THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone, to today's INDYCAR conference call. We're pleased to be joined by Andretti Autosport driver Marco Andretti. Welcome to the call today.
MARCO ANDRETTI: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Marco is the driver of the No. 25 RC Cola Chevrolet and is currently fourth in the IZOD IndyCar Series points standings after posting three top-10 finishes to start the season, including a season-best third at St. Petersburg in the season opener.
He'll make his fourth start on the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil, this weekend.
Q. Marco, let's talk a little bit about the start of the season, starting with those three top-10 finishes. The start of the season has to give you a lot of confidence heading to Brazil.
MARCO ANDRETTI: Absolutely. This is what used to be the weakest part of the schedule for me, and I find myself just a few points out of the points lead. I'm super thrilled about my progress in the off-season. Working on these weak points I think definitely has helped, but it's definitely good to see results translate through.
Q. Sao Paulo is a pretty unique street course. There are some pretty long straightaways, including the longest straightaway we'll see all year, the Marginal, that lead into some passing zones. What is the greatest challenge of racing at Sao Paulo?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Staying clean. Qualifying is also important because of the stack-ups in Turn 1, if you're able to be ahead of most of that, that will help. From there, it's just going to be about doing everything right. Obviously, it's easier said than done, but it's going to take just that in order to be victorious there.
Q. They've made some modifications to the course in Turns 1 and 2, kind of widened it up a little bit, changed some curbing. Do you think that will help the racing that we'll see?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Maybe. I think it was a decent passing zone, but you're exactly right, we didn't have enough room to get it done. We had to really be all the way through by the time you got to Turn 1 in order to make a clean pass. There's no way two cars are fitting through there. Now I think it will make the passing a bit better.
Q. It is May 1, so the month of May is just around the corner, and that means Indianapolis. Is the month of May, turning the page on the calendar, getting you thinking about the 500, or with this race in Brazil coming up, is getting the best finish you can the focus right now?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Obviously, we've got to take one race at a time. The ideal situation is to be in the points lead going into the month of May, then just carry that momentum.
But Indy has always been an ultimate goal of mine. I think it's always been a realistic goal. So we just need to capitalize on it. Unfortunately I already have a similar record to dad, which is the most laps led for a non-winner. That part of it's frustrating.
Q. Marco, you mentioned earlier this is one of the best starts to a season you've had. With that said, what do you feel you were missing or need to improve on to drive home wins and more consistent podium finishes?
MARCO ANDRETTI: I think if I keep driving the way we've been, I think the podiums and the wins will come. Like I said, I'm pleased with my performance so far. But obviously it's still early.
I've worked on my street courses in the off-season in a big way. Really I need to give my teammates credit, especially Ryan (Hunter-Reay). He adapted to the street courses a lot better than I did. I was really over-driving the car. In the off-season I really studied how I was over-driving the car. It ended up working against me, causing more problems for myself, leaving me on the outside looking in.
This year, qualifying, there's a couple hundredths of a second (that keep us) out of the top six, but it's a lot better than looking in on the top 12, which is where we were last year.
I think we've improved. But to get wins we just need to keep driving the way we are.
Q. You mentioned the over-driving of the car, anything else outside of the obvious, engineer and crew chief changes, that you did as a driver to improve yourself or something you found, so to speak, hit on?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Well, I always knew I was a decent driver, I just needed to put it all together basically. I'm yet to do that. Until I start clicking off poles and wins on street courses, then I'll sleep a lot better than I am at night.
However, I am sleeping better than I was last year. I think just that alone, you know, those notches on the belt help. You know what I mean? You can't explain it. It all just starts coming together.
Obviously it's still way early in the season, but I feel a lot better on my outlook for the season. This is the first time I can actually say that I can see myself winning this championship.
Q. Heading into Indianapolis, it's looking ahead, but whether it's the chassis, tires, whatnot, is there a concern from any standpoint, manufacturer, engines, anything like that heading into Indianapolis that you're trying to key in on?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Well, the concern is that it's 500 miles and a lot happens in that 500 miles. But attrition-wise, we're blessed nowadays, compared to my grandfather's era especially with reliability. From that standpoint there's not a lot of stress.
Everybody has that confidence, and that's where it becomes my problem, because there's probably going to be 20 cars on the lead lap or more. You just need to lead the right lap, as I said before.
Obviously I'll be looking to be as dominant as we can, but I'll just be focusing on the racecar.
Q. Marco, who won the tennis match today, you or your grandfather?
MARCO ANDRETTI: I almost shut him out, but he got a game off me. I was mad about that (laughter).
Q. What was it at Long Beach? Where were you? What kind of a qualifying lap were you penalized from? Where were you in the lineup if you didn't have the penalty?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Well, I advanced to the next group. I had two laps that were blocked by (Josef Newgarden), which one of those laps that ended up advancing me. Unfortunately, I edged Hunter-Reay out on my third lap. The fourth lap was obviously the one I got penalized on. We still would have advanced without getting a clear lap. I had high hopes. The car was really good.
When we got bumped in after the Dixon thing, I was really pumped. I had a bit of understeer, but the car was close. We were going to make that adjustment that was hopefully going to fix the balance even better.
I think it definitely would have been in the top four, but it's easier said than done.
Q. What did that do to your confidence for the weekend?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, it was definitely frustrating because the whole queue was backing up, but I just kind of singled me out. And (JR) Hildebrand wasn't even on a quick lap. (INDYCAR) should have looked at that. I didn't really impede his progress.
I guess the new me is 'What happened happened.' I'm not going to get that lap back. This is what I got, I'm going to try to make the best of it. I think that's what we did. We finished as far as up as I thought we were going to make it in that shortened race. We had to do it not by strategy, but just by driving by the field. They shortened the race by five laps.
Having said that, we did a three-stopper because I saw there was going to be a full-course yellow, quickly ducked in and got new reds (tires) on early in the race.
But I drove most of the race with an injured front wing. We were trying to salvage what we can. It's days like that, if we were able to win a championship, it's days like that that are going to do it for us.
Q. Why are we excited of finishes of 3, 7, 7 for the first three races?
MARCO ANDRETTI: I don't look at just the finishes, I look at our competitiveness in general. I've been working on consistency in the off-season, and I'm pleased so far. We have that. But I need to be consistently better.
I think if we keep driving the way we've been, the wins are going to come. So it's hard not to get excited about that because I just know it.
Basically, like I said earlier, it's better than looking in on the top 12, which is where we were last year, we were a couple tenths (of a second) off. A couple tenths in this series is huge. This year we're just a couple hundredths off, so we just need to find that.
Q. Do you have more excitement for Indy, more so than normal, given the competitiveness of the start of the season? It's apples and oranges, I understand. But the team looks so good.
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, definitely. I've always looked at Indy as a championship in itself. It always helps to be competitive in the overall picture. First and foremost, I hope to really bring home a great result this weekend (in Brazil). Depending on where everybody else finishes, we're a podium away from leading the points is the way I look at it. If we're able to do that, it would carry huge momentum into Indy.
So instead of looking at it as a championship itself, I look at it as, you know, this could be a huge year for us if things shake out right.
This is a very confidence-driven sport. Right now I think we're all right.
Q. Marco, I think I've heard you mention that you'd like to eventually be that guy that guys come to for race data and advice for the weekend. With you being the high-ranked Andretti driver, has that been happening more?
MARCO ANDRETTI: It has. And I told my teammates this in the off-season, that I'm going to contribute more, period, this year for the team. I didn't want them just coming in my trailer on road courses and ovals. I wanted it to be across the board.
So far, yeah, I got to say it's been a great joint effort. You know what I mean? Yeah, before they wouldn't even be looking at me, and now they are having to compare stuff against me, which is a good feeling.
Q. Marco, could you talk a little bit about the travel effects on you and your team, going all the way to Brazil? What areas of the world have become your favorite with all your travel?
MARCO ANDRETTI: I think so far I really enjoyed Thailand. I did a vacation there in the off-season. But the biggest thing that wears on me personally is the time change. It's only an hour, so we should be all right.
I'm not a great sleeper on the plane. But I think the way I'm doing (Brazil) this year, I land and have to go right to work on Friday. So I'll be forced to stay awake all day. That kind of helps get you right into the swing of things. I should be fine.
Q. You talked a little bit about starting out with good results. Do you believe in momentum? What effect do these good results have on you and your team?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Well, like I said earlier, it's a very confidence-driven sport. Yeah, I believe in momentum. Sometimes the momentum shifts and you don't know why, you don't know what you're doing different.
It's really great to know I'm doing something different and getting positive results. It's just driving to the limit of the car instead of asking for something that's not there and actually creating a lot more problems for myself.
A typical weekend for me is practice one, we're always somewhere in the top five or 10. Then every practice leading up to qualifying, I go backwards, backwards, as I'm driving harder and harder.
Now I'm listening to the car, the tire, what it's going to give me, doing my job better.
Q. Marco, you talk about the finer points of racing and how you worked on them and stuff. When you step back and look at yourself, if you can do that, how are we seeing a different Marco Andretti this year that may account for this success that you've had so far? How would you analyze yourself?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Well, I mean, on the street courses I've just been driving better in general. But as far as attitude and outlook-wise, I think you really have to look at Long Beach. The old me might have gotten really frustrated and ended up not with a decent result, basically taking my head out of it before I was out of it.
Instead, I'm like, 'OK, we've got what we got, let's try to get the most from it.' Basically just turned the negatives into as positive as we can. Like I said, I mean, when you look back at guys that have won the championships, yeah, obviously the wins are a big key, but it's days what could have been 15th, 16th-place finishes well into the top 10. Those are the days that are going to pay the bills in the long run.
Basically I've just learned the fight. I've learned to be a good fighter.
Q. No conversation with an Andretti or at any event goes by without talking about your grandfather Mario. I was going to ask you about your father. People sometimes forget he's the third all-time winning Indy car driver. When he's around, he doesn't create that buzz that your grandfather does. Talk about your father as you know him as a driver, what you learned from him, what his influence was on you.
MARCO ANDRETTI: I think the big thing when I look at dad is that he really just let his results do the talking. You never heard from his mouth how good he was. I think that's a pretty cool thing. I idolize him for that.
You have to have other people telling you how good you are, not you. You know what I mean? I'm not saying that Mario does that. He has his own buzz because of what he's done. But I think dad was on the super modest side, all business. Sometimes it worked against him, as it does with me with fans, just being super focused, that can be easily misinterpreted for not a good guy or whatever.
Sometimes that worked against him, how focused he was.
Q. The answer is obvious, but you will be racing at (Pocono) this year not long after the Indy 500. Sort of a dumb question, but how great would it be to win the Indy 500 and come home?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, no, it would be great. Yeah, you're talking about Pocono. If we're able to win Indy and Pocono, then we're in it for the Triple Crown, which would be spectacular.
I think I'm going to have a huge hometown fan base which will feel very good. We had a very good test there, as well. It's a pretty daunting track at first. If you get it right, it could be very fun.
Q. At this point in your career, which do you covet more, individual race wins or getting a championship?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Well, I think you get more known for a championship. When you crown an overall champion, it shows your diversity, because I think that's the beauty of IndyCar and IndyCar racing. When you crown a champion, it's somebody who has mastered all the circuits of the sport.
Having said that, it's pretty awesome for dad to just sit there and look at how many total wins he has, as well. You'd like to think, if you look at trying to get outright wins, that the championships will come. I think that's not a bad outlook.
THE MODERATOR: Seeing as we have no further questions, we will thank Marco for his time today and wish him the best of luck at Sao Paulo this weekend.
MARCO ANDRETTI: Thanks. See you guys.