IndyCar: CFH has opportunity for all-American dream team for 2015


With Thursday’s news that Mike Conway won’t be returning to the merged CFH Racing in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series, there is a golden opportunity for the team to become the all-American darling of the championship.

The vacancy alongside Ed Carpenter in the shared No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet is bound to attract a wealth of interest.

However, for a series struggling at times with a lack of identifiable drivers, or with a substantial American driver presence, it would likely behoove the series if CFH is able to bring in another American alongside Carpenter for the road and street races.

This past season, there were only five full-time American drivers: Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti of Andretti Autosport, Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Josef Newgarden of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and Charlie Kimball of Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing. Carpenter and a handful of others ran partial seasons.

While it is not ideal for a series to feature only Americans – IndyCar’s strength has always been its diversity of drivers – IndyCar could use more in the series for 2015 and beyond.

It would be an identifiable selling point for CFH, which holds the last links in modern day IndyCar to the prior Indy Racing League era, where homegrown American talent and an all-oval series were selling points.

In Carpenter, they have a canny businessman who is still one of the series’ best on ovals, partnered with team co-owner Sarah Fisher, a popular driver and team owner in her own right for more than a decade.

In Newgarden, they have the series’ only American driver for the moment under age 25 – Rahal turns 26 in January. Young, marketable, personable, comedic and certainly quick, Newgarden is one of IndyCar’s rising stars who was desperately unlucky not to have come away with his first series victory this season.

And here’s who they should be considering for the vacant seat alongside Carpenter, all of whom carry the red, white and blue:

  • JR Hildebrand. The leading candidate who has one race and one additional test with Ed Carpenter Racing already under his belt, the 26-year-old Californian deserves a second chance after his time with Panther Racing ended mid-2013 when his contract was terminated.
  • Conor Daly. Stepson of Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles, Daly has had his eyes set on a full-season IndyCar for years, but has seemingly had to take anything and everything both domestically and internationally to keep his career going. Hungry and no doubt focused, he would be a welcome first-year participant to the series.
  • Alexander Rossi. Rossi could enter the discussion here given some previous press clippings where he mentioned his dislike of ovals, but is still keen on running in IndyCar next season. Rossi has long been America’s best F1 hope, before a challenging 2014 season saw him aligned with both Caterham and Marussia, who each went into the administration.
  • Gabby Chaves. Although a joint Colombian American, Chaves could fit in well here and still maintain the all-American vibe. Chaves may only have the budget for a partial season, although he remains focused on securing a full-season effort. With that as the goal, that may take him out of consideration here.
  • A.N. Other. Sage Karam and Zach Veach, Americans who have spent years in the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, each could work here but are pursuing other team options. Guy Cosmo, an American sports car veteran, has also made overtones about wanting to race in IndyCar. There are others as well who could work and fit the all-American description.

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 “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).