May 28, 2014 at 1:00 am

Former driver Michael Andretti has lofty goals as owner

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Michael Andretti is 51, a long resume of racing behind him.

But the family name linked forever to IndyCar racing — thanks to his legendary father, Mario, and his talented son, Marco, not to mention his career that includes a series championship and more than 40 victories — is forging ahead as a team owner.

Nothing, of course, ever will compare to the sensation of being a driver, but Andretti has found ownership is the next best thing.

“I want to be one of the teams to beat,” Andretti said by phone. “I think we are. When we go into the year, we like to say, ‘If we beat Ganassi and Penske, we will most likely win the championship.’

“I want those guys to think that way of us.”

After last week’s victory in the Indianapolis 500 courtesy of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport arrives in Detroit for this weekend’s Belle Isle Grand Prix with serious momentum.

The team boasts two of the top American drivers in Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti.

“We have great American drivers, but I’ve got to say, what makes it really special to be an American driver is when you win in an international platform like this,” Andretti said.

Recent success

There hasn’t been an Andretti on the Indianapolis 500 Borg Warner trophy since Mario won in 1969. Michael and Marco have been close.

But, Michael Andretti has won the 500 as an owner three times and his team has four series titles, most recently in 2012.

And it all stems from Andretti’s smooth transition to ownership after he stopped racing full-time in 2003.

He refers to the driver as the team quarterback, the one who gets the glory when things go well and the blame when things are off. The driver puts in all the seat time, fulfills marketing and public relations engagements, and is expected to hang it out on the edge every time there’s a race.

“It’s different (than racing),” Andretti said of ownership. “It’s highly motivating. It’s a new challenge, a different challenge.

“When I come into the office, you have so many different things that you have to be overlooking from the basics of running the team, to engineering, to management, then the business side and the PR side. ... It’s always fresh.”

There’s no school that teaches former drivers how to become owners. Like racing the car, which is a big part instinct and feel, ownership from Andretti’s perspective is similar in the sense he has mostly done this by feel.

He has learned as he has gone along, frequently dipping into his resources of racing knowledge from his time as a driver.

“I’m not a micro-manager,” Andretti said. “My thing is hire the best people and allow them to do their job and when things don’t go right, they have to answer to their job — it’s their responsibility. You’re hiring them for a reason.”

Winning is winning, and it always feels good. But there is a difference as an owner.

“When you’re a driver, it’s a self-satisfying thing,” Andretti said. “When you win as an owner, it’s a shared thing. It’s all about the people you were able to put under you to make it work. You’re sharing that joy with them.”

Hunter-Reay made clear after winning the 500 he could not have done it without the backing of Andretti Autosport.

“You absolutely need a team behind you,” he said. “You also need people that believe in you when the days don’t go right. That’s this guy (Andretti). I have him to thank for making my IndyCar career a possibility his way.”

Mixed feelings

Still, as advanced as Andretti has become as an owner, that can’t change his feelings as a father watching his son race.

Certainly, Andretti wanted to win the Indianapolis 500, and he was overjoyed with Hunter-Reay’s finish, but there also was the matter of his son.

“It’s tough; it makes it complicated,” Andretti said. “I was so happy for the team and so happy for Ryan and then I put on the dad hat, and I was disappointed. I’m hoping one day he can get there and get it done.”

In the end, it’s about the team.

“The Indy 500 is so special, and everyone in this building works so hard for that moment,” Andretti said. “It makes you feel so good, and it’s such a great feeling. We were able to do that as a team, all together.”

Race day

Course: Belle Isle Raceway Park, Detroit

Dates: Friday-Sunday

Schedule: Seven races, including a pair of IndyCar races and a SUPER Truck Series doubleheader

Tickets: $35 per day general admission, $65 two days


Andretti Autosport owner Michael Andretti, left, with Kurt Busch, who finished sixth in the Indianapolis 500. / AJ Mast / Associated Press