Thanks for having us here. I'm really excited about today. It's something that we've been working on for, believe it or not, four or five years. We've been trying to get Justin in one of our cars. We've finally been able to do it.
At the moment we are able to get him in the car for a couple of races. The goal is to get him in for a lot more. But right now we can announce that he's going to be doing the Indy Grand Prix and the Indy 500 with us. Excited about that. I think it's going to be a great program.
I'm really thankful to Honda for making this happen. Honda has been such an awesome partner for us. Couldn't have happened without them. So thank you.
Like I said, we got a lot of irons in the fire to try to get him in the car a lot more before the end of the year, but right now we can announce two.
I'll turn it over to Justin. But again, really excited about it.
JUSTIN WILSON: Thank you.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]I got to thank Michael for all of his efforts over the off season. He and his team have worked so hard to try to put something together. I'm really excited about joining him for these two races right now.
Like Michael was saying, hopefully it can grow and we can have a good race, progress, try and be there more full time in the future.
But for right now, I'm just really excited to jump in, do those two, and hopefully have a good Indy and month of May actually with the two races.
It's something that I've really looked forward to. It's a great opportunity. So got to thank Michael and his team, everybody at Andretti Autosport, as well as everybody at Honda. They've been great supporters, pushed everyone to try to make something happen. I'm really honored.
I've also got to thank all the fans and support I've had out there. There's been a lot of people making a lot of noise in the background on social media. It's been pretty humbling to see that. So that's great. Thank you.
T.E. McHALE: Michael, thanks for the kind words about Honda. Thanks to both of you.
You talked about the effort to bring Justin into the camp for a period of years. Aside from Honda, was there any other specific thing you can point to that made it easier to do this this year or more possible this year than in past years?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No. I think Honda was the biggest factor, for sure. We're still looking for a primary sponsor, and hopefully that sponsor will want to run Justin in a lot more races.
Getting Honda's support to get these first two, to get it rolling, we couldn't have done it without that.
T.E. McHALE: Justin, I know you've had not a lot of an opportunity to look at the new bodywork and have not yet tested it. Talk about how you feel about your approach to that. Hopefully you're looking forward to getting into the car.
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, it's great to see the body kits, what it's added to the car, the more dramatic look to the car. The front wing on the Honda, all those little elements, it looks fantastic. I can't wait to try it. I want to get behind the wheel.
It's kind of strange being here at St. Pete and not thinking about drivers meetings and car setup and things like that. I can't wait to get back behind the wheel.
But the body kit I think is going to add another element. Makes it interesting to see who is going to come out on top.
We've seen the testing. We'll see how that translates to race weekend when everyone's actually going for it.
T.E. McHALE: Questions, please.
Q. Justin, you won a couple of races with Dale Coyne. Now you're with the defending Indianapolis 500 winning team owner. Talk about how big an opportunity you may have.
JUSTIN WILSON: It's a great opportunity. That was the one thing, when I look back, how do I want to plan my future and what's the next career move.
Michael has put together such a great outfit, a great team. They're always so competitive at the 500. That's the one race that every driver wants to win. That's why when you look at it, you think, Okay, right now it's just two races, but it's two of the best races. The Indy 500 is the best race. It's the one race in your career, if you win that, it changes everything.
I just figured this was giving myself the best shot at winning. There's no guarantees. There's still 33 cars that are going to be out there and any one of them can win. Knowing you're driving an Andretti Autosport car at one of those races definitely gives you a slight edge. I'm looking forward to feeling that out and getting the experience.
But, yeah, I got to thank Dale Coyne Racing. I'm still good friends with Dale. We haven't ended things on a down note. I respect Dale for what he's done. He's helped me so much in my career. He's just a great guy. Winning for him has meant a lot, but it was time for him and myself to look at something different.
Q. Michael, to add another driver like this…
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Obviously, we have a great team. We put a big effort in for the race. You've got to have good drivers.
Having Justin come in one of our cars is just a great opportunity for us. I have all the time in the world for Justin, his ability, and also him as a person.
The other thing you have to look at when you have multiple cars is how is his personality going to fit with everybody else on the team. Justin is perfect. Everybody loves Justin. We just know that he's going to really fit right in and work together right away with our whole group that we've got together. I think he's going to bring a lot to the party in the month of May.
Q. You've talked about wanting to do this all off season. When did the deal finally come together?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't know, just recently we finally got the actual signing done. I think it was starting to feel pretty good about, what, two or three weeks ago when we were finally feeling like this is going to actually happen.
Q. Simona, is she still in the mix for possible future races?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: The goal is to run five cars for sure at Indianapolis. Just like Justin, we are pushing hard on that front as well, to try to get her in a car for more than just this race.
We're hoping we can put something together. We don't have anything to announce yet. Hopefully soon we'll have something. But we're really excited to have her on the team. She just had her first test a couple days ago.
I got to say, every single person that was at the test was really impressed with what she did, not only her pace on the track, but what she was able to offer outside of the car. I know we're all really pumped this weekend for her.
Q. Justin, how frustrated have you been to not have something put together, the Rolex, Sebring where you didn't get an opportunity to get in the car competitively, just your level of frustration during the off season?
JUSTIN WILSON: Every week it would change. It's been a rollercoaster of an off season where you think things are coming together, then it would slip away, then it would come back again, then it would slip away. It seemed like every four, five days it would change.
You know, I saw this as a test of how determined am I to be racing. How determined am I to be racing in IndyCar. Just had to keep pushing on, keep being determined to be here, trying to make something happen.
Yeah, it's frustrating. But what else can you do? You can either give up and quit and leave, or you can keep pushing, try and fight for a place to be here on the grid.
Q. Michael, how important is it to run both the Indy races now? Does it help with the marketing of the team?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: We're hoping it does. We haven't seen it yet. But I think the biggest thing is more for Justin to get used to the team so he'll get a race under his belt before the big one. I think that's going to be really important to get him fitting into the team. That's why we felt like it made a lot of sense to do those two races, because they're back to back, right there in Indianapolis.
I got to say, going back to the frustration question, he talks about the rollercoaster. It was a rollercoaster. We had two or three deals that we thought were there. They fell apart at the last minute. It was an emotional ride for me as it was for him.
Q. A full season deal?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: One or two full seasons that fell apart. Then another one that I thought was going to have four or five races more. Fell apart, so…
Q. Michael, testing the new aerodynamic package, how much more do your engineers have to do to adapt to that?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Tremendous amount of work, I can tell you that. It's really been unbelievable what the teams have been having to go through the last few weeks, not only just getting the cars on track and all that, but to understand it.
I think we're still far away from understanding the whole package because there is so much adjustability to this new package.
I don't think anybody's going to really have the right combination in the first race. I think it's going to take a little while to understand it.
It sort of goes back to the old days when you had the new car every year, you almost forget what you did last year, know you have a new product. A new product normally needs something different in setup than the old. That's where we're at right now.
Q. What is the impact of different driving styles with all those different components with the new aerodynamics?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't think so much so. If we get the right package, it's going to work for every driver.
One thing we've been working on, as we've been going now, we have all the drivers pretty much running the same setup everywhere now. We're a lot closer on that than where we used to be.
The style thing we're throwing out the side and saying, Drivers, the car is fast, you need to make your car go just as fast, learn how to do it. I think that's what we have happening with our drivers.
I don't think we're going to have any impact on that from the aero kit.
Q. Justin, now that you have a final confirmed date of racing, at least for the start of the season, how does that help you prepare for the month of May?
JUSTIN WILSON: It's nice to know you have something to focus on, something to work towards, and you've got a date for that.
This whole off season I've been training as hard as ever at the gym, on the cardio. I know driving these cars with this extra downforce is going to be more physical.
I didn't know if I was going to be in or not going to be in. But you've got to be ready for whatever opportunity comes along.
Yeah, I mean, it doesn't change my preparation, but it's just nice knowing you have something there to focus on.
Q. Michael, did the team find something between the Barber open test and the earlier test this week at Sebring that has helped close the gap to Chevrolet?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think we're going to find there's going to be some kits that are quicker at some tracks than others. I wouldn't say that we found something there. I think it was more the racetrack itself. I'm hoping that that's going to transfer over to this track.
But then it seems like you got to a track like Barber where there's a lot of hills and things like that, then you have different things you have to react to that seems like the other side is not reacting to.
I think it may come down to tracks, one is going to have an advantage over the other.
Q. Michael, is there a fear that if Chevrolet has an advantage or has figured out something extra, it might mitigate anything that Honda might have as an engine?
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, what it does, though, is it does confuse things a little bit. You come down to now: Is the engine okay? Do you have more drag? Does the other side have less drag? Now you have to figure out, if you have made improvements in the engine, but it's not showing on the track, is it because of more drag, whatever. Same with looking at our competition. It makes it a lot harder to see if the problem is the motor or the kit.
So it definitely makes the job of the engineers a lot harder. They've got to do a lot more investigating and things to try to see, Okay, are we hurting here in the engine or with the kit?
JUSTIN WILSON: It's just best to be fastest everywhere.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Makes it easier if it's fast everywhere. That's the goal.
Q. Is this more fun now?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: With the kit?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think engineers are having a blast with it, yeah. It's a great engineering exercise, for sure.
Me as an owner, I don't know if it is. When you got to write the checks, it's not as much fun (laughter).
JUSTIN WILSON: It's another element you've got to work out. Again, as an engineer, driver, one of those combinations, you've got to work it out, see the answers that other teams have come up with. From a driver's point of view, it's interesting.
T.E. McHALE: We will wrap it up. We made some pretty good news today and we're happy you all joined us to take part.
Gentlemen, thank you for being with us.