Anderson Out To Simply Make Andretti Better

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, April 30 2010

Tom Anderson of Andretti Autosport talks racing with driver Danica Patrick. (Photo courtesy of Andretti Autosport)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Kansas City, Kan. – When Tom Anderson showed up at Andretti Autosport to begin duty as senior vice president of racing operations late last year, he had with him his list of things he knew he wanted to work on.

Incredibly, the list was a short one. Just four things.

That tells you plenty about Anderson and the way he operates: Even when he’s regrooving the biggest team in a series as technologically advanced the Indy Racing League.

“Me,” Anderson said Thursday from the paddock at Kansas Speedway, “I’m simple and basic. The more complex the problem I get, the more I simplify it so I can understand it and work it out. I’m as simple as you get.”

At Andretti, the problems which Anderson has identified thus far have only been mild. This is not a start-up or in-the-tank operation.

Andretti Autosports was founded in 2003 as Andretti Green Racing. The Andretti in the name belongs to Michael Andretti, retired Champ Car driver and son of the great Mario Andretti. Green is Kim Green, brother of long-time open-wheel team owner Barry Green.

Andretti and Kim Green, along with Kevin Savoree, formed their team to compete in the IZOD IndyCar series after leaving CART.

And they did well together, winning three IZOD IndyCar championships and 34 races, which leads all owners in the series.

But none of those victories came in 2009 and only one came the year before. Andretti Green had fallen on tough times.

Last year, Andretti bought out his partners and went about restructuring the team – Andretti Autosport was born.

Anderson was brought in to help with the restructuring.

Anderson is a 40-year veteran of the American racing scene. He spent the 1990s and early 2000s as managing director of Chip Ganassi’s CART operation. Under Anderson, that team won four straight series championships. It also won the 2000 Indianapolis 500 with Juan Pablo Montoya.

Most recently, Anderson has served as co-owner and managing director of Fernendez Racing.

All that resulted in a request for his help from Andretti and on Dec. 1, they went to work.

Anderson started poking around. He knew big changes were not going to be in the offing at the team whose full-time drivers include Danica Patrick, Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti and part-timer Ryan Hunter-Reay, who will at present is scheduled to race through the Texas race in June.

“Granted,” Anderson said, “they were in a slump in ’08 and ’09. But the majority of the people were still there and it would be silly for any outsider to come in and try to change what was going on and try to change it to like someplace I had been before. That would be totally silly.”

He said his overall focus is helping prioritize the direction that team should go.

Anderson – who is just working with the team’s IndyCar program and leaving the developmental teams to general manager Kyle Moyer – says he just now is beginning to know all the people involved with building cars and making them fast for the four-car (five-car from now through Indianapolis) Andretti Autosport.

He said some people left with the departing co-owners but that to his knowledge, nobody has been laid off for fired.

But there have been changes. Patrick, Anderson said, is the only of the three full-time drivers who has the same engineer as last year.

Patrick said that the changes which Anderson has implemented seem to be helping the team.

“I think most of the things he has really made a difference with is probably the operations at the shop,” she said. “I have not seen tons of different stuff but everybody is commenting on how things are being fixed and things are just running more smoothly. Tom’s a real positive guy, he’s a really good influence and he’s not afraid to be a boss. I think he’s a really good addition.”

As Anderson plows through the tasks at hand, he keeps his list with him. His small, four-item list.

“To me, there are only four things you need to be successful in motor racing,” Anderson said. “The trick is, of those four things, you need the correct amount of each because if you are a little short in one and a little more in the other, it’s out of balance and doesn’t work.”

The four things, are: the correct amount of financing; the right amount of time; the right amount of talent; the right amount of chemistry.

And at Andretti?

“I think right now we have enough talent to win. I think we have chemistry, which is going in the right direction now and it can win. The two things I would say we are a little short on is time in some areas and money,” Anderson said.

The primary emphasis of the Andersonization of Andretti Autosport was to make the team better on road and street courses. That is where its teams and drivers seemed to struggle the most the past couple of years.

Almost all of its tests have been on the twisties.

So far, things are looking good with that part of the plan. Among the four drivers, there have been six top-10 finishes, capped by Hunter-Reay’s victory at Long Beach last time out and his second-place finish at the season-opening race in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Hunter-Reay, in fact, has been one of the top stories in the sport this spring.

“He was matched very well with his race engineer, Ray Gosselin. They are both young and hungry and when you put young and hungry along with the talent that both of those two possess, then combinations like that can make things happen,” Anderson said.

A lot of people – fans and competitors – are anxious to see if the improvement Andretti drivers have shown on the road and street courses continues on the ovals, where the next four events – beginning with Saturday’s Road Runner Turbo Indy 300 at Kansas – will be held.

Anderson is also anxious to see. He said with most of the concentration having been on road courses, he is not sure what to expect.

He is telling himself that things will not go well.

“I’m too much of a pessimist,” Anderson said. “We’re working as though we are not prepared. I think that the minute you take something for granted in motor racing, all of a sudden, everybody goes by you. You can’t rest. There are some really intelligent people in this paddock and they’re working hard and if you’re not, they’re going to go by you.”

Not many have shot past the simple-is-better-oriented Anderson over the last couple of decades.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, April 30 2010