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%!

NASCAR Truck drivers feel the earth move sitting in NHRA powerhouses

Photos courtesy Kalitta Motorsports
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Several NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers got to see how the other half lives – namely, their counterparts in the NHRA – on Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway and across the street at zMax Dragway.

To say it was an eye-opening experience is putting it mildly.

Top Fuel drag racers Shawn Langdon and Troy Coughlin Jr., as well as Funny Car driver J.R. Todd – all from one of the top teams in the NHRA, Kalitta Motorsports – are in Charlotte for this weekend’s 4-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway.

NASCAR Trucks driver Noah Gragson gets to feel the 10,000 horsepower of a Top Fuel dragster.

Thursday, they invited NASCAR drivers Ryan Truex, Christopher Bell, Grant Enfinger and Noah Gragson to show how it’s done NHRA-style.

Todd, Langdon and Coughlin started the day taking Toyota Camry pace cars around the 1.5-mile CMS oval.

Then everyone moved across the street to see some real horsepower, namely, 10,000 horses worth – which is roughly about 13 times the power they have under the hood of their race trucks.

Truex and Bell got a chance to “warm up” Todd’s Funny Car, while Enfinger and Gragson did the same with Langdon’s Top Fueler.

 

Meanwhile, Todd and Langdon both did smoky burnouts that, if the Truck guys thought they could do burnouts, they learned a lot to the contrary.

“It was a cool to do a big smoky burnout,” Todd said. “It was cool to see the guys reactions. We had a great time today and I think we created several new fans.”

Added Langdon, “Days like today is what makes me love our sport even more. Bringing these guys over here and letting them hit the throttle and sit in the car when it warms up gives them a look at what we do. To see the smiles on their faces after a badass burnout and how excited they are, just gets me pumped.”

Here’s what the NASCAR guys thought about the experience.

Bell: “J.R. Todd let me sit in his Toyota Camry Funny Car and they even cracked the throttle open for me when we were warming up the motor. It is something that I will remember for the rest of my life. It is a feeling like none other.”

Enfinger: “Just a crazy experience, something I have never done. Been able to do a lot of cool things with Toyota, but it is not every day that you get to make your dad jealous.”

Gragson: “This was awesome. It was the experience of a lifetime. It was great to hang out with J.R. Todd, Shawn and Troy Jr. Definitely a cool experience; one that I will remember forever.”

Truex: “This has probably been the craziest experience that I have ever been a part of. I got to sit in a Funny Car; they hit the throttle, which really scared me. When I was outside the car, I jumped about three feet in the air. It was cool to get inside and experience that. The nitro was all in my face, and I think they gained a new fan with me today.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

 

F1 drivers split on new ‘shield’ protection

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) Formula One drivers are split over plans to test a new “shield” device to protect against flying debris.

The FIA will trial the transparent screen in the coming months for a potential introduction in 2018, as it pushes for greater head protection for drivers. Recent years have seen major head injuries in several motorsport series.

“I wouldn’t mind trying out the shield, seeing how is the visibility,” Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas said on Thursday. “In terms of safety it would be a good step compared to what we have now.”

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was another supporter, saying “we’ve still got to see a bit more, but first impressions seem OK.”

The FIA previously seemed to favor a metal frame known as the “halo,” which was designed to stop a flying wheel hitting a driver’s head but was criticized by some drivers on aesthetic grounds.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat said on Thursday he was “quite against” the shield and the halo. “The way Formula One should look should remain the same,” he added. “We have enough protection.”

Romain Grosjean of Haas voiced concern the “next step” would be completely closed cockpits.

Recent years have seen several high-profile head injuries, including the deaths of Formula Two driver Henry Surtees in 2009 when he was hit by a loose wheel and IndyCar driver Justin Wilson, who was struck by debris, in 2015.

In Formula One, Brazilian driver Felipe Massa missed the second half of the 2009 season when a loose spring from another car hit his helmet, leaving him needing surgery.

Haas changes F1 brake supplier ahead of Russian Grand Prix

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Haas has switched from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes ahead of this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix in a bid to remedy its long-running braking issues in Formula 1.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation onto the F1 grid in 2016, with Romain Grosjean scoring all 29 of its points through its debut season.

Grosjean and then-teammate Esteban Gutierrez had their efforts spurned on a number of occasions by brake issues which continued to arise through pre-season testing in 2017 and the early races.

Haas pushed to remedy the issue by testing new Carbon Industrie brakes in the post-Bahrain Grand Prix test, with Grosjean and new teammate Kevin Magnussen conducting running.

The team duly decided to fit the new Carbon Industrie brakes for this weekend’s race in Russia, with both VF-17 cars to run with them from Friday onwards.

“To be fair to Brembo, the last update in brakes we had that arrived in China were much better. It took a long time to get them,” Grosjean explained.

“So then I was not screaming to change to Carbone Industrie but it was in the pipeline, so we tried them, and both drivers were pretty pleased with them. We felt like we had more control under braking.

“I’m very sensitive to my left pedal, so I really need to get good brakes to get good confidence and push the car to its maximum limit. So we are going to run them here.

“There is still a little bit of work we need to be doing around the mapping and finding the solution around those brakes but I think yeah, definitely it’s going to help me a little bit to find the last few hundredths.”

NHRA: Chad Head to substitute for Alexis DeJoria in Charlotte

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Alexis DeJoria will miss this weekend’s NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, with her Kalitta Motorsports team confirming DeJoria will need to tend to a family matter.

Chad Head, Kalitta Motorsports Director of Safety, will step into the Tequila Patrón Toyota Camry this weekend. No timetable was given for DeJoria’s return; after Charlotte this weekend, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues for its third consecutive race weekend next week in Atlanta.

This isn’t the first race DeJoria has had to miss recently, as she also was diagnosed with a concussion and missed the 2016 NHRA season finale in Pomona.