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Andretti Owns Up to New Role

Former IndyCar star gets out of the cockpit and assumes the responsibility of a team owner.

September 28, 2003|From Associated Press

Life outside the cockpit agrees with Michael Andretti.

The perpetual scowl is gone from the face of the IndyCar star, now a co-owner of the three-car Andretti Green Racing team in the IRL.

"I just don't miss having to get focused and having to be on edge," said Andretti, who began his new career as team owner at the end of the 2002 season and competed as a driver for the last time in May's Indianapolis 500.

"I lived 20 years that way," he said, smiling. "Now that I'm more relaxed, even at home, I like it. I feel more normal. I think there was just 20 years when I really wasn't enjoying life at all because I was so wrapped up in my job."

Being an owner hasn't been worry-free, though.

There have been crashes involving Andretti, Tony Kanaan and rookie Dan Wheldon that destroyed cars and left Kanaan with a broken left forearm and a cut on his right thigh.

Dario Franchitti -- the star Andretti hopes to build his team around -- has missed most of the season with a back injury from a motorcycle accident.

Even Michael's dad, retired superstar Mario, got in the act. He luckily escaped injury in a crash while testing for his son at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"It's all part of the deal, part of being an owner," the younger Andretti said. "You can't say it's been smooth sailing, but, having said that, with everything we've gone through as a team, I think we've become closer because you go through tough times and it brings you closer."

One of Andretti's co-owners, Kim Green, noticed that the former driver felt a bit out of place watching the race from a distance.

After all those years behind the wheel, it was tough for Andretti to turn into a spectator.

"We miss his experience in the race car because he knew what he needed in the car, especially on race day," Green said. "But now, he's pretty comfortable and he's still got some great tips to offer the drivers."

Of all the problems the team has faced, the loss of Franchitti was the biggest headache for Andretti.

"The thing with Dario was a real bummer," he said. "It really set the team back for a while, but (replacement) Bryan Herta came in and did a fantastic job for us, basically picked up where Dario left off."

Despite the problems, there has been success.

Kanaan, who gave Andretti his first win as a team owner, will go into the season finale Oct. 12 at Texas Motor Speedway just seven points behind co-leaders Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon in the IRL standings.

Wheldon is just four points behind Roger Yasukawa in the Rookie of the Year competition after finishing fourth last weekend at California Speedway. He also was fourth at Nashville and Chicagoland Speedway.

The English driver got off to a slow start with finishes of 19th or worse in four of the first six races, but has come on strong with six top-10 finishes in the last seven races.

"Working for this team is like going to a really good school, where the instructors are also friends," Wheldon said. "Michael has so much experience from his racing background and understands how to get things across to you. He knows what it is you need to do in that race car because he's been in every possible situation."

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