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.

Hamilton: Monaco ‘the unicorn of races’ in F1 career

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Lewis Hamilton has called the Monaco Grand Prix the “unicorn” of races through his Formula 1 career, having claimed only two wins in 10 attempts around the streets of the principality.

Three-time F1 champion Hamilton is a resident of Monaco and has regularly been in contention for victory, but only reached the top step of the podium in 2008 and 2016.

Both wins were hard-fought, with his 2008 victory coming after an early pit stop due to a puncture. Last year, Hamilton pounced on a mistake by Red Bull to jump ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and take his second Monaco victory.

“I’ve not won here many times. With the pace I’ve had over the years, it’s always proven to be, not the Achilles heel, but the unicorn of races,” Hamilton said.

“That one that just always gets away from you. There’s definitely been, I would say, at least two – maybe three – that I should have had but other things came into play.

“But I’m grateful for the ones I’ve had. Not many people can say they have a Monaco Grand Prix win under their belt. And especially the way those two wins came about in 2008 and 2016.

“Sometimes quantity isn’t everything. Those were real quality races that I really earned, so I’m proud of those ones.”

Hamilton made a strong start to this weekend’s running in Monaco, leading first practice on Thursday morning.

Ganassi heads into Memorial Day weekend with three points leads

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INDIANAPOLIS – Three entirely different types of cars, series and racing formats have produced similar results for one team going into Memorial Day weekend, easily the biggest racing weekend of the world on the racing calendar.

Chip Ganassi Racing heads into the 101st Indianapolis 500 (Verizon IndyCar Series) and Coca-Cola 600 (Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series) with the points lead in these two championships with Scott Dixon and Kyle Larson. That marks the first time in the team’s 20-plus year history it has held each championship lead simultaneously.

And for good measure, the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team leads in the FIA World Endurance Championship GTE-Pro class going into that series’ marquee race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which takes place June 17-18.

It’s only in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, where the team sits second in the GT Le Mans class, that a Ganassi car and driver (or drivers) don’t have the points lead.

In IndyCar, Dixon moved into the points lead – albeit unofficially, as IndyCar doesn’t release updated points until after the Indianapolis 500 – following his pole position secured Sunday for next week’s race. He gained 31 more points than Simon Pagenaud and went from 10 down (191-181) to 21 ahead (223-202) going into the race. Oddly though, despite five top-fives in as many races since Ganassi switched to the Honda aero kit and engine package, Dixon is yet to win!

In NASCAR, Larson’s storming start on the strength of one overall win plus two additional stage wins sees him 44 points clear of Martin Truex Jr. (475-431), with Brad Keselowski the only other driver within 100 points. Larson has not finished worse than 17th in 11 races this year in his Chevrolet. Jamie McMurray sits fifth in the points, as well.

And in the WEC, after two races, the trio of Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell and Pipo Derani won the 6 Hours of Silverstone to kick off the year in their No. 67 Ford GT. They hold a two-point lead over the pair of AF Corse Ferrari drivers, heading to the double points Le Mans race.

In IMSA, the pair of Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand sit six points (124-118) behind Corvette’s Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen after four races. Mueller and Hand co-drove with Sebastien Bourdais to win at the Rolex 24 at Daytona; Mueller and Hand will have a new teammate at Le Mans while Bourdais recovers from his injuries sustained in an accident in qualifying at Indianapolis.

Although Ganassi is split between three bases – its IndyCar and IMSA arms are stationed in Indianapolis off Woodland Drive, its NASCAR hub is in Charlotte and its WEC hub in partnership with Multimatic is in the U.K. – the one team spirit is fully present as all three teams, and three manufacturers, are off to the strong start.

AVONDALE, AZ – APRIL 29: Scott Dixon of New Zealand, driver of the #9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda greets fans as he is introduced to the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway on April 29, 2017 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

“It’s important to win… and it’s important to lead a championship,” Ganassi managing director Mike Hull told NBC Sports about the strong start.

“That’s an enormous motivating factor for everyone that works on our product, no matter if it’s IndyCar, NASCAR, WEC or IMSA. It validates the volume of work that people do for your race team. That includes the people who are visible and work really really hard, under the three locations, in order to achieve success.

“It represents what teams of people can accomplish when they work together.”

Ganassi, who celebrated his 59th birthday on Wednesday, is yet to win a NASCAR championship at the Cup level but Larson is presenting his best chance. It’s been in IndyCar where the team has had its greatest success, with 11 championships between 1996 and 2015. Ganassi has won multiple sports car championships in IMSA’s past iteration as the GRAND-AM Rolex Series, and won Le Mans last year but are yet to win a WEC title.

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – APRIL 14: The Ford Chip Ganassi GT of Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell and Pipo Derani drives during practice for the FIA World Endurance Championship at Silverstone on April 14, 2017 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)

As Hull deadpanned, leading now is nice, but it’s at the end of the year when it actually matters.

“What has contributed to all that, is challenge,” Hull said. “When passionate people are challenged, what they come to realize quickly is achieve any amount of success on a daily basis on Sunday. We enjoy challenge; we love challenge, change and we love working together. That’s a perfect combination.

“We’re really excited when you’re leading the championship, but let’s be honest… you want it on the last lap of the last race.

“It’s positive and an optimistic start. We just need to keep to working at it, for the end of the year.”

Hamilton leads first Monaco F1 practice, Button makes solid return

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Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel’s ongoing battle for supremacy in Formula 1 continued during first practice for the Monaco Grand Prix on Thursday morning as the duo locked out the top two positions.

Hamilton and Vettel have won four of the opening five rounds of the 2017 season and look set to enjoy a season-long fight for the championship, representing Mercedes and Ferrari respectively.

Hamilton drew first blood in Monaco, turning in a best lap of 1:13.425 around the tight streets of the principality to finish two-tenths clear of Vettel at the top of the timesheets.

The session saw Mercedes and Ferrari run close once again, yet Red Bull was also able to get into the mix at the head of the field with Max Verstappen finishing third-fastest, three-tenths of a second off the pace. Teammate Daniel Ricciardo was fifth-fastest.

Valtteri Bottas was fourth in the second Mercedes, but Kimi Raikkonen was less able to match his teammate’s pace, coming home seventh for Ferrari, half a second down on Vettel’s time in the same car.

Toro Rosso and Force India both had impressive sessions as both teams got their drivers into the top 10. Daniil Kvyat was sixth for Toro Rosso as teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. was ninth, sandwiched by Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon for Force India.

Jenson Button’s first running in a 2017-spec F1 car was impressive as he finished 14th for McLaren ahead of his one-off grand prix return. The Briton turned in 31 laps in total and lapped less than two-tenths of a second slower than teammate Stoffel Vandoorne, proving he has lost little of his touch over the winter.

Running in Monaco continues with second practice live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Thursday.

Sebastien Bourdais released from IU Methodist hospital; begins rehab

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INDIANAPOLIS – Sebastien Bourdais only posted just yesterday that he was “unable to go for a run” – his spirit and humor clearly not affected despite sustaining multiple pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip in his crash during qualifying for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in the No. 18 GEICO Honda on Saturday.

On Thursday, his post revealed even better news: he’s been released from IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, and will be set to fly home soon to Florida for his rehabilitation.

Bourdais’ place in the race at Dale Coyne Racing will be taken by James Davison, but judging by this first round of leaving, the Frenchman is keen to begin the recovery process as quick as humanly possible.