Through his driving career, most of us thought successful team ownership might be the last thing Michael Andretti would do after racing, but he surprised us. Michael hung up his helmet a dozen years ago to focus on running his team and since then Andretti Autosport has won four IndyCar championships with Tony Kanaan in 2004, Dan Wheldon in ’05, Dario Franchitti in ’07 and Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012. Michael’s team has also won the Indy 500 three times with Wheldon, Franchitti and Hunter-Reay.
Today, Michael is one of IndyCar’s top three owners in company with Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi. He also runs teams in IndyCar’s three Road to Indy ladder series and, through a separate company, promotes events including the IndyCar race at the Milwaukee Mile, America’s oldest racetrack.
Through the heart of his driving career Michael was a furiously feisty competitor, winning 42 top-level races, and he’s ranked third on IndyCar’s list of all-time winners behind father Mario (52) and AJ Foyt (67). That means he’s ahead of the Unsers – Bobby, Al and Al Jr –and many other great names from Indycar racing’s 100-year history.
Michael also won the 1991 CART championship and finished second five times in 1986, ’87, ’90, ’92 and ’96. Andretti continued to race regularly in CART through 2001, ending his career in the IRL and retiring after the 2003 Indy 500. Michael came back to run the Indy 500 with his son Marco in 2006 and ’07 and the ’07 500 was his last. He was 44 at the time.
In 2002 Michael became a partner with Barry Green in Andretti-Green Racing and was ready to assume his new life as a team owner. “When I stepped out in ’03 I was perfectly happy to be doing it,” Michael says. “I felt lucky because I was looking at my new future. I was still going to stay involved with the sport and I was perfectly content to be out of the car.
“I was fortunate to achieve a lot in my career. I never won the Indy 500 as a driver, but I enjoyed many competitive races where I had a shot at winning and I’ve been fortunate to win the 500 three times as an owner. I’m very happy. I have no regrets.”
His son Marco started racing Indycars for his father’s team in 2006 and Michael came back to Indy primarily to enjoy racing with Marco. “In ’06 and ’07 I felt like I wasn’t as sharp. I wasn’t on it,” he says. “I thought, ‘This isn’t right’. You’ve got to be doing it every day. I was halfway competitive, but losing opportunities because I just wasn’t on my game.”
On his transformation from driver to owner, Michael says: “One thing about being an owner, I have so much more respect for the guys I drove for. When you’re a driver you’re often asking, ‘Why are you doing that? Why won’t you spend $5 over here?’ But now I understand. It’s different on this side and I wish I’d had this experience before, then I would have been a better driver outside the car. I’d have had a lot more respect for things.
“It’s quite different being an owner. Now I understand why Carl [Haas] and Chip made some of the decisions they made that didn’t make sense when I was a driver.”
Michael is the only IndyCar owner who also runs cars in the Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and F2000 series. “I firmly believe in the Road to Indy platform,” he says. “It’s very important for the sport. We have a team on every rung of the ladder system and I’d like to see some of the other owners do the same thing.
“I’m doing the right thing,” he adds. “I love the business. Times are tough for all of us in IndyCar, but I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”