NEW YORK — Mario Andretti already is hard at work on preparations for the 1986 CART Indy-car season, although the first race isn't until April.
The 45-year-old Andretti this week became the first driver to get behind the wheel of a 1986 Indy car, testing his team's new Lola T-8600 racer at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, Calif.
"We started the testing Tuesday," Andretti told The Associated Press by telephone Wednesday. "We've had the usual little things go wrong; quirks here and there, fuel system problems. So we haven't got in much running so far.
"But that doesn't prevent you from getting a first impression of the car, and I'm really pleased. It's very different from last year's car and, with the rule changes, there are a lot of areas still gray as to how the car is going to be under certain circumstances.
"One thing I've already seen is that we may not have a slower car, at least on road courses. Still, that may be different on the oval tracks."
Championship Auto Racing Teams and the U.S. Auto Club, the rival Indy-car sanctioning bodies, both mandated changes in body styling for 1986 in an effort to slow the cars, particularly on the fast ovals at Indianapolis, Michigan and Pocono, where the fastest laps are in excess of 200 mph.
"One thing we've seen in the past is that when the rules-makers take something away and slow the cars down, the designers and engine-builders usually find a way to compensate," Andretti said. "I wouldn't bet against it this year, too."
Andretti drives for the team co-owned by actor Paul Newman and Chicago businessman Carl Haas, who also is the U.S. distributor for Lola.
The team has had tremendous success since coming together in 1983 with Andretti as the sole driver.
In the three seasons, the team has been together, it has the best overall mark in five major categories.
Andretti, the 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner and the 1978 Formula One world champion, has won 11 races during the three years, five more than Tom Sneva and Bobby Rahal. He has 13 pole positions to 10 for Rahal and has led 1,300 laps to 1,108 for Rahal.
Andretti has compiled 423 points in the three years with Newman-Haas Racing. Al Unser is second with 378.
Andretti, who won the 1984 CART-PPG championship, also leads in winnings over that period with a total of $1,992,856. Unser is second with $1,730,175.
The only change in the team this year is the departure of engineer Tony Cicale. He was replaced by Andretti's old friend, Maurice (Mo) Nunn, who has been a car-builder and team owner in both Formula One and Indy-car racing.
"We've been talking with Maurice about this for quite a while," Andretti said. "I'm delighted he's with us now. He could be a real plus for us because of his knowledge. He's already working very well with the other people on the team and with me."
Andretti, who missed a race because of injuries last season for the first time in his long racing career, says he has completely recovered from the injured ribs, fractured collarbone and cracked hip joint he suffered in a crash during last year's Michigan 500.
He also came through a wild ride at Laguna Seca just before Christmas without reinjuring himself.
Andretti was tire-testing in his 1985 Lola for Goodyear when he lost control in turn two, went over a curbing and flipped the car upside down.
"I'd run a lot of laps and I got slightly complacent about the way things were going," Andretti explained. "You can't do that ever. I just got caught. I thought it was just going to be a little thing, going over the curb. But some of the embankment has been washed away and I just got upside down. I wasn't hurt."
The accident has not dampened his enthusiasm about the new season.