Exclusive interview with Caterham’s Alexander Rossi

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Formula 1 is enjoying a surge in popularity in the USA at the moment. The return of the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas has been a huge success, and there is a push for a second race to take place in New Jersey, or even at Long Beach. Furthermore, an American team is poised to join the sport in 2016 after Gene Haas’s successful bid to get Haas Formula on the grid.

The only thing missing? An American driver. Enter Alexander Rossi.

As the only American to hold an FIA superlicense required to race in F1, Rossi is the closest to joining the grid and becoming the first home driver since Scott Speed in 2007. At the moment, he is balancing his test driver duties at Caterham with a full GP2 campaign, but he hasn’t had the start to the year he may have liked.

In Canada, ahead of his practice run-out for Caterham, Alexander sat down with MotorSportsTalk to discuss his season so far, his future, and Formula 1 in the United States.

2014 has been a difficult year for you so far. I imagine it wasn’t the start you wanted in GP2?

Alexander Rossi: It’s been very difficult. However, I’m a firm believer that if you stay calm and stay focused on what you need to do, it will turn around. Obviously we’ve shown at times that we’re very quick. I believe that the car is fast, I believe that the team is great, it’s just been some very unfortunate circumstances that have sort of compiled themselves, and in GP2, if that happens in any one of the sessions, your weekend is kind of ruined.

Rio [Haryanto] put it on the front row in Monaco, so it must fill you with confidence knowing that the car is quick, and it has just been outside factors that have complicated things.

AR: Exactly, so I have no issues in the sense that I believe the car isn’t quick. We have every opportunity to compete for podiums and wins, so it’s just a matter of it all coming together.

This weekend you’re back in the car for FP1. It must be a really good feeling to get back in the car and back on it?

AR: Yes, exactly. For me, this FP1 is the strangest of all of them, because it’s the first time that I haven’t actually driven the car prior to doing it, so I’m going into it a little bit blind and obviously with the massive changes that we’re all very aware of, it’s a bit of an unknown. But fortunately, I’ve been working with this team for quite a long time, so I know the people, I know how they work, and I can kind of get right into it. So I’m not overly concerned about it, I’m just more excited and apprehensive about not knowing what to expect.

And the simulator work I imagine will have helped coming into this?

AR: Yeah, to a certain extent, but at the end of the day, I don’t know how realistic the sim is because I haven’t driven the car. It’s helpful to a certain extent but I don’t know what I can take as fact and not. But as I said, the engineers have been very helpful. Marcus [Ericsson] and Kamui [Kobayashi] have given me all of the information, so now it’s just about getting up tomorrow morning and experiencing it with the first couple of laps. I think after three or four laps go by it’ll be very much second nature.

Austin might be a bit more representative in terms of being at one with the car?

AR: Yeah, obviously every time you get in the car you’re gonna improve, but as I said I don’t think that it’ll be too difficult after I do the first few laps to get on terms with it.

In Canada this weekend you’ll have a strong US fanbase. It must be something you’re quite proud of, being able to put in the laps in front of your home fans?

AR: Yeah, absolutely, this is why the two FP1 sessions that I do are here and in Austin. This is kind of the second home race for me if you will, and yeah there’s a lot of pride in it.

There’s a lot of talk about F1 in the USA at the moment. We’ve got Haas, we’ve got New Jersey, we’ve got Long Beach. It must be a good time to be an American driver on the cusp of Formula 1?

AR: Yeah the timing has worked out alright, for sure! (laughs) Obviously, at the end of the day, results dictate a lot of where you end up in this sport, and as they should. My focus remains on turning around this GP2 championship, and going back to where we need to. But yes obviously Haas is very exciting for all American Formula 1 fans, me especially, and I wish them all the best, and I certainly hope that they’re able to accomplish everything they set out to do.

New Jersey has sounded exciting for quite some time. And Long Beach, being a Californian, that would be amazing!

That would be the best for you?!

AR: Yeah that would be the epitome for me! But at the end of the day, all we have right now is me being the reserve driver and Austin coming up in October, so those are two things that are kind of at the forefront of our book.

Next season, the target must be a full time F1 driver. Is it a case of putting all of your efforts and resources into this GP2 campaign to try and make that step forwards?

AR: In a nutshell, yeah, and that’s why this year is very important, and the start we have had has been quite disappointing. But GP2, the thing about it is that it’s a very, very long championship, and it rewards race wins. So if you’re able to win some races, it kind of wipes out any bad results you would have had because the points, like Formula 1, are so heavily weighted towards the winner.

We just have to focus on taking it one race at a time. There’s no point looking at the championship as a whole, we need to take it one race at a time, because we are so far in a hole, and if we just kind of do that, stay focused on each race at a time, then come the end of the year we’ll see where we are.

Going back onto Haas, Gene has said that he would like an American driver to be leading that team. Surely you’ve got to be thinking “that’s got to be me”? It’s either you or Conor [Daly], surely?

AR: I’ve had some very brief discussions with the Haas group, and they’ve expressed their interest, I’ve expressed my encouragement to them in the hope that they’re able to get on the grid, for sure. But as I said before, everything’s kind of around results, and at the end of day they’ll speak for themselves more than anything else. My focus has to be on GP2 with Caterham and pulling out the most we can from 2014.

So you wouldn’t mind waiting until 2016 to get an F1 drive?

AR: Well, no, I want to be in Formula 1 next year. I’ve been saying I want to be in Formula 1 next year for a long time (laughs). To be honest, I’m quite tired of waiting on the sidelines. But yes, my focus remains of being in F1 next year with whichever team affords me the opportunity.

Let’s say it doesn’t come together. Would you be happy with another year in reserve and another year in GP2? Or do you want this to be your last year in GP2?

AR: No no, absolutely not. My goal, 100%, for next year is to be in a Formula 1 seat. However, if the opportunity presented itself to do another year of GP2 with the expectation of being in F1 in 2016, then of course, I’m not going to give up until I’m in that place.

You did Le Mans last year, you’ve got that and F1. The Indy 500 is the ‘third’ big event if you will. Is that something you’ve ever though about doing?

AR: I think any race car driver would be interested in doing the Indy 500, but I kind of moved to Europe when I was 16 with the intention of racing in Formula 1, so my IndyCar knowledge, contacts and potential is much less than others because I’ve put my eggs in the European basket. I think the Indy 500 one day would be amazing to do, but it’s not something I’ve kind of put on my to-do list in the next five years or so.

With FP1 this weekend, is it just a case of getting to know the car and trying to do as well as you can?

AR: My primary is objective is to drive the 2014 car, I haven’t done that yet, and then, I’ll be honest with you, beyond that, I want to show the team and Formula 1 community what I’m capable of. I think every race car driver will tell you that at the forefront of his mind is lap times, performance, results and everything, and while the main objective has to be to complete the run programme for the team, to do everything that they ask, there is a part of me that also wants to put in the best representation possible.

What are your thoughts on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve as an actual racing circuit?

AR: I love this track, it’s one of these tracks that rewards risks if you will, it’s one of the classic tracks in that sense. There’s not a lot of run-off so you need to be precise with what you do, and at the end of the day, if you’re a quick driver, it’ll show around here.

To finish off, if you’ve got a message for the American fans who are watching and cheering you on, what would it be?

AR: The message is even though there’s been some setbacks so far this year, my goal and focus still remains 100% Formula 1, and I haven’t lost any confidence in my ability to get there, and I think things will be looking very different come November.

And Austin will be the icing on the cake?

AR: Absolutely, 100%!

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.