F1 Missing Americans Auto Racing

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%!

IndyCar: Delayed Texas race leaves Gabby Chaves in a good position

Gabby Chaves is ready to go in the resumption of the IndyCar race at Texas this Saturday.
(Photo: IndyCar/Joe Skibinski)
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Some people look at the glass half-empty, others look at it half-full.

And then there’s Verizon IndyCar Series driver Gabby Chaves – he’s looking at the glass totally full, as he’s back in action for the first time since Iowa on July 10.

As IndyCar returns to Texas Motor Speedway this Saturday to complete the race that was suspended June 12 due to weather, Chaves put the 2 ½ month delay in one of the best perspectives we’ve seen or heard this week.

While some drivers aren’t necessarily happy that the series had to go back to TMS for a re-do of sorts – picking up on Lap 72 when the scheduled 248-lap race restarts – it feels a lot longer to Chaves.

“I went into this race at 22 years old and I’ll finish it at 23, so hopefully that will be some good luck,” Chaves said.

So, the driver of the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda of Dale Coyne Racing will make his seventh start of the season. His two best showings thus far have been close to top-10s: 12th and 13th in both Belle Isle races.

In his most recent race, at Iowa, he finished 17th.

But Chaves has high hopes for the return to Texas – even if he’s a year older since the last time he was there (birthday was July 7). If you see him licking his lips, it’s because he’s thirsty for a win and if things go the way he hopes, that’s a definite possibility.

When the race was red-flagged after 71 laps on June 12 (after the original scheduled race on June 11 was, alas, rained out), Chaves was running sixth in the 22-car field.

So, that’s where he’ll start when the race resumes this Saturday. And even though he’s endured a lengthy hiatus, just like every one of the other 21 drivers in the race, Chaves is ready to potentially save his best for last – the last oval race of the season, that is.

“We’re definitely in a position where we can actually go for the win,” Chaves said. “So, I’m very excited and very much looking forward to finishing out the oval calendar on a very high note for the team and myself.

“It’s always tricky to get back in the car, especially that we will only have 10 minutes to get sorted and get running before going straight into the race.

“You have to be committed and trust in the abilities that you have and trust in what the team gives you and that’s what I’ll be doing.”

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Mark Miles checks in after IndyCar’s 2017 schedule release

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Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, the head of INDYCAR’s parent company, checked in with reporters during a teleconference to discuss the release of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.

Here’s some of the highlights:

On getting the schedule out so soon

“Well, we thought it was important. You know, if you’re committed to making the foundation of a current year the bulk of the schedule the next year, then we didn’t see any reason we couldn’t do it, and I think it’s important from the point of view of the next step, which is careful tailoring, crafting of the television schedule. But also for the tracks; here happily we are in August, and we’re announcing a schedule, and they have a year to prepare.

“We kind of put the stake in the ground that we’d get this out in August, and I think we’re still in August, so we’re delighted to have met the goal.”

On further schedule growth

“Some of you are aware of and have written about it, and there were options to be sure, lots at the start, narrowed to some finalists, and we think there will be even more for next year.

“Our philosophy about growth is careful, managed growth where we add to fill in gaps on the schedule, and those to me looking at next year, we still believe there may be an international opportunity at the very beginning of the year to be abroad, and that will do lots of things for us if we can find a great opportunity for ’18 in February. And then there may be one more opportunity to add during what we currently have kind of staked out as the heart of the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule in North America.

“We think about all the factors from the balance we want to try to keep in terms of the type of racing, which we’ve already talked about, in terms of urban versus more park-like as we have now in so many of our races, Midwest versus other regions of the country. We’re pretty Midwest based, and I think there’s an appetite west, northwest, east or southeast in this country, urban versus more rural.

“So all those things go into it, and I think we just look at the options on a case-by-case basis and try to make the best calls.

“Fundamentally, the most important thing, irrespective of what kind of track and where it is in the country or the world, we want races like we have for the most part where the race is an event that captures the imagination of the community.”

On whether 2017 and 2018 schedules could have been released together

“I loved the idea of putting out the ’17 and ’18 calendars at the same time, and we were really close to doing it, and that’s exemplified by the fact that I’ve already told you that I expect everybody that’s on the calendar for ’17 to be on the calendar for ’18.  We do think there’s still some prospects that need a little more time to be fully developed for both international and other domestic opportunities for ’18. So we decided not to go.

“But saying all that, I don’t think we have to wait until August of ’17 to release the ’18 calendar. I can’t give you the date on which we’ll do it, but I do expect that it’ll be even earlier before ’18 than it was before ’17.”

On why Phoenix shifted from the start of April to the end of April

“When Phoenix came on for this year, we knew that in ’17 Phoenix would host the NCAA Final Four, and we agreed with them that it’s better to avoid that in that community. That’s a lot of fan choice and a lot of focus from the local media.

“That’s the reason that it changed from ’16 to ’17. I think that makes sense. And I think the schedule still works fine for our competitors.

“We are looking at what that might look like in ’18, and whether it stays more or less where it is or whether it goes back to — I guess we can’t call it the traditional date since it’s been one year, but the ’16 date, and that’s a decision we’ll make obviously in the context of putting out the ’18 calendar.”

On Auto Club Speedway, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Portland

“I think we talked a lot about Fontana about a year or so ago where their needs in terms of climate and time of day and even the sunset, which affects our drivers’ ability to be safe and run a great race, which affects the time of the race, which affects broadcasts in eastern time. It’s all related, so that one we just couldn’t sort out.

“[Mazda Raceway] Laguna Seca, interesting track, race history. We are kind of in that part of the world if you consider Sonoma northern Cal along with Laguna. Sonoma seems to be kind of solidifying a place for us as the season finale, which we love, and I think our fans and our stakeholders appreciate.

“Portland has a great history and is a part of — further north. That’s not northern Cal, and is an interesting region for us. So I don’t know. I don’t know that you’ve heard the end of the possibilities for Portland.”

On the broadcast partners and start times components

“I think [releasing the calendar now] it’s important from the point of view of the next step, which is careful tailoring, crafting of the television schedule.

“The other thing is the further out we get, the harder it is to really fine-tune the television broadcast schedule [for 2018], and that matters to us. As you know, we’ve made real progress with our broadcast partners in finding optimal broadcast times, which help us attract more viewers. We want to continue that focus. The further out you get, the harder it is to pick the exact date when you know a little less about their other programming, so we’ll take a little more time.

“Obviously as I think I may have mentioned before, we have to work with our broadcast partners to find the right balance between the show, the event on-site for the fans who buy tickets and come out, and the fans who will tune in on television. One of the things that we’ve found is that it’s better for race fans I think generally if we can minimize overlaps with NASCAR coverage. I’m not in any way defensive about saying that. We think there are a meaningful number of fans of both series, and we’d like for all of them to be able to watch both kinds of racing.

“It’s really helpful in the second half of the season that the same broadcasters [on NBC] are programming both NASCAR and IndyCar, so it’s in everybody’s interest to maximize the windows for both, and I think that’s happened, and you’ve probably seen kind of the add-up of that, the significant reduction in the number of races where there are overlapping telecasts and the number of hours. It’s much, much less than it was even three years ago. I think that helps all race fans.

“And ABC has worked with us, as well. You’re always trying to minimize key conflicts in the sports horizon. NBC’s objective or one of them is to be the motorsports platform, much as they’ve done in golf, and they have grown as a cable provider, and they’ve grown their audience for motorsports, and certainly they’ve been helpful in the growth of our television audience.”

On Stephen Starks’, VP of Promoter Relations, role in the process

“Stephen has brought great, fresh thinking about all this. You know, together we can focus on the few things we want to do better, and timeliness was part of it, the things we’ve been talking about, so he does deserve huge props for driving this process inside IndyCar, being I think a great resource to those who wanted to be considered to join the series and extending the agreements for those who have been on and now will be on with certainty longer. He spent a little bit of time with us and our legal department, so he understands that side of the business, and now he’s really gone to town, and I think the future is bright not just in terms of the schedule-making process, but our ambition is to add more value to the promoters that we have.

“When I look at other leagues, the NBA has a great team-services group, for example, and they’re able to share best practices in a serious way that adds to the value the league provides to their franchises.

“When one of them figures out something that helps them promote ticket sales and get ticket sales in earlier, they all know about it, and I think we can, under Stephen’s leadership, add that kind of value to our promoters, as well.

“I can see his head swelling. We may have a hard time getting him on the plane on the way back.”

Pagenaud ready to get back on the horse and leave Pocono crash in dust

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(Photo: IndyCar/Bret Kelley)
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IndyCar racing has a lot of similarities with horse racing. They are both built on speed and elapsed time.

And let’s not forget the most obvious: horsepower.

So, it’s not too much of a stretch to look at the plight of current Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Simon Pagenaud.

Like a jockey or a cowboy, Pagenaud was thrown from his mount this past Monday when he was involved in a solo wreck during the weather-delayed ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.

The wreck was Pagenaud’s first DNF of the season, a season that has had him in the points lead since the second race (Phoenix) and also compiled four wins and seven podium finishes in the first 13 races.

At the same time, Penske Racing teammate Will Power significantly closed what had been a 58-point lead by Pagenaud coming into Pocono to just a 20-point edge over Power, who not only won the race, but has won four of the last six (and finished runner-up in the other two).

MORE: Pocono provides latest pendulum swing between Power and Pagenaud

But, once again like a jockey or cowboy who has been thrown from his horse, Pagenaud has picked himself up, dusted himself off and is prepared to do battle with his teammate and roughly a handful of others who are still mathematically eligible to win the 2016 IndyCar championship.

Pagenaud has built his career on looking forward and forgetting what’s in the past. And that’s exactly his philosophy about leaving Pocono and preparing for Saturday night’s resumed Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.

“Pocono didn’t go very well, but that happens,” Pagenaud says. “I wish it hadn’t, but we have to move on and put it behind us.

“The Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevy will (re)start 15th, but that’s not indicative of the car we had or will have.”

As for the tightened margin between himself and Power, Pagenaud has been in this kind of horserace plenty of times in his career.

He knows what to expect in the next three races. He saw how Juan Pablo Montoya topped the standings last season for 15 straight races, only to lose it in the season finale to Scott Dixon.

Pagenaud hasn’t come this far to let the lead slip through his reins. Whether it’s himself, Power or perhaps one of the others still in striking distance, Pagenaud is well aware that it’s anyone’s championship still to win.

Obviously, he hopes it will ultimately be his.

“There’s a lot of racing left,” Pagenaud said. “It’s going to be an exciting race. We don’t lose sight of the big picture, but that’s not the strategy.

“We got to where we are by attacking and being on the offensive. That’s not going to change. We’ll focus on winning races.”

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DiZinno: IndyCar’s 2017 schedule provides clear long-term road map

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I thought the same things as you when I saw the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule for 2017 (and to a near extent, 2018) released on Thursday, August 25.

Thought number one: The IndyCar schedule? In August?!?

Thought number two: Where’s the next big street race or international race?

Thought number three: There can’t be… date equity… can there?

For once, going with the more traditional route of keeping the same 16 races as in 2016 and adding another oval (yes, selfishly, I wish it was Milwaukee, but Gateway’s been pushing hard for this for years) is a brilliant masterstroke for IndyCar, because it isn’t about the negativity… or the question marks.

Every year, it’s seemed IndyCar’s schedule would be one of the last ones out, and there’d always be that one or two races you’d look at with a skeptical eye.

Then you’d see the ‘ol infamous asterisk top right of the last letter with the guide at the bottom confirming that asterisk meant, “To be confirmed.”

None of that goes on now with the 2017 schedule, and with Hulman &. Co. CEO Mark Miles confirming Thursday all events are also locked into 2018, IndyCar has a clearly defined road map and product platform for its events for the first time in years.

“We thought it was important to get it out now,” Miles said during a teleconference. “If you’re committed to making the bulk of schedule the next year, it’s important for the next step, which is careful tailoring and crafting of the television schedule.

“But we’re in August; we’re announcing a schedule and they have a year to prepare. Every promoter would relish the chance to sell next year’s tickets at this year’s race.

“For promoters, for fans, for our broadcasters, for our teams as they prepare, and this plus the test schedule that will come out… the sooner the better.

“We said we’d get this out in August… we’re still in August.”

This is a far cry from years past and the litany of races that have been on again, off again, or dropped over the last few years.

NOLA, Fontana, Milwaukee, Houston, Sao Paulo, Baltimore, Edmonton, Loudon, Motegi, Kentucky and Las Vegas have all dropped off just since 2011, and then add in that Boston, another Brazil and China races were canceled before they ever occurred.

Suddenly it seems as though IndyCar has rediscovered itself from a scheduling standpoint; returns to tracks where the series left but then came back make a greater impact than first-time or other venues where the history isn’t quite there.

Phoenix came back after more than a decade, Road America in nearly a decade and Watkins Glen will come back for the first time in six years in a little over a week. Road America was incredibly well-received, Phoenix was positive and Watkins Glen has generated early rave reviews.

At-track attendance has been an interesting talking point this year and Graham Rahal has mentioned to me on numerous occasions it’s been up, and he and other drivers have taken notice. INDYCAR confirmed it has at six events in its 2017 schedule release.

Knowing when events are from a scheduling standpoint and knowing there’s not the year-on-year risk of them falling off helps fans better plan their schedules.

It also helps from an overall business perspective; companies are in the process of finalizing their marketing budgets in August and this allows teams to go out and hustle if they still can at a much earlier date.

Miles also strongly suggested the 2018 schedule – given all tracks for this year are on board – will be out even earlier next year.

“I loved the idea of releasing ’17 and ’18 at the same time, and we were very close to doing that,” Miles said. “Some prospects need to develop for international and other domestic opportunities for ’18. But I don’t think we have to wait of August ’17 to release the ’18 calendar. I’d expect it even earlier before ’18, than it was before ’17.”

Credit INDYCAR and Stephen Starks, VP of Promoter Relations; additionally, credit all the track promoters.

“He has brought great fresh thinking to [the process],” Miles said of Starks. “We can focus on the few things we want to do better. He does deserve huge props for driving this process inside INDYCAR.”

And then there’s the Jay Frye factor. Frye’s presence in INDYCAR is generally, if not exclusively, regarded as a net positive thus far.

Even though he’s been moved from the commercial onto the operational side of the business now as President of Competition and Operations, his high approval rating in the paddock cannot be understated in terms of how INDYCAR’s schedule has evolved to a more solid state rather than the fluid one it’s been in the years previous.

And he says so with a smile, too. He and I exchanged a good laugh at Pocono last weekend when I asked about the schedule and he replied, “And hey, not only are we gonna have a schedule, but we’ll actually run all the races we’re scheduled to!”

We both laughed, but the fact such a line is a laughing matter speaks to how chaotic the IndyCar schedule has been over the last several years.

For once, it appears that the future IndyCar schedules are no laughing matter indeed.