For a dream of Andretti, a price: 200 million dollars
“He’s out of fuel!” the TV presenter shouted into his microphone. “[Michael Andretti] runs out of fuel, falling inside! And here is the finish line! Who will win ?!”
This story originally appeared in Volume 13 of Road & Track.
Michael Andretti was in the No.18 March 86C Cosworth, probably with every muscle in his body tensed. He was about to win the 1986 Portland Budweiser/GI Joe’s 200, more than two seconds ahead of his father, Mario, on the last lap, when he ran out of gas coming out of the final corner . His father caught up with him and both cars passed the checkered flag almost exactly at the same time.
“Unbelievable!” shouted the TV presenter. “Well, it might be the closest and best Indy-car finish in history!”
It turned out that Mario beat Michael by about four inches. “It was so disappointing,” Michael Andretti says today. “It’s funny how it happened. That’s probably what cost me the championship that year. The funniest thing of all? This race, where the father beat his son by those fateful four inches, was held on Father’s Day. Immediately after the finish, cameras captured Michael’s wife Sandy sobbing in the pit lane as he stood with his father in the center of a crowd of fans and TV cameras .
“Do you want to say something to your father now?” asked the television interviewer.
Michael turned to Mario and said, “Well, Happy Father’s Day, Dad.”
Asked about it today, Michael can only laugh. We’re seated in the Andretti Autosport hospitality area in the infield of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, just before qualifying for the 2022 Gallagher Grand Prix on the track’s road course. “It’s such a cool story, but it was also incredibly frustrating,” he says. “When I gave him a Happy Father’s Day, I wasn’t really sincere. It was really upsetting.
It must not have been easy growing up the racing son of the most famous racing driver of all time. But today Michael Andretti, 59, fulfilled his destiny. He’s had a fabulous career – statistically he’s one of the most accomplished American open-wheel hotshoes of them all, with dozens of wins and a CART Indy-car National Championship under his belt (1991). As head of Andretti Autosport, he won four IndyCar championships and five Indy 500s. Andretti Autosport features teams in IndyCar, Indy Lights, Formula E, Extreme E and IMSA. Twenty-four hours after our meeting at the Brickyard, Michael Andretti was on the podium with his driver Alexander Rossi, winner of the 2022 Gallagher GP.
But all this is not enough for Michael. His name is, after all, Andretti. It’s in his DNA to chase that next win and dream that bigger dream. It’s no secret that Michael Andretti is looking to create a new Formula 1 team and succeed on the biggest stage in the world.
“Our goal is to be an all-American team,” he says in a calm, steady voice, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses. “Building a car here on American soil, with an American driver and an American team.” Since 1967, an American has not built his own car and won in F1 – Dan Gurney at the 1967 Belgian GP in the All American Racers Eagle.
Andretti announced earlier this year that he wanted to build this new F1 team and even chose its lead driver: Colton Herta, 22, a second-generation IndyCar ace who currently races for Andretti Autosport and is the youngest person to winning an IndyCar Race. Immediately after Andretti’s announcement, powerful international racing impresarios split into two camps: those for and those against. Why? “Politics,” says Andretti. “F1 is full of politics.” And what is almost always at the origin of politics, tacitly if not openly? Silver.
Technically, F1 regulations allow 13 teams. Only 10 exist. Opponents claim bringing an 11th would dilute the prize money. Toto Wolff, managing director of the Mercedes F1 team, told the New York Times: “The 11th team means a dilution of 10% for all the others.” Another argument is that struggling F1 teams would be at even greater risk. The only current American team, Haas F1 Team, has come out against Andretti’s proposal. You can see how from Haas’ point of view, Andretti could be a threat. Now in its ninth season, Haas hasn’t won any podiums. To be overshadowed by an American upstart in F1 would be humiliating and, potentially, financially painful. Meanwhile, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has taken an agnostic stance, saying any new team proposal must benefit all teams.
From Michael Andretti’s point of view, all of this denial is “short-sighted”. The popularity of Formula 1 in America is exploding. Michael can bring the most iconic name in American racing back to the international stage. This, he argues, would result in a windfall of dollars and euros and yen. Andretti’s vision is ambitious as all hell and entirely different from what Haas did.
“They don’t really build their own car,” he says, suggesting that Haas outsources much of that work. “We are going to build our own car. . . We want to build the finest racing facility in the world, right here in Indianapolis. Haas has two European drivers; Andretti only wants to put Americans in the seat. The amount of money needed to realize this dream is staggering. The initial buy-in to put a team on the grid — not including what it would cost to build the “world’s finest racing facility” and staff it — is $200 million. Where does the money come from?
“I have the best backers in the world,” says Andretti. “They think huge. They are on board. They don’t come just to be there. They want to come in and be competitive. They are going to do everything they can on their side to make this happen. Andretti is already hiring people, with the intention of being on the grid in 2024. “We are going down this path as if it were happening. It’s going to take us some time to get there. But I think where the show is going with the cost cap, you know, ultimately, if we do our job well, we can be competitive. We can run ahead.
Now stop and think about the big picture. Why is he doing this? Where does the reader come from? The deeper you dig, the more interesting the story becomes.
(1) Michael Andretti grew up in the 60s, when the biggest news in international racing was the Ford-Ferrari wars. This is the story of Americans traveling to Europe in the greatest David and Goliath sports story of all time and winning. “Dad played a big part in that,” says Michael Andretti. “I heard a lot of stories.”
(2) The Andretti family comes from Europe; Mario came to America as a post-war refugee in 1955. The desire to return and succeed in Europe has always been part of the Andretti saga.
(3) Michael competed as a Formula 1 driver with McLaren in 1993 and had little success. For decades there have been rumors that for political reasons the McLaren team did everything to make sure he failed. “I could probably write a book about it,” he says. “I’m not going to do it, because it would sound like sour grapes. But there are a lot of things that happened that shouldn’t have happened. He says it has nothing to do with his desire today to launch the Andretti Global F1 team. As Doctor Evil would say: Riiiiiiiiiiiiight.
(4) The last American success story in F1 was, of course, the father of Michael Andretti. Mario was the last American to win the F1 world championship, with Lotus in 1978. For Michael Andretti, who is still young enough in the business to recreate himself, what better way to end his career than doing something that doesn’t isn’t even the old one. man has ever done? To build his own F1 car, here in America, and make Andretti a new winner.