Over the last year, we’ve learned that Gene Haas is not afraid to take big risks.
The NASCAR team co-owner proved as much this past off-season when he almost single-handedly brought in Kurt Busch and triggered the expansion of his Stewart-Haas Racing operation (in which he shares ownership with three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart) to a four-car program.
It was a major gamble that would ensure plenty of attention from NASCAR Nation – which, in turn, ensured that if the gamble backfired, it would be a memorable disaster.
As NASCAR goes into the Easter break, SHR has claimed three checkered flags in the season’s first eight races, including Kevin Harvick’s second win of the season last weekend at Darlington and Busch’s triumph a few weeks ago at Martinsville.
That leap of faith from Haas has paid off. But now, Haas, a businessman who has become a billionaire off manufacturing machine tools, is preparing for his toughest venture yet in motorsports.
Last week, he received word that he would indeed become a Formula One franchise owner. This morning, he dubbed the new franchise as Haas Formula and revealed that it would be based in Kannapolis, North Carolina – the town most famous for spawning one of America’s greatest racing families, the Earnhardts.
Once again, the eyes of the racing world will be on him, and he acknowledged that at least some of the attention is based off of a chance to see his team fail.
But like always, he was confident that he would succeed – not only in performance on the track, but also in giving F1 the bigger presence in America that it craves.
“I’m sure most people are betting that we will fail,” said Haas, who was flanked at today’s press conference by his new team principal, Guenther Steiner, a former technical director at Red Bull and Jaguar.
“And that’s why it’s going to be successful, because if we don’t fail, then we’ve done something that other people haven’t. And that will definitely help sell Formula One in the U.S.”
Haas indicated that the team still must elect whether they’ll be ready to go for the 2015 season or if they’ll wait for 2016. That decision, according to him, should be made within the next month.
“I think 2015 is too close and 2016 is too far, so that’s kind of where I see it,” he said. “If we wake up in 2016 we’re just going to start delaying and strategizing and we’re going to end up spending even more money because we’ll just basically be in a neutral position until maybe the middle of next year.”
With that in mind, he intends to initially utilize a car that’s at least partially based on the technology of the team’s partners – whoever those will eventually be.
One of those partners may well be Italy-based chassis manufacturer Dallara, which most recently worked with the now-defunct HRT team on its 2010 challenger.
Haas noted that he’s held preliminary talks with Dallara but that the ultimate goal was for his team to become a legitimate constructor.
“…As time goes on, we’ll learn,” Haas said. “We’ll figure it out, and the car will eventually evolve into our own car – and quite frankly, I think we can beat the Europeans at their own game.”
As for the engine side of things, Haas plans to forge a deal similar to a pact for his NASCAR effort that allows them to use Hendrick Motorsports powerplants.
“To sit there and say that we can understand what’s going on with these cars in a year or two is not reasonable,” he admitted. “It’s going to take us a while to learn and we’re going to lean heavily on a technical partner to help us.”
Just making it to the F1 paddock would put Haas Formula on a higher level than the last attempt at an American-based Grand Prix team.
In 2009, USF1 was granted entry into the series for 2010 and planned to have bases in both Charlotte, North Carolina and in Spain. But the project ultimately collapsed, and today, Haas said that while he respected those involved for trying, he felt that the project’s failure “cast a long shadow.”
Nonetheless, he feels that with his many resources, he can excel where USF1 failed.
“USF1 was basically a start-up that basically had no resources what so ever,” he said. “They didn’t have a racing team. They took on a huge challenge, and I admire the fact they took that challenge.
“But on the other hand, I’m partners with Tony Stewart in a very successful NASCAR racing team. I have a machine tool company that has the capability of building the most sophisticated machines in the world…I have a rolling road wind tunnel, Windshear, a 180 mile per hour wind tunnel.
“I have a lot of the resources and basic infrastructure that I think is necessary in order to succeed in this.”