Arguably one of the busiest drivers since the end of the last Red Bull Global Rallycross season is Nelson Piquet Jr., who’s carved out quite a career for himself.
Piquet Jr., a former Renault Formula 1 driver and NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series veteran who won several races in NASCAR, has now blended roofs and open-wheel once again.
The Brazilian is in the midst of an intense FIA Formula E Championship title battle with Lucas di Grassi and e.dams Renault teammates Sebastien Buemi and Nicolas Prost, as that championship heads to its final four races of the season.
Meanwhile, he’s also gearing up for his second season with the SH Rallycross team in Red Bull GRC. James “Sulli” Sullivan, with partner Dennis Reinbold, lead the team. Both Sullivan (KVSH Racing) and Reinbold (Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing) also maintain an active presence as team onwers in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
But for Piquet, the focus is on securing this year’s championship in the No. 07 Ford Fiesta for SH Rallycross. Partners on board include Hydroxycut and WIX Filters.
Piquet looks to improve upon his first year, when he scored four podiums and finished fourth in the points. He should get his first feature race win sooner rather than later.
“Last year was our rookie year. Everything was new for us,” Piquet told MotorSportsTalk during the Red Bull GRC media day in Long Beach. “For the team and for myself, there have been a lot of new things and new experiences.
“It was just the normal path of a rookie team and rookie driver. There were a few mistakes. We still had a lot of good results and accomplishments. We’re not gonna do too much different. We will be more prepared, with more knowledge and more mileage of our cars in this series.”
Piquet said he’s adapted well to the mix of gravel and pavement race in Red Bull GRC, although he continues to develop.
“I’m still learning. There are some parts I’m still struggling,” he said. “It’s a learning curve and there’s more I’m trying to do.”
SH is part of a deeper Red Bull GRC field that also includes additional IndyCar teams such as Chip Ganassi Racing, Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross and Bryan Herta Rallysport.
“For sure it’s going to be a much tougher year,” Piquet said. “There are better teams, drivers, cars, and they’ll up the level by quite a lot this year.”
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.”