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Michael Andretti: “There’s A Ton Of Potential With GRC”

February 6, 2014

The name “Andretti” is one of the most vaunted and revered in all of motorsports, and Andretti Autosport owner Michael Andretti is a big part of why. The second-generation CART champion and Formula 1 driver has spent the past decade building a motorsports empire, owning race and championship-winning teams in IndyCar, Mazda Road to Indy, and the former American Le Mans Series.

In 2014, Andretti will bring his race team to Red Bull Global Rallycross for the first time. After a successful race promotion partnership with the series through Andretti Sports Marketing, he has attracted the likes of Volkswagen, Tanner Foust, and Scott Speed to contend for yet another racing championship. Andretti talked about the new venture and his hopes for the 2014 season:

Red Bull GRC has attracted both drivers and team owners from across the spectrum of motorsports, from IndyCar and sports cars in your case to NASCAR and even Formula 1. What sparked your initial interest in the series?

We helped promote the race in Las Vegas at the end of 2012. I went to the race and I thought, “You know what? This is really cool stuff.” I decided it was a neat form of racing, met a lot of people, and that’s where my interest really grew to try and figure something out to get involved.

Team ownership isn’t your first foray into Red Bull GRC, as Andretti Sports Marketing has played a huge role in the series’ growth over the past two years. As a promoter, what were you able to learn about the series that helped push you toward team ownership for 2014?

We learned a lot about the series behind the scenes for sure, which was good. I think what we learned was, there’s a ton of potential with what GRC is all about. It starts with the manufacturers, and the reason the manufacturers are there is because the demographics of Global Rallycross are exactly where everybody wants to be—with the millenials.

I think that’s the thing that we’re up against in all other types of racing: trying to go after the demographic, and Global Rallycross has it. So that’s what really got us interested. We said that if we got involved, we could bring a lot more interest, we could get a lot of sponsors, and hopefully bring another manufacturer in.

You mentioned the manufacturers, and you have a great new partnership with Volkswagen for this season where you’ll be running a full factory program for the brand. What does it mean to you to launch such a prestigious program right out of the box? Given VW’s success in World Rally last year, is there any extra pressure to post immediate results?

First of all, we’re just so excited to be doing this the way we’re doing it. That was the only way I’ve really learned to get involved, with a manufacturer. For us to get the interest of Volkswagen, it doesn’t get any better than that. When we started talking, we just really meshed with everybody at Volkswagen, and we thought it was going to be a great marriage, especially when you look at their record.

Is there extra pressure? Yeah, but I would say we always have that anyway. Our goal is the same goal as Volkswagen’s, and that is to win races. Our very first goal that we both have, when we started talking to Jost (Capito), is that we want to win the first race. We’re going in with that mentality. Are we going to pull it off? I don’t know, but we’re going to give it a good shot.

You’ll be racing the Polo in the season opener before debuting the Beetle a month later at X Games. What advantages does delaying the launch of the Beetle provide to the team? Is there anything you’ll be able to translate from the setup and handling of the Polos to the new vehicles?

It’s not by design, it’s more by necessity. The timing of it all, we just won’t have the Beetle done in time. How much of it is going to transfer over, we don’t know yet—obviously we’re going to learn as a team. We’re always learning. I’m sure there are some things that we’re going to be able to do, that we learned on the Polo and will be able to use on the Beetles, but I’m sure there are going to be things that don’t work. That, we won’t know until we’re out there.

As we know, Tanner Foust and Scott Speed will be driving the two VARX cars this season. What were you looking for in particular when you were searching for drivers, and how much did you balance on-track success with off-track personality in that search?

The first thing was how they were going to do on the race track—that was number one. You can’t beat going after Tanner Foust, who won the championship in 2012 and finished second last year, and also to have a guy like Scott Speed who has Formula 1 and NASCAR experience. He went out and won his first race in GRC back in Brazil and was competitive in all of the other ones that he was in. I think that those guys are perfect drivers for us to have and introduce our team.

I feel that we have the best driver lineup, and in the end that’s the most important thing. The driver is probably even more important in GRC than it is in some other forms of racing, because of how small and tight (the racing) is. I’m really excited about that.

Andretti Autosport has a history of its drivers trying out other series, from American Le Mans to A1GP. Have any of your IndyCar drivers discussed wanting to try out the Red Bull GRC car?

Oh, yeah! They’re all over me for sure about it. Eventually when we have more cars, we’d like to do that, but right now we don’t have enough cars. We’d love to have a guest car where we bring in Marco (Andretti), Ryan (Hunter-Reay), or James (Hinchcliffe) to give it a try. That’s in our cards down the road, we’d definitely like to do something like that, and those guys are chomping at the bit to do it.

You’ve got the new Andretti TV concept in the works for this season, and that was a big point of discussion in your team launch earlier this year. How will the Red Bull GRC team be incorporated into that?

It’s fully going to be part of it. You’re going to be able to see the shop, and the GRC cars are going to be in the same shop as the other cars. So you’re going to be able to watch all behind the scenes, and at the race track we’re going to have team stuff. It’s going to be a big part of it, and we’re excited about it.

We’re still very much working things out, we’ve got a lot more to come with it, but I think once we get this thing really up and running, we’re really excited about it. We’re really excited to have GRC a part of it, especially going after the millennials, because they’re all about things like this—being able to tune in, watch things that they normally can’t, and learn about the behind the scenes parts of racing that they normally can’t see. I think it’s quite exciting.

You’re well known for looking to the future of motorsport, from your commitment to Mazda’s Road to Indy to your Formula E program. How does Global Rallycross fit into your view of racing’s future, and how do you think your participation will help move it forward?

I’m very excited about it. I hope that we come in and raise the whole game of it, bringing in new ideas. We’re working really closely with Colin and everybody. There’s a lot of excitement, but there are a lot of open minds, and this series has a great future in my mind. I think that, number one, you have the best demographic that you can have to build off. We need to continue to develop that by making it different, making it exciting, and keep these kids’ interest. I think that if we continue to do that, the future is quite bright.

Images via Andretti Autosport (1, 2, 3, 5)

Photo credit: QBA/ (4)

Check back in the coming days for exclusive interviews with Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross drivers Tanner Foust and Scott Speed!

Categories: Interviews