Wilson looking forward to “working towards something” in Iowa and beyond

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After a patchwork year of a drive here, a drive there, and a scheduled drive interrupted by circumstances outside his control, Justin Wilson heads to this weekend’s Iowa Corn 300 actually knowing he’s got something to build on after a series of one-offs.

The lanky Englishman, who remains one of the best and kindest drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series, was well-positioned to finish second Sunday at Milwaukee – he ran ahead of eventual runner-up Helio Castroneves before a mechanical issue in the final 25 laps halted the charge of the No. 25 Andretti Autosport Honda.

“I don’t know what it’s technically called, but it didn’t sound so good,” Wilson told MotorSportsTalk post-race. “I came out of the corner and lost power. It started to vibrate. I just grabbed the clutch, and switched the engine off. It was disappointing.

“But even in the last pit stop, the wheel gun pitched itself and it wouldn’t work. It just jammed. We lost a lap in the pits because of that. That’s the way it goes.”

Still, Wilson enjoyed the dice he had throughout the day with drivers like Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power and rookie Gabby Chaves, and furthermore was happy that he actually has another day in the car only five days ahead of last race.

“It’s nice! It’s nice to know you’re working towards something,” Wilson said. “So next weekend, let’s go faster. Let’s sort it out and make it better.

“The balance is everything. Getting the right balance, is so, so sensitive. I can’t explain how sensitive these aero kits are, and how extreme it is. You say it’s sensitive and if you miss by just a fraction, you’re a second off. Maybe it’s not quite that extreme but that’s how it feels. It’s crazy!”

Wilson, who was back to working with engineer Blair Perschbacher after balancing with him and Craig Hampson during the month of May, recapped his own yo-yo ride of a day.

“We were quick. I was really pleased with the car,” he said. “We’d be passing people, then we’d have an issue, then we’d come back and pass more people. And it was then OK, we’re moving forwards. It’s passing. We’re making moves. This was great.

“It was good, I could feel the load in the steering. I could drive it in deep. Guys would hang on the inside and race you to the middle. I had such a good car.”

Wilson finished 13th last year in Iowa. He’ll look to improve on finishes of 24th, 21st and 18th with Andretti Autosport this season, none of which are representative of the talent at his disposal.

Andretti Autosport may be in a good position heading into the race, as one of two teams (CFH Racing) who tested there a couple weeks ago. Marco Andretti and rookie Matthew Brabham took laps as part of Brabham’s rookie test.

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).