Fan events set to light up United States GP weekend in Austin

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In just three years, the United States Grand Prix has established itself as a favorite not only in the Formula 1 paddock, but also in the wider F1 community thanks to some fantastic fan events that have lit up the race weekend.

For 2014, the fan focus is set to continue. Just as the cities of Melbourne and Montreal become abuzz with F1 when the sport rolls into town, Austin will be no different. Besides the on-track action from Friday through to Sunday, there are a number of events in the centre of town that will make it a weekend to remember and enjoy.

Here are some of the big fan events taking place in Austin over the GP weekend.

Red Bull/Infiniti Show Run featuring Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel
Wednesday 29th October, Congress Avenue, 12pm CT

Formula 1 is set to grace downtown Austin as Daniel Ricciardo takes to the city streets in his teammate’s championship-winning RB7 car from 2011. Sebastian will be getting behind the wheel of the Infiniti Q50 road car he helped to design, and will be giving rides to a few lucky fans on the Wednesday of the race.

For more information, click here.

Austin Fans’ Forum courtesy of COTA and the Grand Prix Investors Fund
Wednesday 29th October, Gibson Showroom, 3601 S. Congress Ave., in the Penn Field complex, 6pm CT (doors at 5:30)

Following from the success of last year’s FOTA (now defunct) fans’ forum in Austin, the event has been revived for this year’s race thanks to the Circuit of The Americas and the Grand Prix Investors Fund. The line-up is set to be announced next week by former FOTA general secretary Oliver Weingarten, and it will once again be hosted by CNBC’s Brian Sullivan. This will give fans a unique opportunity to pose some questions to the drivers ahead of the race weekend.

For more information, click here.

Buxton’s Big Time Bash benefitting Meals on Wheels
Thursday 30th October, Brazos Hall 204 East 4th Street, 7pm CT (doors at 6)

NBCSN’s very own Will Buxton will be hosting the third annual Buxton’s Big Time Bash in aid of Meals on Wheels on the Thursday of the race weekend. Once again, it promises to be a fantastic event, and this year will even feature the premiere of NBCSN’s Road to Mercedes, following on from Road to Ferrari. Entry will be a $5 donation to Meals on Wheels at the door, with a cash bar available. The event is set to continue through until midnight at Brazos Hall.

For more information, click here.

COTA Fan Fest
Friday 31st October – November 2nd, downtown Austin

Accompanying the racing on track, the COTA Fan Fest will hit downtown Austin with a number of great live music acts and shows across all three days.

For more information, click here.

And of course, besides the fantastic fan events, NBC, NBCSN and Live Extra will be bringing you all of the action from COTA as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg continue to fight at the front of the field for the 2014 drivers’ championship.

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).