LONG BEACH, California — Michael Andretti remembers not knowing what to expect from becoming a team owner in Indy car racing.
An impressive driving career with 42 wins was one thing. Enjoying that kind of success as the boss, well, that’s something else.
That’s why Andretti, not known for being too sentimental, couldn’t help but sound a bit touched by the significance of Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi dominated to win from the pole for a second consecutive NTT IndyCar Series season, but this victory marked the team’s 200th triumph across all racing platforms.
ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT: List of 200 race wins
“Did I ever expect to be at 200 wins over, I don't know how many years it's been, 15 or whatever?” said Andretti, who became co-owner of what was then Andretti Green Racing in 2003. “No. I mean, I think I didn't know what to expect, to be honest with you. It's been a lot of fun. Been a lot of hard work. It's definitely different being on this side of it, being an owner over a driver.
“It's got its challenges, but it also has its rewards. For me, it still gives me a reason to get up in the morning. It's always a challenge, something new, something you have to deal with every day. I like challenges.”
Although recognized as one of the best drivers of his time, Andretti has exceeded those accomplishments as an owner. Most notably, he stepped out of a car with the dubious distinction of having led the most Indianapolis 500 laps without that elusive victory, yet as an owner he’s celebrated five times by swigging the milk in Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s victory lane (including in the photo at left in 2005, when he watched Dan Wheldon celebrate the team's first Indy 500 win). He won one series championship as an Indy car driver, but his drivers have amassed four titles.
Rossi, a 27-year-old Californian who finished a career-best second in the points last season, is part of the new breed of talented, young drivers in the series. He contributed a 2016 Indianapolis 500 win and five other victories to that 200 total.
That the milestone came at Long Beach was also fitting. Andretti won his first and last Indy car races as a driver on this temporary street circuit. His father, Mario, won three Indy car races and a Formula One race on the track.
“I was really happy we were able to get it done here,” Michael said.
He was reminded about how, in the twilight of his career, both Michael and Mario were asked about possibly becoming team owners. Mario wasn’t too keen on the idea. Michael’s eyes lit up about the possibility.
He had learned a lot from working with the likes of Carl Haas, Paul Newman and Barry Green, among others. Why not try to put that to use?
“I learned a lot, probably mostly in my years with Carl,” Andretti said. “I was really close to Carl and Paul. They always listened to what I had to offer. They would listen and do things that I would suggest, which was really awesome. Maybe that's why it gave me the confidence, maybe I knew a little bit what was going on.
“But I did learn a lot from them. I’ve got to say when I was a driver, there would be times where I'd wonder, ‘What the heck are you doing? Why are you making this move and that move?’ Doesn't always make sense to you as a driver. When you get on the other side of it, now I understand a lot of the things, why they were doing things.”
The common denominator has been a love of racing. That just never goes away.
Andretti was fortunate to make the transition to ownership when Green was looking to get out. Andretti Green Racing eventually transformed into Andretti Autosport.
“I'm so proud of what we've been able to accomplish in I think a short period of time, to get to 200,” Andretti said. “We've had so many great people help get us there. I was just told we had 38 different drivers that won for us over the years to get us to this point. It’s a great feeling.”
Nothing takes the place of winning as a driver, he reminded. But perhaps winning more often as an owner comes close.
“I think when you win as an owner, it's like a real shared win,” he said. “You're just happy not really just for yourself but everybody in the team. Yeah, whereas as a driver, it more feels like a self-accomplishment. It is different. They're both great in a different way.”