An open-wheeled IndyCar and a streamlined bobsled may seem worlds apart, but for David Cripps – a former engineer for IndyCar Series team Panther Racing that’s now helping the U.S. bobsled team in Sochi – his new job isn’t much different from his old one.
“My responsibilities are very similar to an IndyCar race engineer. I am basically responsible for the performance, reliability, development and day-to-day running of the sleds,” Cripps told IndyCar’s official website ahead of training runs in Russia. “There has been a fairly large amount of development upgrades coming up to the Games.”
Cripps knows a thing or two about making things go fast. He helped take Panther’s No. 4 National Guard Honda (now Chevrolet) to four consecutive runner-up finishes in the Indianapolis 500 from 2008-2011 with three different drivers – Vitor Meira (2008), late two-time “500″ champion Dan Wheldon (2009-10), and American racer J.R. Hildebrand (2011).
And he’s not the only IndyCar Series link to the U.S. bobsled effort. Another team, Rahal Letterman Lanigan, has provided steering upgrades for six of the team’s two-man sleds.
Steven Holcomb and Co. will be searching for the first U.S. Olympic medal in the two-man competition since 1952 in addition to trying to defend their four-man gold from Vancouver in 2010.
Cripps’ move into the world of winter sports began after leading a tour of Panther’s garage at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park in 2012 for officials from USA Luge. That led to Panther installing telemetry on one of the luge sleds for a test in early 2013 at Lake Placid, New York.
Then, after officially parting ways with Panther last June, Cripps became a permanent member of the U.S. team through the Olympics. So far, he’s enjoyed what he calls the “invigorating challenge” that’s come with learning a new form of racing.
“So far, this has been an amazing adventure and the best is yet to come,” he added. “It truly has been an honor to work with such an amazing group of athletes and coaches. Their level of effort and dedication is commendable. I think we will be assembling one of the strongest pit crews ever for this year’s Indy 500.”
The bobsled competition begins Feb. 16 at the Sanki Sliding Center, with medal events on Feb. 17 (two-man), Feb. 19 (women’s), and Feb. 23 (four-man). As for the IndyCars, they’ll return to NBCSN on Apr. 13 with their second race of the season, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
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.”