Special: A Family Affair for di Resta, Franchittis

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Editor’s Note: Two of racing’s biggest events take place on Sunday – the Monaco Grand Prix, which airs live on NBC Sunday at 7:30 a.m. ET, and the Indianapolis 500. One family has a particular interest in both races. They will be the squads that form the Franchitti/di Resta clan.

Guest contributor Andy Hallbery, a former editor for both Autosport and RACER magazines, had the opportunity to speak to Force India’s Paul di Resta over the weekend, and files this report. Image to the right is courtesy of Sutton Images.

Paul di Resta, fresh off the back of fourth place in Bahrain for the Grand Prix, heads to Monaco – where he now calls home – aiming for his first F1 podium. Meanwhile across the ‘Pond’, his cousin Dario Franchitti will be preparing for the Indy 500. A win would be his fourth at the hallowed track, and place him well within the list of Indy legends.

“I would say we speak at least once a week, maybe twice,” says di Resta. “It will either be a conversation or a series of dodgy emails flying backwards and forwards!

“We have more of a brother relationship than a cousin,” he adds. “It’s a shame that he lives the other side of the water, but the relationship is obviously very close. He’s been very supportive of my career as I have to his, and it’s nice to have that. But essentially when we’re actually together we don’t speak about racing because it’s family. It’s a completely different conversation.”

Paul is feeling his years, despite only being 27. It’s Bump Day at Indy, but he has other things on his mind. (“I must speak with Dario today. He turns 40!”)

“I’ve not actually been to an IndyCar race,” he admits. “The last time I went it was a CART race. That was 11 years ago, so I was 16. That’s a long time ago, but that’s what happens when you get racing yourself and how it pans out. I was trying to get to Detroit this year.  It’s just so difficult to schedule. But he finishes a lot earlier than us this year, so I think he should come to our races more.”

Despite his advancing years, Franchitti shows absolutely no sign of stopping racing, and it doesn’t take much of an imagination to see him, his brother Marino, and cousin Paul taking on Le Mans. One day…

“That would be nice, but where we all are at the moment, it’s difficult to do. Obviously Marino’s into the sportscars, and Dario’s coming to that bit of his life – he’s been quite open. He’s succeeded with what he wanted to do in America. So he needs to back it off a little bit. And I’m obviously a few years away from that, but if the right opportunity arose, I think we’d probably do something.”

As for Paul following his cousin Dario’s footsteps to America, well, don’t hold your breath. “I would have a go at a street track,” he says, before adding. “I have got no interest in ovals. They scare me a bit. Until I got to Formula 1 I was quite open about it because of what Dario had done. But a few things set that back… When Dario stops – and that’s no time soon I think – there will be a kind of relief from us. That’s not something we talk about.”

The Monaco Grand Prix airs live on NBC at 7:30 a.m. ET, with pre- and post-race coverage on the NBC Sports Network. Meanwhile across the pond, the Indy 500 telecast begins at 11 a.m. ET, with the race at noon ET, on ABC.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).