American-based F1 franchise, Haas Formula, officially introduced

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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.”

F1 drivers relishing Silverstone, Suzuka races in new-style cars

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Formula 1 drivers Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas are all relishing the challenge of high-speed tracks such as Silverstone and Suzuka after enjoying their first races in the new-style 2017 cars last weekend.

This season has seen the introduction of revised cars under the new technical regulations that are capable of lapping multiple seconds per lap faster than their predecessors, aided by greater downforce and wider tires.

The new cars raced together for the first time last Sunday in Australia, with the pace difference around the tight confines of the Albert Park street course still notable.

All of the drivers have been impressed by what the new cars are capable of, finding them more fun and rewarding to drive, but it is when F1 hits the classic, high-speed tracks on the calendar that they will really come into their own.

When asked what track they were most looking forward to racing on this year, the top three finishers in Australia gave similar answers.

“Probably Silverstone. I think with that amount of grip and downforce,” Vettel said.

“Probably Suzuka as well later on in the year. Also I guess the cars will be even faster from what they are now.

“So, yeah, I think that would be quite nice. I’m looking forward to that.”

Hamilton added: “Yes, Silverstone, I agree” before Mercedes teammate Bottas echoed his peers’ thoughts.

“I think all the quick ones: Spa; Suzuka; Silverstone will be nice,” Bottas said.

“But I think even street circuits will be a bit more challenging I think – not that it wasn’t challenging before, but with these cars it will be nice.”

One of the biggest changes for 2017 has been the extra physicality of the cars, but Hamilton said he felt no major issues following the race in Australia.

“It was more physical but it was no problem for me and doesn’t look like it was for these guys either,” he said.

Vettel added: “It’s not the most physical circuit in the year. I think later on it will be very interesting. Here is very technical. So, first couple of laps, at least for me, were very intense.

“Obviously it’s easy to have an error, get something wrong under braking, go a bit wide etc. Later on I had a bit of a gap and I could control it, and therefore it was a bit easier.”

Chinese Grand Prix kicks off heavy April F1 stretch on NBCSN

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After an interesting kickoff to the 2017 Formula 1 season on NBCSN with the Australian Grand Prix last week, in just over a week the series will be back in action with the second round of the season, the Chinese Grand Prix from the Shanghai International Circuit. It’s the first of three F1 races in April with the Bahrain and Russian Grands Prix occurring later in the month.

Last year saw Nico Rosberg win in Shanghai over Sebastian Vettel and Daniil Kvyat, the last two having had a coming together at the start of the race before Vettel, now of Ferrari, beat his successor at Red Bull, Kvyat. Lewis Hamilton, meanwhile, only finished seventh after starting 22nd and last, missing qualifying with a mechanical issue.

Vettel enters China on the heels of his victory in Melbourne, but not having won in Shanghai since 2009, when he won for Red Bull for the first time. Mercedes has won the last three Chinese Grands Prix, Rosberg winning last year while Hamilton won in 2014 and 2015. Ferrari last won here in 2013, with Fernando Alonso.

Will Vettel continue with a second straight win to open the season, or will Mercedes reassume its place up top and continue its win streak in Shanghai? Can Red Bull reassert itself and who in the midfield will emerge?

All sessions will be live streamed on NBC Sports or via the NBC Sports App. FP2, qualifying and the race also will air on NBCSN. Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett are on the call with Will Buxton reporting from the pits and paddock. As in Melbourne, qualifying and race run during the late hours of the evening on the East Coast, and a bit earlier for those on the West Coast.

Here’s the schedule with where to watch on TV on digital platforms.

  • Practice 1: Thursday, April 6, 10 p.m.-11:30 p.m. ET (digital only)
  • Practice 2: Friday, April 7, 2 a.m.-3:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 3: Saturday, April 8, 12 a.m.-1 a.m. ET (digital only)
  • Qualifying: Saturday, April 8, 3 a.m.-4:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race: Sunday, April 9, 1 a.m.-4:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

The next race is the Bahrain Grand Prix, on April 16.

United Fiber & Data back, again, for Marco Andretti’s car

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The continued relationship between United Fiber & Data and Andretti Autosport rolls into 2017, although not in the way that was probably planned for either party.

UFD, which served as a major associate sponsor in 2013, primary sponsor for James Hinchcliffe’s No. 27 car in 2014 and a co-primary sponsor for Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz last year, has now been confirmed for “select races” taking over as primary sponsor of Andretti’s No. 27 Honda this year, starting with next week’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

This decision comes in the wake of hhgregg’s ongoing business situation, where per media reports (one from USA Today here as a recent example) the electronics retailer plans to close a number of stores and was close to filing for bankruptcy.

“We are strategically exiting markets and stores that are not financially profitable for us,” hhgregg CEO Robert Riesbeck said in a statement in early March, via USA Today. “This is a proactive decision to streamline our store footprint in the markets where we have been, and will continue to be, important to our customers, vendor partners and communities.”

The sponsor had been announced as a multi-year, co-primary sponsor in August. A release from the Andretti Autosport team today didn’t confirm hhgregg’s exit from the team, nor did it state how many races UFD plans to be the primary sponsor. However, it would probably be a surprise to see hhgregg return later this year.

In the release, the team stated: “The rebranding comes as a result of the current issues being faced by hhgregg, leading Andretti Autosport to the decision of transitioning the branding on the No. 27 Indy car piloted by Marco Andretti.”

“We’d like to wish Bob (Riesbeck) and the entire hhgregg family luck as they work through the current situation,” said Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti. “We are blessed to have such loyal and dedicated partners; and while this is an unfortunate situation for hhgregg, we are pleased to have such a strong relationship remaining with United Fiber & Data.”

“We are proud of our longstanding partnership with Andretti Autosport, and we are equally pleased to continue this partnership by serving as a primary sponsor for select IndyCar races this season,” added Bill Hynes, Founder & CEO of United Fiber & Data (UFD). “We look forward to once again bringing the signature colors of the UFD livery to IndyCar tracks across the country.”

Finishing in Australia the ‘first milestone’ for Vandoorne, McLaren

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Stoffel Vandoorne says that getting to the finish of last Sunday’s Formula 1 season-opening Australian Grand Prix was the “first milestone” for McLaren after a difficult winter.

McLaren entered the new year looking to build on a quietly impressive 2016 campaign that saw engine partner Honda make big gains, lifting the team to sixth in the constructors’ championship.

Honda tried to cut the gap to pace-setter Mercedes by revising the layout of its power unit, only for a number of issues to arise through pre-season that left Vandoorne and teammate Fernando Alonso frustrated on the sidelines for much of testing.

McLaren arrived in Australia unsure about its chances, but Alonso was able to fight for P10 through the race before retiring late on due to a suspension issue.

Vandoorne did reach the checkered flag, albeit two laps down after having to complete a power cycle on his car mid-race. The Belgian was eventually classified 13th.

“It was a difficult race, but we knew that before coming here. We have to look at the positives, we finished the race, even with some issues we had,” Vandoorne told NBCSN.

“It was very busy behind the steering wheel doing a lot of changes on the toys and really trying to bring the car home. We even had to come in the pit lane and do a full power cycle of the car. At some point I lost the dash as well so didn’t really know what was going on.”

Despite the issues, Vandoorne said McLaren could take plenty of positives from the race, admitting that he did not expect to even finish the first round in Australia.

“I think it’s the first milestone to finish the race already. After Barcelona we didn’t expect this,” Vandoorne said.

“As a total package, we’re definitely not there. We don’t have the pace yet to compete with the cars ahead, that’s for sure. We need a big push.

“Hopefully China shows another step for us.”