INDIANAPOLIS -- Once an outspoken critic of the Indy Racing League, Michael Andretti is the series' newest owner and driver.
Andretti, the winningest driver in CART history, switched to the rival series Tuesday, convinced the IRL is becoming the dominant, most competitive series in American open-wheel racing.
"Things change. Life changes," Andretti said. "We have to go where we feel the momentum is in auto racing."
Andretti will join the IRL with Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan as his teammates for the 2003 season.
Like most of the top teams and drivers, Andretti stayed with CART after Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George founded the IRL in 1996.
The IRL, intended to reduce costs, bring more American drivers into the sport and return racing to its oval-track roots, spawned a boycott by most of CART and created a rift that only recently began to close.
Two years ago, Ganassi Racing returned to Indy and won with driver Juan Montoya.
Penske Racing, like Ganassi, then still in CART, entered at Indy in 2001 and won with Helio Castroneves. Castroneves won again this year after Penske's switch to the IRL.
"You look at the races. Roger Penske won the last two championships in CART and went there and didn't win the championship, so I think that says something about the competition over there," Andretti said.
Among the IRL's latest coups were the arrival of Penske, which dominated CART and has won the Indy 500 a record 12 times, and the decision by CART's top two engine manufacturers, Honda and Toyota, to jump to the IRL for next year.
Andretti recently bought Team Green from car owner Barry Green and will begin running the new Andretti Green Racing team on Dec. 1 with partners Kim Green, Barry's brother, and Kevin Savoree.
"I feel this team is going to continue and hopefully improve," Andretti said. "We have ideas of doing some things and hopefully make it even better than it is. The whole goal is to win the championship next year, and Indianapolis."
Andretti's father, Mario, won the Indianapolis 500 in 1969, and Michael has led more laps at Indianapolis than any other non-winner. He took the checkered flag as winner a CART-record 42 times in his 20-year career.
"At this moment, looking at what the IRL is doing and what they have for the future and even what they've done this year ... we feel that's where our future is, at least in the short term, anyway," Andretti said.
"Look at their last few races, for instance, very exciting stuff, and having Roger Penske over there and basically a lot of other teams thinking about going there ..."
The IRL championship came down to the last lap of the last race, when Sam Hornish Jr. clinched his second straight series title by beating Castroneves by 0.0096 seconds in the season-ending Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday. A week earlier, Hornish beat Al Unser Jr. at Chicagoland Speedway by 0.0024 seconds. Those were the two closest wins in IRL history.
Team Green's Paul Tracy, who was the runner-up to Castroneves in the disputed Indianapolis 500 finish this year, will not make the move with Andretti to the IRL. Tracy is expected to join the Players Forsythe team next season.
Franchitti, who won the Rockingham 500 in England on Saturday, is third in the CART points this season, behind Cristiano da Matta of Newman-Haas Racing and Bruno Junqueira of Ganassi Racing. Andretti is eighth, and Kanaan, who drives this season for Morris Nunn Racing, is 13th.
CART spokesman Adam Saal said the switch by Andretti was expected and will not change the series' plans to field at least 18 cars next season.
"We nevertheless wish Dario, Tony and Michael well in the future," Saal said. "This really comes down to not a preference in a racing series, but rather a decision fueled by their business partners.
"Our focus remains on building the CART series around those who have made a commitment. ... We need to focus on who has indicated they want to continue in CART," he said.
Andretti said it was a "collective decision" that included his team sponsors and Honda.
"Honda was obviously important in it because we've had a long, great relationship with them and they're a great company to be involved with, so that definitely helped sway the decision, but that wasn't 100 percent of the decision.
"The reality is our sponsors are (paying the bills), and we had to know that's where our sponsors wanted to be."
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