UPDATE (6:27 p.m. ET): Robby Gordon’s camp has revealed that a compromised air filtration system on the No. 305 Gordini was the culprit that put the former NASCAR and IndyCar driver, along with navigator Kellon Welch, out of the 2014 Dakar Rally.
Initial reports of fuel contamination have been denied by Gordon and the team says that he indicated the only problem was the air intake issue on the Gordini’s engine. Gordon and Welch realized the problem less than 20 kilometers into yesterday’s Stage 11.
The team worked until midnight local time Friday to repair the Gordini as they sought to drive it and support vehicles through the night in order to start today’s Stage 12 within an hour after the last car began that run. Unfortunately for them, they ran out of time.
“We gave it our best and didn’t quit until the clock wouldn’t allow us to continue,” Gordon said in a release. “Without the vapor lock issues at the beginning of the Rally and a few other minor issues, the new HST Gordini ran really well and I was pleased with its performance.
“We will work on it for the next year and have a much better understanding of the car for next year’s Rally. I am very proud of the way everyone worked on Team Speed, and I appreciate the dedication and effort that everyone puts into everything we do.”
Gordon now joins fellow American driver B.J. Baldwin on the sidelines. The Chevy driver did not start Stage 10 on Wednesday, with Baldwin later confirming on Instagram that his truck’s fuel cell had a massive hole in it.
“We don’t know why the [fuel cell] mounts broke and logic would tell me that if they could break once they could easily break again and rupture the already weakened fuel cell,” his post said. “The exhaust system on this vehicle is close to the fuel leak in the cell. A fuel leak could easily ignite and cause the car to burst into flames.
“Driving this truck in it’s current condition is much too dangerous. With my family in mind this was an easy decision for me to discontinue the #Rally. No reason to put myself in an extremely dangerous situation just to finish the rally.”
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.
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.
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.
If #F1 wants to start looking around for an American driver, Colton Herta has a suggestion for where that search should start. https://t.co/71PVeu6aBj
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.”
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;
–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.”