- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Michael Andretti’s jobs keep getting more complex.

He’s already the co-owner of the only four-car team in the IndyCar Series. He’s promoting two races this season. He will be on Danica Patrick’s radio when the Indy Racing League season opens and he will spend the next several months, perhaps longer, answering those incessant questions about the future of Patrick at Andretti Green Racing.

“I think we all know what we need to do with Danica, she knows what she needs to do, and we’re hoping that she’s going to be here for a long time,” Andretti said Wednesday. “She hasn’t expressed anything to us that would lead us to believe she doesn’t want to be here.”

That’s unlikely to satisfy a racing community abuzz with speculation now that the Illinois native is entering the final year of her contract.

Some believe a NASCAR team may make a lucrative offer to lure her away from IndyCars. Drivers such as Tony Stewart, Dario Franchitti and Sam Hornish Jr. have all made the transition from open-wheel racing to stock cars, but most have not been successful. Stewart, a two-time Cup winner, is the exception.

Another possible option popped up last month when Ken Anderson and Peter Windsor said Patrick was on their dream list to drive for the newly-announced U.S. Formula One team. That would give Patrick a chance to race in Europe, where she competed as a teenager.

Patrick, who celebrates her 27th birthday next week, was not on the conference call. But in February, she indicated there was no plan to leave IndyCars.

“It’s funny how these things get going,” she said. “But I’m happy driving in the IndyCar Series, I’m happy in North America.”

As if that wasn’t enough for Andretti to contend with, his father, Mario, the 1978 former world champion and 1969 Indy winner, has suggested Andretti’s son, Marco, should get the F1 ride.

The 22-year-old finished his first full IndyCar season in 2006, and is now using the A1GP circuit to hone his skills on road courses. He also plans to compete in an A1GP race in Portugal between the IRL’s first two races this season.

“It keeps you race savvy because I think a small mistake is definitely magnified in a race, so it keeps you really on your toes, and it’s a form of training for what we’re doing,” the youngest Andretti said. “These cars are pretty physical, and the road courses, as well. It’s definitely the most physical of all.”

Michael Andretti has also added the title of promoter this season.

He’s been tracking ticket sales for the April 5 season-opener in St. Petersburg, Fla., and is rounding up sponsors July’s race in Toronto in one of the toughest economic environments in decades.

So far, so good.

“The encouraging thing, in the tough times we’re in right now I’m happy to say, ticket sales are right there with last year, which we’re quite excited about,” he said, referring to the St. Pete race. “We’re looking for another great event down there. Toronto is going quite well, as well, the ticket sales up there and also the corporate involvements are quite high. So things are really chugging along up there.”

But Andretti believes the economic turmoil won’t end till late this year, and that could cause problems for teams when their multiyear deals run out next season.

Then there’s his own team’s high expectations.

AGR has won 34 races and three points championships since switching from Champ Car to the IRL full-time in 2003.

This year’s lineup includes 2004 series points champ Tony Kanaan; Marco Andretti, who became the youngest winner of an IndyCar race in 2006; Hideki Mutoh, who finished 10th in the points last season; and Patrick, who broke through with a historic win at Japan last season.

Yet the team finished third in points last season, behind Target Chip Ganassi and Team Penske.

So Andretti started making some adjustments.

He moved Kyle Moyer, who made the calls for Patrick last season and to Marco’s team, others suggested Michael Andretti make the calls for Patrick.

“I really need another job like a hole in the head,” Andretti said, drawing laughter. “But I’m excited about the challenge. The team as a whole just felt that I would be able to help Danica. She seems to respond to me in a lot of ways, and we felt that I might be able to use some of my experience to help her.”

Is it too much? Perhaps.

“I want to do whatever is best for the team, and so I’m doing it,” Andretti said. “I think it’s going to be something new and exciting, but it is going to be another job.”

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