Mario Andretti is considering becoming a car owner in the CART series.
The former Formula One and CART champion told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he has begun discussions with Newman-Haas Racing, the team for which he drove for 11 years before retiring from open-wheel racing following the 1994 season.
"We think it would serve CART best if we would add another car, rather than me just joining the team," Andretti said. "We would run three cars."
Newman-Haas currently fields entries for series points leader Cristiano da Matta and Christian Fittipaldi.
The 62-year-old Andretti said the idea of becoming involved in team ownership has been on his mind for a long time.
"I never said my goal was to become a car owner, but I always kept the option open," he said. "I have so many other things going on that I'm involved in and enjoy, but I think the timing on this is right."
Andretti said the idea to add a third car to the established team arose during a conversation with team co-owner Carl Haas last weekend at the CART race in Toronto.
"It just came up," Andretti said. "I didn't go in there thinking about this, but now I'm excited about the possibility.
"First, we talked about me just getting involved with the team ownership, but we decided what would serve CART best would be if we would add another car that I would be responsible for."
Andretti said co-owner Paul Newman was not involved in the initial discussion but enthusiastically supported the idea when told about it.
"Paul and Carl and I have been friends for a long time, and I don't see any problem with this," Andretti said. "I'm excited to see what can come out of it and where it goes.
"I'd like to put something together and I feel there's some real opportunities out there."
Mario's son, Michael, the top race winner in CART history and also a former series champion for Newman-Haas, is considering starting his own team in the rival IRL, possibly as soon as 2003.
The elder Andretti has been a strong backer of the CART series throughout its bitter seven-year battle with the IRL. But he wouldn't second-guess his son.
"All of us have to pursue what is available and what is our own path to carve," Andretti said. "If that's where he thinks he should be, that's what he's got to do."
CART, considered a moribund series last winter, is in the midst of a strong comeback led by new CEO and president Chris Pook.
"I think Pook is doing a fabulous job, considering he has to keep putting fires out," Andretti said. "I think it's just like the economy. Sooner or later it's going to turn around."
Pook has initiated cost-cutting and rules stabilization in an effort stem the tide of teams leaving CART. The circuit's fields have shrunk from an average of 26 cars last season to the current 18-car field.
"I remember when Formula One was down to 14 cars," Andretti said. "I feel very strongly about the product CART turns out and I would be happy to be part of its future."
Andretti said it's much too early to think about who would drive a third Newman-Haas car.
"The next step is to see whether it's for real, see if somebody might come forward as a sponsor," he said. "It's the time of year when companies are putting together their budgets and making decisions for next year and there are a couple of possibilities right now, some people we could approach."
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