All aboard Indy train

DEAN MCNULTY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:14 AM ET

It was sort of a bad news, good news day for Michael Andretti yesterday in Toronto.

Right off the bat he wanted to apologize for the bad news -- the downtown traffic havoc caused, in part, by construction of the temporary street race course along Lake Shore Blvd. for the July 10-12 Honda Toronto Indy.

"I'm sorry," the seven-time Toronto race winner said at the Delta Chelsea Hotel as he surveyed the bumper to bumper traffic outside. "But it will all be worth it when the race starts."

That's the good news.

Andretti appears excited at the prospect of coming back to the Toronto race, this time as co-owner of Andretti-Green Racing, which is also the promoter of the Indy Racing League event.

Even in a climate where major sports sponsorship money is hard -- if not nearly impossible -- to find, Andretti is upbeat about the success so far of returning the Honda Indy to its glory days when Molson footed the bills and fans filled the grandstands at Exhibition Place.

There were a few years -- after Molson left and the race was handled by the former Champ Car World Series -- where the Indy was but a shadow of its former self.

HONDA STEPS UP

The first thing Andretti did, however, was bring Honda on board as title sponsor and that, he said, changed everything.

All of it makes his job two-fold. When his promoter hat is on his first responsibility is to get fans in the seats and a decent return for his investors and sponsors. His other job, as race team co-owner is to make sure all of his four Honda-powered Dallaras are ready to win on race day.

The two are not always mutually exclusive.

"It takes a lot of work to get our team to the track," he said. "And once we are there all of our energy is put into getting a podium finish, hopefully 1-2-3-4. But at the same time we can't do any of this without sponsors.

"We have been really lucky that even in the depths of a recession we have been able to keep all of our deals together."

This season Andretti also has added a third job to his resume: Race boss for superstar Danica Patrick.

What that has done is given the 27-year-old Patrick her best start to a season in her five-year IndyCar career with four top-five finishes in the past five races.

Then there is son Marco, 21, who this year will become the third generation of Andrettis -- following grandfather Mario and dad Michael -- to race in Toronto.

Marco and Patrick are serious rivals on the track -- even having some cross words after the most recent race at Texas Motor Speedway where the youngest Andretti accused Patrick of holding him up near the end of the race.

Yesterday, he said it was just his frustration at not being able to catch eventual race winner Helio Castroneves that prompted the incident.

"It was kind of blown out of proportion," he said.

But, hey, while his father -- and team owner -- couldn't be pleased that his two stars were at odds, dad the promoter could not help but notice the boost in ticket sales such a rivalry might produce.


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