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Andretti Green Racing has all the parts in place; are victories next?



Published: Fri, September 1, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Last year's media sweetheart -- Danica Patrick -- is now sharing the hype.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

With two of the highest-profile names in auto racing on the roster -- Andretti and Patrick -- it would seem the biggest challenge Andretti Green Racing faces in 2007 is making everyone fit together. That, and coping with another season of Marcomania -- joined by Danicamania.

"We're pretty excited about it. I think we have the potential to be really, really strong," co-owner Michael Andretti said. "Our driver lineup's going to be very strong. Our goal is to get all four cars in victory lane."

AGR added Danica Patrick to next year's team when she ended her long association with Rahal Letterman Racing and her mentor, 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal. She joins 2004 IndyCar Series champion Tony Kanaan and Andretti's son, Marco. He proved himself an able member of the Andretti dynasty with a win last week in Sonoma in only his 13th IRL outing.

Anxious for more

"I can't wait to get back next year with all the knowledge that I gained from this year. I think it'll be huge," Marco Andretti said.

He's rookie of the year. Patrick was last year's top rookie.

She sniffs at rumors that her change in teams was financially driven.

"Not even close," she said. "My decision came based on where I can win and nothing else. That really is what I have to do as a driver."

Michael Andretti looks at Patrick as a victory waiting to happen. She has two fourth-place finishes in each of her two IRL seasons, including last year's Indy 500, where she became the first woman to lead that race .

"There's a nice incentive there to be the first one to put a woman on victory lane with Danica. That would be great," he said.

If there's a downside to fame, it's the fame itself. Last year's media sweetheart is now sharing the hype with her future teammate.

"It was to be expected," Marco Andretti said, conceding the attention he received after finishing second in this year's 500 -- one spot ahead of his father and one behind Sam Hornish Jr. -- occasionally gets to him.

Facing the music

Speaking softly and nibbling at his nails, the 19-year-old said some times are more challenging than others.

"The worst is when you come off a bad day and you have a lot of media to do," he said. "Towards the end of the month [after Indy], I could not wait to get in the car and relax."

The 24-year-old Patrick said she does not feel pressured by the media.

"I do what I can do, as long as it doesn't interfere with racing or relaxing on an off weekend," she said. "I just try to be myself."

Even with the distractions, she agreed with her future teammate that the attention has been positive for her new team and, ultimately, the IRL.

"Marco and I are definitely young -- fresh blood -- and I think that whether we're together or apart, it's definitely going to help the series. My mission is to help make the IRL huge and let everyone know about it," she said.

Both Michael and Marco Andretti agreed that team success has to come first.

Series is focus

"If it's good for the series and all that, great. Which is what we did at Indy, with me doing it and Marco," Michael Andretti said. "It was first done for ourselves and all the gravy on it was that it helped the IRL. That's what we hope to do. If we can help them, we're helping ourselves."

He signed Patrick after she negotiated with Rahal Letterman and flirted briefly with an unnamed NASCAR team.

"It's very important for us to have Danica still in the series. I would much prefer to have her be with another team than to lose her altogether," he said.

Still, with all its talent, the 2007 season holds some question marks for Andretti Green.

Despite the 2-3 finish at Indy and some other good results, the team has only two victories in 13 races this year -- Kanaan got the other one at Milwaukee. Marlboro Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing dominate with four each, and one of their drivers will win the championship Sept. 10 in Chicago.

Personnel situation

Also, with the addition of Patrick, Andretti Green has five drivers and four cars. Marco Andretti, Patrick and Kanaan are under contract for next season, while Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta are not.

"I think for sure all four of us will not be on the same team next year," Franchitti said at Sonoma, where he finished second behind his teammate. "I think Bryan has already chosen what he wants to do next year. It's kind of sad because we've built up such a good relationship."

Herta has said only that he is talking to other teams.

"The ultimate goal would be to keep the status quo," Michael Andretti said. "We're talking to both of them, but I'm sure they're also covering themselves as well."

As far as getting back to winning, Michael Andretti said it's going to be a busy winter.

"We've really lacked speed on the bigger tracks, so we have a lot of work to do to try to figure that out," he said.

"We've got a lot of pressure for ourselves and we've got to get ourselves in victory lane. We're going to have pressure to try to put Danica and Marco in victory lane for sure. That's fine. We all want to do that anyway. That's our carrot, so we're up for that."

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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