Exclusive interview with Caterham’s Alexander Rossi

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As Formula One’s interest in America continues to grow and thrive thanks to the return of the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas, the one piece missing from the jigsaw is a driver from the US. Currently, Alexander Rossi is the only American driver with an FIA superlicence required to race in Formula One, taking part in tests and practice sessions for Caterham F1 Team as their reserve driver, making him well-placed to secure a full-time drive in the future. At the British GP, Alexander sat down with NBC Sports to give his view on F1 in the USA, the new track at New Jersey and his aspirations for 2014.

You had your first go at the 24 Hours of Le Mans last weekend. A few problems with the car, but how was the weekend as a whole?

Alexander Rossi: The weekend was long. You arrive on the Sunday before and everything is kind of drawn out longer because of the event. During the event and the actual race, I didn’t really like it, solely because you don’t sleep and when you’re not doing well it’s a struggle. In the end, on Monday morning, it was something that you look back on and say “alright, when’s the next one?” In the end it was something that was very cool and the thing that stands out to me the most is being able to drive and being able to push throughout the entire stint.

Is it something you would want to do again?

AR: (immediately) I would do it again, yes, absolutely. It was something that I was very happy to have got the opportunity to take part in and, honestly, my knowledge and appreciation for sportscar and endurance racing was next to none prior to the weekend. Looking back on that, it was very cool!

You’re into your second year with Caterham in the reserve driver role, how are you finding it with the team?

AR: Yeah, it’s going good. Every year we make a step forward and progress a bit more and I become a bit more part of the team which in F1 is not the easiest thing to do, it’s a very closed environment. But being able to be a part of this team and to grow with them has been very positive. I’m very happy. If things keep progressing as they have been in the past couple of years, the goal is to be racing next year, and I think that we have a good opportunity to do that.

You did your first practice run of the season at the Canadian Grand Prix, even if the weather didn’t really help out, but was it good to get back behind the wheel of an F1 car?

AR: It absolutely was, I hadn’t driven the 2013 car on track prior to that so it was good to do that. Obviously being a changeable weather session like it was in a car that wasn’t my own… the risk versus reward scenario was a bit… I had to be a bit cautious because you don’t want to be the person who crashes someone else’s car in free practice. In full wet conditions I think the pace was alright. It was just that I had never driven on intermediate tires before so I was a bit lost on where the pace was. But at the end of the day we completed the programme.

Are there any more lined up? Are you looking at Austin potentially?

AR: Oh, yeah. I was going to have quite a few at the beginning of the year before GP2 happened, and now GP2 conflicts with quite a few of them, it reduces the number. But yes, there will be more I am sure.

Was it good to get into the GP2 car and keep racing this season?

AR: Yeah, coming into this year I was expecting to just be at the track and having to watch people race, so to be able to race is obviously great as it’s what I love to do and what I want to do. It’s a bit difficult because we missed testing and we missed the first race so we have been on the back foot, but yeah, it’s good to be a part of Caterham’s GP2 team and keep the progression going.

You said in an interview recently that you would be disappointed if you didn’t have a full-time seat next season. Have you had any talks with teams? Are there any plans in motion, or is it a case of playing it by ear?

AR: I think you always have talks with teams. It’s been the goal and the focus to be in a race seat by 2014. Obviously Formula One is a tricky business and things need to fall into place, so we need to focus on GP2 and make sure that the results in that are positive. I think if that happens, there is no reason why we shouldn’t have a race seat.

You’re the only American driver with an FIA superlicence at the moment. With interest in F1 in the US on a high, is it something you’re quite proud about? Are you aware of this mass interest coming out of the States?

AR: I’m obviously quite proud of it, to be able to represent America in the paddock which is very scarce of Americans. Yes, absolutely. The interest in the States was very clear in Austin, and I think everyone was absolutely blown away and surprised by the turnout, how good it was and how much everyone enjoyed the race. So, for me, it was a big boost, because I find that maybe people are going to start recognizing this and recognizing what I’m doing. I think it’s positive, I think that there’s a long way to go. Obviously, America’s a big place and it’s difficult to penetrate, but I think Austin will be even bigger this year as well as New Jersey coming up next year. The pieces are slowly falling into place. The timing is quite good for me to be racing.

Have you had a chance to race around the Circuit of the Americas yet?

AR: I’ve driven round COTA, yeah, I actually drove in Jim Clark’s Lotus 49, which was amazing. The track is very cool. I mean, I’m biased, of course, but yeah, I really enjoyed it and I’ll definitely be looking forward to driving there.

The track at New Jersey is coming into place and getting together. Have you had a look at the layout and what are your thoughts on it?

AR: I actually drove the layout in a mini-van in 2012. It’s mental. If that’s the layout that’s actually going to get approved and signed off by the FIA, that’s cool, because it is incredibly quick and there’s a lot of elevation, and it’s a street course. I mean it reminded me a bit of Macau to be honest. If it gets produced the way it’s thought of right now, it will be amazing.

Would it be one of your favorite circuits?

AR: I think so, yeah. Imagine Monza on the city streets!

If you could race with any American driver, past or present, from any series, who would it be and why?

AR: (long pause) Woah! Well done, I’ve never been asked that before! (long pause) Can I do past and present? Present, I would love to race with Conor [Daly], solely because I never have. His goal has always been F1, my goal has always been F1, he took the American route for a bit, I took the European route but now we’re both here on the same weekends and such. The thing is that we have never been able to race on track and I think it would be quite cool to have two Americans in a European junior formula. To be able to just compete against him would be great. Past, I’m going to be cliched and just say Mario [Andretti] solely because he was most recognized American in F1 and to be able to see where I kind of compare with him. We’ve both been young, we’ve both been in a similar car but it would be very cool to see how I match up against who is considered to be the most successful American in F1.

You said that Conor went through the American route. Why did you go through the European route then? Was it quite difficult doing that considering that NASCAR and IndyCar are so popular in the US?

AR: It wasn’t difficult because since I was 9 or 10 years old my goal was Formula One and I knew in order to get to F1 you had to be on a European radar and you had to be doing things in Europe. Winning things in America would mean nothing to Europeans, so that’s why I got over here as soon as I could and I’m very happy that I did. It’s gotten us into the position that we are now. I think Conor will be successful, it’s just two different approaches of doing it. His way seems to be working for him and my way seems to be working for me.

With the new regulations for next season, the Young Drivers’ Test has been scrapped which you have partaken in before. How valuable was that test to you and how do you think it will harm other young drivers by losing that test?

AR: It’s incredibly valuable solely because when else does a young driver get to drive an F1 car? So, even if it’s one day, it’s something, and F1 is such a big world and so much more involved that any other category in the world, so to be able to be in the car even for a half day, even for a 90 minute FP1, you’re going to gain something, you’re going to pick up something to help you when you’re in a racing environment. For young drivers to have yet another experience taken away from them is difficult, but you know, at the end of the day it’s the same for everyone and I think teams will find ways to give young drivers experience because they’re going to have to be in F1 cars at some point. I think teams see the value of giving them some track time.

From the current F1 calendar, what is your favorite corner on any of the circuits?

AR: Swimming Pool at Monaco.

Most people I have asked so far have just said ‘Eau Rouge’!

AR: The thing about Eau Rouge is that it’s cool the first time you do it, but the second, third, fourth, fifth time it’s not… I would imagine, I’ve never driven it when it was a ‘proper corner’, in the sense that it was almost flat but not quite, but now it’s every lap flat, easy, without much issue. But the Swimming Pool is not every lap flat and it’s not easy and if you get it wrong it’s going to be a big one.

Who is your tip for the world championship this season?

AR: As much as it pains me to say it, Sebastian [Vettel]. Saying that, no disrespect to him or Red Bull but I think all of us would love to see Lewis or Fernando or someone else have the championship but hats off to them for what they’re doing. We haven’t seen anything like that since Ferrari and Michael.

WATCH LIVE and notes: IndyCar at Barber (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

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Coverage of the third round of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, takes place today starting at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com (stream link here). The coverage comes after INDYCAR: NEXT featuring James Hinchcliffe from Long Beach, which airs at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Leigh Diffey will be in the booth with Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. Marty Snider, Kevin Lee, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller will be in pit lane.

Coverage will run from 2 to 5 p.m. CT and local time, so 3 to 6 p.m. ET.

The race sets up nicely for Team Penske and Chevrolet to get on the board with Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud starting in the top three positions.

But with the first two race winners, Hinchcliffe (fourth at Long Beach) and Sebastien Bourdais (21st at St. Petersburg) have started significantly further back. One of those trends seems set to continue today.

Beyond the top three, some of the other story lines to watch include these:

  • With a 90-lap race, the pit windows are fairly open for a three-stop strategy. A two-stop could only be achieved with a significant amount of yellow.
  • With ambient temperatures in the mid-60s, about 20 to 25 degrees cooler than the rest of the weekend and with rain having washed rubber from the 2.3-mile circuit, expect track conditions to be significantly different on Sunday.
  • Scott Dixon starts fourth in pursuit of his elusive first 2017 victory and first Barber victory after six non-win podiums.
  • Ryan Hunter-Reay will lead Andretti Autosport’s charge from P5, looking for his first win since Pocono 2015 and for his third Barber win after taking the 2013 and 2014 victories.
  • Josef Newgarden rolls off P7, as he looks for his first win with Team Penske. He won his first career race at his “adopted home track” in 2015 with CFH Racing.
  • Either or both Dale Coyne Racing drivers look to continue their incredible starts. Ed Jones and Sebastien Bourdais share Row 6, Jones having done well to outqualify Bourdais straight-up on Saturday.
  • Zach Veach makes his IndyCar debut from 19th. The 22-year-old has improved by about four or five tenths per session each session thus far for Ed Carpenter Racing, and will look for a clean race on Sunday.
  • Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso and Zak Brown have arrived in Alabama and will make the rounds on Sunday as a get-acquainted session with the Andretti Autosport team.
  • ASIMO, Honda’s advanced humanoid robot, is the race’s grand marshal and will give the command to start engines.

The starting lineup with Firestone tire designation is below:

Indy Lights: Colton Herta rolls to win 400th Indy Lights race

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Colton Herta rebounded from a difficult Race 1 at Barber Motorsports Park to dominate Race 2 of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the 400th event in the history of Indy Lights. Herta started on pole after qualifying was rained out and immediately shot off into the lead when the green flag waved. He claimed victory over second-place Kyle Kaiser by more than nine seconds to complete a dominant performance.

Kaiser’s second place mirrors his second-place finish from Saturday, while Nico Jamin backed up his win on Saturday with a third on Sunday.

Race 2 again saw an opening lap caution, this one for contact between Zachary Claman De Melo and Pato O’Ward. Both went off course between turns two and three, with O’Ward spinning and briefly stalling in the gravel trap. Each made it back around to the pits, but both retired after suffering too much damage to continue.

Santi Urrutia also went for a quick spin after the race restarted, even damaging the front wing in the process. However, his incident did not bring out a caution and the race ran green to the end.

Results are below. The race will air Wednesday 4/26 at midnight on NBCSN.

Fernando Alonso ready to tackle ‘the spirit of the Indy 500 adventure’

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With smiles, humor, wit and determination, two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso arrived in the Barber Motorsports Park press conference room and promptly delivered his second win of the season – the first coming when he, McLaren F1 executive director Zak Brown, Honda and Andretti Autosport combined to stun the racing world in announcing earlier this month that Alonso would be racing in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Alonso’s odyssey to come over the next month or so since that announcement has a game plan, a travel schedule and plenty of words to describe the experience. He and Brown arrived in Alabama late Saturday, and the two met the rest of the Andretti Autosport team.

On Sunday, Alonso made his maiden appearance on pit road during the warmup session for today’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) in Ryan Hunter-Reay’s pit for his No. 28 DHL Honda.

The press conference this morning then brought the same spirit of determination Alonso has outlined as his quest for even wanting to run the Indianapolis 500 in the first place, as well as a few jokes along the way.

“It’s true! It’s my first time here, and hopefully not the last. I want to come to see more of Alabama and this circuit,” Alonso led off during the press conference.

“This has been an amazing week to 10 days from the announcement. For any racing driver in the world to compete in this race is the main goal, against the best drivers, in some of the fastest, best cars in the world.

“This is the spirit of the Indy 500 adventure. I need to go through different steps in this learning, I need to do it in a short amount of time. But it’s so exciting. I need to thank McLaren, Honda for this opportunity and all the Andretti Autosport team.”

Alonso promptly outlined the schedule he’s going to be undertaking from here. After watching today’s IndyCar race, he’ll go to Andretti Autosport’s Indianapolis shop for a seat fit in preparation for his maiden test on May 3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. From the shop, he’ll be off to Russia for next weekend’s Russian Grand Prix (TV times on NBCSN here), and then back to the U.S. after that.

“From now on, it’ll be an interesting next couple weeks. There’s a couple of trips to Europe and U.S.A. back and forth. Next weekend, we will race in Russia for the Formula 1 Grand Prix, then the test, then the Spanish Grand Prix, then come back for the Indianapolis 500. I will try to learn as quick as I can.”

Alonso said he’s been thinking about this opportunity for several years in advance.

“Let’s say four to five years ago, I started thinking about how to grow up as a driver and become more complete,” he said.

“I didn’t think it was possible. But it makes me very happy to have this first attempt.

“Winning is something really big. I take it more like an experience. I’m very open. If the race was tomorrow, I’m not ready to do it because I know nothing about it. But I will go step-by-step to do some simulator laps. I have to be as good as I can on simulator, qualifying and running alone, then traffic when it comes time.”

Brown confirmed the support team around Alonso is as solid as ever. Michael Andretti will call Alonso’s race as strategist with Andretti technical director Eric Bretzman serving as engineer. Today he added that Alonso will have Honda consultant, 2003 Indianapolis 500 champion, two-time CART champion and closed course world speed record holder Gil de Ferran there as a driver coach to aid Alonso’s development.

Alonso brought some jokes when asked about Formula 1 drivers’ respective takes on his running Indianapolis and skipping the Monaco Grand Prix, where Jenson Button will make a one-race cameo to come out of retirement to deputize.

“We don’t talk much. It’s a different world!” Alonso laughed. “The only thing I know is probably what you guys have read, which is what I’ve read too.

“Some of them are happy and curious to see how competitive we can be. Others aren’t happy with anything in life … except their own performance. It’s a different world.”

About his former sparring partner in F1, Juan Pablo Montoya: “I don’t know if he’ll be at the front!” Alonso said to more laughter.

Alonso said he’ll look forward to the simulator time ahead, and told NBCSN IndyCar analyst Paul Tracy that the simulator he is used to in Formula 1 is incredible.

In terms of the best advice he’s received?

“Enjoy,” Alonso reflected.

“It’s something that this race is so unique, so I’m ready to experience these emotions. That race, that day, everything happens so quickly. You tend to forget what you are doing. I’m ready to enjoy everything I’m doing that day.”

Brown, Andretti and Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, head of INDYCAR’s parent company, also joined Alonso on the dais. Stefan Wilson’s contribution to the effort was once again praised.

The most noteworthy piece of news to come out of this trio was that Miles confirmed he’d be going on a European promotional tour after the Phoenix race (April 29) to spread the word about IndyCar, the Indianapolis 500 and Alonso’s attempt.

“The attention we have seen already is incredible,” Miles said. “I will be In London, Paris, Milan, Barcelona, and we’re going be there while he’s in Indy to tell the IndyCar story.

“I’ve read clippings back from the first race in Indianapolis, and Fernando’s presence will make it even bigger this year.”

Perhaps Brown summed up the announcement best: “This is an outstanding opportunity for the world of motorsports to be able to come to Indianapolis. And I’ve never seen a driver so excited, dedicated and motivated to run in a race.”

More to follow…

Marco Andretti leads a wet Barber warmup

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Mother Nature rolled in overnight and through the early morning at Barber Motorsports Park, dropping a lot of rain on the 2.38-mile road course. Conditions stayed wet during the Verizon IndyCar Series morning warmup, although the rain clouds had moved away by then and the track began drying out.

Marco Andretti led the way after changing to slick tires on his final run, which indicates how quickly the track dried out during the 30-minute session. Marco was the only driver to run slick tires and his quick lap of 1:14.37 was nearly 3.5 seconds quicker than second-place runner Scott Dixon. Alexander Rossi, Spencer Pigot, and Ryan Hunter-Reay completed the top five, while James Hinchcliffe, Mikhail Aleshin, and Zach Veach did not turn laps during the warmup.

Despite the tricky conditions, the session ran relatively cleanly. Helio Castroneves brought out a brief red flag when he went into the gravel trap in turn five, but he suffered no damage and continued on after getting a tow. Ed Jones also had a quick off-course excursion of his own between turns 12, 13, and 14, but he rejoined the track and continued.

Times are below. The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama rolls off at 3:00 p.m. ET (2:00 local time).