Q&A: Rising sports car driver Christina Nielsen on 2014 season

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One of the drivers to watch heading into the offseason in the world of sports car racing is Christina Nielsen, the Danish driver who competed in several championships this past season.

In her first full season in North America, Nielsen, 22, raced a full season with NGT Motorsport in the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup USA, a partial season in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship with NGT and TRG-AMR, and made her Pirelli World Challenge debut with TRG-AMR at Sonoma.

Highlights included three podium finishes in GT3 and a sixth place finish in the Platinum Masters’ category and a debut podium in PWC, third in the GT-A class.

We caught up with Nielsen at Austin. Plans to run in GT Daytona with NGT for Road Atlanta were shelved when one of her scheduled teammates, Earl Bamber, was called up to a factory Porsche GT Le Mans seat and NGT withdrew the car. She slotted in at TRG-AMR with James Davison and David Block.

MotorSportsTalk: You’ve been transitioning between Porsches this season, with the Cup car and the 911 GT America. How have you learned and adjusted?

Christina Nielsen:  It hasn’t been easy, that’s for sure. See it as a great opportunity to practice and adjust quickly. As a pro driver that’s something you need to do quickly. I’m very hapy to do it. I’ve been fortunate to drive so many. It brings a bit of extra work, but I’m very happy to do it.

Nielsen at COTA. Photo: IMSA

MST: What have you learned from working with a team of NGT’s pedigree within GT3?

CN: It’s been great; the team has a lot of experience. I think the guys on my car have taken good care of it. My engineer has a single focus on my car, and we’ve been strong individually even though we’re a big team. Some bad luck this season. Some issues. But hopefully we’ll work through them.

MST: Racing in traffic from your TUDOR opportunities, what have you learned there about multi class racing?

CN: It’s crazy when you’re racing with several categories, and it’s definitely not easy at a new track. There’s a lot of things to adjust to, and to learn to practice who is coming at you. Is it a competitor? Do you let this guy pass? What’s important to focus on? It’s been an amazing experience.

MST: Having a combined FIA WEC/TUDOR weekend on your schedule allows you to meet and network rather well. How do you take advantage of that?

CN: What’s great for me this weekend is that I’m only doing IMSA GT3, so not on double duty. And I finish Friday evening. So I’m free to mingle around on Saturday and see what everyone else is doing. I’m happy with where I am, but this way you get a lay of the land.

There’s friends and other Danes you want to see… Tom Kristensen, for instance, I just said hello to him. He’s a great guy. I mean it’s an honor to see him race. His performances are amazing.

MST: 2015 outlook is a jump to TUDOR? Pirelli World Challenge? Possible return back to Europe?

CN: We have to consider Pirelli World Challenge and (TUDOR) GTD as well. But we have to face the fact we probably don’t have the budget for GTD. It’s not that easy. We are open to all options. I like racing in America, I like the tracks, and I like the culture.

MST: About the culture, how have you embedded yourself over here this season?

CN: Especially with a focus on next year, it would be nice to be over here again. I have developed some solid performances that have caught some interest. You make a solid base and try to use that for next year. I definitely found my two favorite tracks, Road Atlanta my number one and Mosport (Canadian Tire Motorsoprt Park) is super cool.

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).