Full transcript: FIA Formula 4 U.S. announcement at COTA


AUSTIN, Texas – The new FIA Formula 4 U.S. series was announced Thursday at Circuit of the Americas. MotorSportsTalk will have additional content from one-on-one interviews with Robert Clarke and Stefano Domenicali to come in the coming days.

In the meantime, here’s a transcript (done by my MST colleague Daniel McFadin) of today’s announcement from the press room, featuring the following key stakeholders:

  • Stefano Domenicali, President, Single Seater Commission, Federation Internationale de l’Automobile
  • Marc Sours, Sr. Manager/Chief Engineer, Honda Performance Development
  • Robert Clarke, President, SCCA Pro Racing
  • Catherine Crawford, Aerodynamist/Sr. Project Manager, Crawford Composites
  • Bobby Rahal, President, Road Racing Drivers Club
  • Katherine Legge, Driver, DeltaWing Racing, Grace Autosport

SD: “I think today is a very important day for motorsports. I think it’s very important for the FIA international federation. Furthermore, it’s very important because I think motorsports in the United States is huge … I think this is the chance where we can start the connection between the international federation and what is relevant in this fantastic country. I think that today, to explain to the ones not so familiar with what is happening in the formula world in the FIA. We created a step…toward the growth of the young talent that started their career from karting, and then we thought it was important to give them a stable and very good path to the pinnacle of motorsport. And the F4 is the first half…to make sure the pyramid is clear, current and we want to give the chance to the talent, in this case, from this country, to make sure they’re given the chance to compete and to grow in a framework that is very, very professional. Very, very clear in terms of organization, and very,very clear also in respect to what investment is needed in the first half of this ladder to enter in this part of competition.

“I think that is really the relevancy of what is … today. I remember when we had the first meeting, not so many months ago, it was in May because we were all together in Indianapolis, the people I want to thank with my heart later on. I say ‘wow,’ we are here in September to announce this wonderful opportunity for the young talent that are here in this country. In such a short time, I’ve very, very thankful for the job that has been done by all the parties in this project, because it is something that had been done with a great passion, with a great professionality. This is something on the FIA side we see the first step in the connection with what had been, this is my personal opinion of course, something not to connect with the FIA and to this fantastic movement that is in your country. Once again, an incredible day.

“This category is going, very, very well all around the world. We have already many, many championships. I can give you some examples. We can see that in Australia, Japan, Italy. In Mexico, they’re going to launch this year at the Formula 1 event next month. In the Middle East, in Europe.

“So, the attention toward this first half of the growth…is growing.

“It’s all the best for something that should be a great success, and will be a place where older talent and younger talent can show who they are and compete in the future with talent from all the different countries.

RC: “I can say this is the launch of Formula 4 for the United States Championship. This is something the SCCA has been working on for nearly a year. It’s a very significant announcement. One, I want to thank the relationship we’ve developed with the FIA. This is a relationship that existed with some distance, but now, we’re kind of joining hands and working on something collectively that hasn’t happened in many years, I think since the early Formula One races. So this is truly a historic moment.

“I would also, as Stefano said, I would like to thank Nick (Craw) and the entire ACCUS organization, they have been fundamental in helping us navigate through this. They’ve been a phenomenal sounding board for me to work with and has ultimately led to the success of this program.

“Many of you might be thinking, just what we need is another ladder series open wheel series. And the answer is, it is. F4 is exactly what this country needs. Because F4 is not a car. F4 is a program, a very comprehensive program which we’ll outline in our discussion this morning. It’s a program that is very well conceived from the FIA to attract new, younger drivers into Motorsports in a way that provides them with a contemporary, modern product, a very affordable means of operation. It gives them marketing support and other things that we will identify. F4 is perfect from that point of view. Another key point, is that F4 is ideal for SCCA Pro Racing. The F4 and SCCA Pro Racing are on a mission to change motorsport and F4 isn’t just the ladder into open-wheel racing. We are providing a ladder for SCCA to re-establish itself in the vein of USRC, K&N, Formula 5000….SCCA is known arguably for some of the best motorsports this country has ever seen. Formula 4 will provide the ladder for us to re-establish that position in the marketplace. You are going to see a new SCCA.

“The Formula 4 program, the strength of that program, comes from as with any business relationship comes from your partners. The stronger partners, the stronger the relationship, the stronger the results. We have world class partners in Honda, Pirelli and Crawford Composites.

MS: “The company I represent, Honda Performance Development, was started in 1993 to be Honda’s racing company in this continent. Since then, we’ve been racing in open wheel consistently since 1994. One of our long-term goals to grow the participation of open-wheel racing, so the FIA has that same goal with its creation of the F4 and the SCCA shares that same goal in bringing F4 to America. So we’re pleased that they’ve selected us as an engine partner. It’s a perfect marrying of goals across the partnership. The engine that we utilized is the modern K20 engine that is being used in the European Type R. We’ll decontent it, as the FIA’s requirement is for 160 horsepower output.

“We’re also pleased to continue to broaden our partnership with Crawford Composites. We’ve started working with them Formula Lites program and this gives us another path to work with them and partner with them on a more cost effective racing platform.”

CC: “I’m the engineering manager, senior project manager and aerodynamicist of Crawford Composites. The most important thing for is is that we’re all racers. The company was founded by my parents and my father (Max) who’s been racing forever, so everything that we do has been geared towards racing. Not only that, but it’s also…the quality that we put out, which we’re very, very proud of. It’s a complete validation for us at the company to be chosen as a partner for the FIA, for Honda, and the SCCA. It’s very important and shows that all the work that we’ve done has culminated in something special. The F4 program is a natural progression for us after the FL (Formula Lites) 15, we can take all that knowledge that we gained from that program…that is a wonderful car as hopefully Katherine can tell you later. We can take that knowledge and although the F4 has a larger price cap than the FL 15, we can take the suspension and those kinds of things and scale it. We have some change to make….but overall the car is going to be quite similar to drive and it’s going to be a quality piece, which is what Crawford does. The testing schedule that we’re looking at, the car has already been started…we’re going to have the testing schedule start around mid-October.

“Hopefully Katherine (Legge) will drive it for me again, as she has the FL 15. We haven’t put out all the specs, but obviously the specs are given to us by the FIA for the F4, so we generally know what those are…will be more affordable for people that want to get on the ladder and you’ll see as we unveil it, there have been some special attributes that you can follow this through with as we’re talking about the ladder series. We’re very excited about that.”

BR: “Happy to be president of the Road Racing Drivers Club. If you don’t know what that is, it’s the organization that’s over 60 years old now and an organization that really included the greatest drivers in the world in the many decades since then, in 1952 was when it was first started. The famous symbol of the steering wheel is our symbol and during the 50s and 60s the RDC was dedicated to improving the safety of motorsports and actually providing driving schools for other drivers the SCCA in particular, which most every one was in those days.

“Obviously since that time, Skip Barber showed up…and things like that and they do a fantastic job and it really became incumbent upon the organization about 10 years ago to really figure out how we were going to be relevant to the sport of auto racing in the future. We concluded that the best way was if you looked at our membership list there were people that were professional racing kind of drivers or people that were very good amateur racers that were also very, very good in the civilian world so to speak, marketers and bankers and PR people, you name it. We felt that the way we could leave our imprint on the sport was do everything we could to help young people make the grade from karting into racing and to explain to them and provide video of what you needed to do to go find a sponsor, what you needed to do to prepare yourself mentally and physically in order to success in motorsports. Since that time we’ve gone online, which the number that access our site around the world is pretty staggering, from places even like Afghanistan and Iraq, place you might not think would be accessing our website and then they are.

“It’s been popular in large degree thanks to the support of the FIA, and Honda, which I suppose that’s why I’m here, is that connection. Of course now with this new car, it really fits into what we’re trying to do, which is once again, to help people make the grade from karting to the next stop of open-wheel racing or whatever it is they might want to do. This is exciting.”

KL: “I’m probably one of the lucky ones, since I got to drive the car. I’ll start from the beginning and hopefully I won’t rattle on too long. I first met Catherine (Crawford) in 2012 and she was one of my engineers at the 500 and I was blown away by her professionalism and attention to detail and that has definitely carried over into this car. When I drove it, first of all when I looked at it, I thought, ‘That’s a really good looking car…I wonder if drives as well as it looks.’

“Like I said, it’s phenomenal. It’s so much fun to drive. It does exactly what it says (on the ten?), I wish there had been a series like this when I was going up through. I started in Formula 4 1600 without the wings on, then I went into Formula 10 and did a couple of races in Formula 3 and worked my way through. If there had been a jump like this Formula 4 car from going out of karting into open-wheel, I think it would have made me a lot better, a lot quicker, if that makes sense.Everything we did to the car when we tested, it does what it’s supposed to do which is unusual. There haven’t been cars that were built to this standard in a very long time in my opinion and I’ve driven quite a lot of different cars. I think I have one of the most diverse careers of any racecar driver ever. Like I said, it was fun to drive, it is probably the best entry level series that i can think of from a driving standpoint, because it teaches them exactly what they need to know and it teaches them how to be smooth, which is going to be close racing an most important, as I can definitely attest to, it’s going to be affordable. Whether you guys know or not the hardest part about racing is actually putting the budget together to go racing. We don’t all have rich daddies unfortunately.

“I keep having a go at mine for not being (rich)!

“There’s so much you can do with it, which I was super impressed with. You can put bigger tires and a bigger engine in and it will still be an amazing step up the ladder.

“It’s an amazing engine package, they’ve done a quality draw as they always do.”

RC: “Next year, 2015, the five events, 15 races, there’s three races at every event in the series. Those will be geographically, mostly focused on the east side of the country if you draw a line through Road America and COTA, basically east of that.

“Starting in ’17 and ’18, in ’17 it’ll go up to seven events and 21 races and ’18 will go to eight events and 24 races moving towards the West. Ultimately, we have a vision of maybe in the old Atlantic days, we had an East and West championship, in order to keep it original and the cost of competition down, that might be a start directions, so that’s in consideration.

“Of course the affordability of the product we have not talked about that. This car, a running car, on wheels, ready to roll, is $51,600. That’s 40 percent less than a contemporary chassis. It’s unbelievable. It’s a contemporary carbon tub, built to FIA specifications for driver compartment and crash testing. Paddle shifts, sequential shifts, data acquisition, camera, contemporary Honda engine with direct fuel injection and efficiency on the best Formula 1 variety Pirelli tires. This is an outstanding product at an unbelievable price. We believe the price is the biggest hurdle for new drivers to get into full-sized cars. This will do it.

“That combined with a number of other attributes that FIA brings. The fact that drivers are eligible for FIA super licenses is another key component. In 2017, there will be an international F4 championship. There will a F4 world champion that will bring the leading drivers of each nation together to compete in a final.

“No other platform can offer these….

“We are working with established alliances with WKA, the World Karting Association and SKUSA …work relationships we’ve already reached that agreement with WKA and we’re in that continuing discussion with SKUSA to provide an alliance which will driver karters, graduating karters into our program and at the same time, motivate drivers to pursue karting that will allow them to accumulate the skills that will allow them to prevail in Formula 4.

“Part of what is required as part of the F4 campaign is a comprehensive marketing and promotional campaign to give drivers recognition to make these things visible and give them awareness. That requires money and support.

“It’s the cooperation of partners like Honda, Crawford and Pirelli that make that possible. We’re looking for a title sponsor, if there are any out here, we’re ready and willing and a very affordable and very attractive program with broad exposure on every car…

“We’re working with schools to provide drier development, not just in the sense of on-track driver development but in the sense of what Bobby and Katherine talked about in developing the entire package. Physical training, mental training, race strategy, the way to present yourself, to sell yourself to sponsors and all that ,That is a package. Part of the F4 package.

“Track time. As I mentioned, three races at each race event. Three hours of on-track time. Three races with two practice sessions. It’s all about getting young drivers the experience they need. The best way to do that on on-track.

“Award and incentives. We’ll be announcing in the coming weeks…an awards and incentive program that will rival all ladder system series programs currently. It will be lucrative every race on the weekend. All podium finishers will receive cash rewards. There will be a champions of the week that will receive a cash reward. And at the end of the season, the champions will receive a lucrative payout for them, which will increase each year as we grow the series….”

With fierce racing, IndyCar found redemption and rebirth on the streets of downtown Detroit


DETROIT – A lap in the IndyCar Grand Prix had yet to be turned on the streets of Detroit, and race drivers were doing what they sometimes do best – expecting the worst of a new race course.

It was the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, and some of the top drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series, including pole winner Alex Palou, were questioning the nine-turn, 1.645-mile street course in downtown Detroit. Even after he won the pole on Saturday, Palou had said the Indy cars were too big, the race course was too small, too tight and too bumpy for the series to put on a competitive race.

It was Sunday morning, five hours before the race, and the IndyCar morning warmup session just had ended. Penske Corp. president Bud Denker, the Detroit GP chairman, was talking to NBC Sports as the Indy cars were being wheeled back to the paddock following the warmup session.

Instead of his trademark smile and optimism, Denker was determined and stern. As Palou’s No. 10 Honda was being pulled by the team’s tire wagon into the paddock, Denker expressed his feelings.

“I’m really not happy with some of the comments that driver has been making,” Denker said.

Denker’s team had spent the better part of two years envisioning and developing a street course that could create a major racing event without shutting down the Detroit business community.

Jefferson Avenue, the main thoroughfare in the city’s business district, remained open thanks to some creative track design (because the race course crossed Jefferson over a bridge and also couldn’t impede the adjacent tunnel that was an international crossing to Windsor, Canada).

From an event standpoint, the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix was already electric with a vibe that brought tens of thousands daily to this revitalized urban center known as “Motor City.”

But would the actual race prove to be worthy?

Fast forward to Sunday late afternoon and – wouldn’t you know it – the winner of the race was its most vocal critic leading up to the green flag.

Alex Palou.

It was a chance for Denker and Palou to speak.

“Alex and I actually had a conversation after the race on the way to pit lane,” Denker told NBC Sports. “I congratulated him because he was a worthy champion, did a great job, great win, great run, pole qualifying also.

“His comment to me was, ‘This track proved very worthy.’

“I’ll take that from him.”

The race itself exceeded expectations. It may have been the best street race of the season on the NTT IndyCar Series schedule.

The racing was fierce, the competition phenomenal, and the restarts brought even the most jaded motorsports observers to their feet.

“Oh yeah, myself included,” Palou admitted to NBC Sports. “The event was amazing. The crowd we had was unbelievable. The energy was great. It was a really great race.”

Palou’s complaints entering the race were from his frustrations in finding a clean lap during qualification sims in practice and the actual qualifications on Saturday.

With 27 cars on a 1.645-mile street circuit, just do the math – it’s hard to get a gap.

But the race course proved to be a much better “race” track than a qualifying layout.

“Yes, 100 percent,” Palou said. “I like to go fast. I like to race. When you have traffic every single lap, you don’t like it that much, but for the race, it was great. It was a great event for the fans, for the teams and for the drivers.

“The energy we had here was amazing.”

The drivers’ worst fears never developed in the race. There were no blocked corners. No red flags. Plenty of passing zones.

Denker and his team could feel vindication and a strong sense of redemption.

“It is ironic,” Denker said of Palou winning the race. “I think a lot of the comments early on was because of the first practice. There was no rubber on the track. A new track for them. A lot of cars going into the runoff and stalling their cars in the runoff, not turning the cars around fast enough. I think a lot of perceptions were created in that first practice.

“Some of our turns look tight. Turn 1 for instance, the apex is 27 feet, much larger than some other tracks where it is tight. The issue going into the race was, are you going to have two cars block the entire track and then you have to go Red Flag.

“We never had that situation today where you had a car block the track, even in the tightest turns. We never had an issue where cars could not get around you.

“The corners were wide enough to support the fact that when you had an issue, cars could get around and continue moving around without having a red flag.”

It also proved that in an actual competition, the teams and drivers in IndyCar can figure out how to adapt and put on a good race.

“We saw them figure it out in the Indy NXT race on Saturday,” Denker said. “It was a great race. We saw so many IndyCar drivers go off into the runoff on Friday that there were concerns. Many of them were stalling their cars and couldn’t get them spun around.

“That led to, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to have caution after caution after caution because we aren’t going to be able to get our cars stopped to make a turn, or slowed down to make a turn, and the runoff will happen continuously.’ “Guess what? We had seven cautions for 32 laps and very few of those were for a stalled car in the runoff. It was for a mistake on the race track made by a driver.

“We proved the thoughts that came out on Friday, we proved them very, very wrong in the race on Sunday.”

As the president of the Penske Corp., Denker is a man who understands business and decorum. He is one of Roger Penske’s most valued executives, practically his right-hand man.

The impeccably dressed Denker is never rattled, and he backs up his style with substance.

IndyCar racing, however, is a highly competitive game and in the heat of battle, the energy level tends to increase.

That is why Denker was more emphatic than usual once the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix had concluded.

“Eighteen months ago, it was an idea that Michael Montri had after the success of the Nashville Grand Prix and what it did for that city,” Denker said. “The businesses coming together, the community coming together and the city just glowing.

“We came back in August of 2021 and asked if that could ever happen in downtown Detroit and off Belle Isle. We found a great circuit that was worthy of that, that wouldn’t compromise business or the international tunnel in the middle of our race track. That was a dream at the time.

“It’s a cliché, but dreams really came true this weekend. We saw the success of great racing, competitive racing, safe racing and very importantly, fans that we haven’t seen came out in a very diverse way and enjoy this sport.”

It was certainly a major weekend for Detroit as the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix was the lead story on seemingly every TV newscast in the city. The business community of the city flourished – something that didn’t happen when the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix was held 4 miles up Jefferson at Belle Isle Park from 1992-2022.

“One hundred percent,” Denker agreed. “The fact of the matter is most of the people that come to our race are within a four-county area. Just like Indianapolis, one state for them.

“I think the fact is Belle Isle you came down, you parked in the same parking deck where the sponsors parked that had been there for 13 years, get in a bus, come back, get in their car, they go home.

“Here you had to park somewhere. You had to come downtown. Took the People Mover, the Q Line, all these different places and you came downtown. That was the difference for us.

“Belle Isle in my mind, it’s 50 miles away from Detroit in some respects because we didn’t see the benefit the city would get. We saw the benefit this time because of how busy it was. You saw it. You were staying here at a hotel somewhere and saw it.

“We know we made a big impact on the city. Why? Because the hotels were all filled up. They weren’t filled up when Belle Isle was there.”

Already on its way to have a dramatic economic impact to Detroit, on Sunday, the competitive level of IndyCar was on full display.

“The facts are there were 189 on-track passes at Detroit, 142 of them were for position,” Denker said proudly. “At St. Pete, great race this year, 170 on-track passes versus Detroit’s 189 and 128 for position versus Detroit’s 142.

“Long Beach, great race this year, had the same for position passes as Detroit had. I think we had a pretty good race.”

Although Palou won the race, it was Team Penske’s Will Power that put on the show. He was a master on the restarts, going full throttle into the end of the long straightaway, pulling out from behind Palou and taking the lead by diving to the inside in the turn.

That move worked throughout the race until the final restart, when Palou was able to protect the inside line and make Power go to the outside.

The Team Penske driver (whose race weekend highlight was hanging out with Flavor Flav) was unable to use the high line and then proceeded to get into a street fight with Scott Dixon and others for second place in the closing laps.

“The restarts were great because we have this long straightaway,” Denker said. “We started the restart between coming out of Turn 1. Those that got a good jump, like Will Power did on Alex Palou on the second-to-last restart, could make a good pass. Those that had push-to-passes left later on could make a good pass.

“The fact we had this seven-eighths of a mile straightaway where the restarts were coming into was a great place to start the race versus an area not as long. We had the benefit of having a straightway as long as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and speeds that were just unbelievable going down through this track.

“I thought the restarts were great because of the positions Kyle Novak (IndyCar Race Director) and his team made for that.

“The other thing was the dual pit lane. This was really interesting because it hasn’t been done before to have 13 cars pitted on one side and 14 cars pitting on the other side and have six lanes merging to one in 315 feet. How is that going to happen?

“This time, because of the yellows, we never had a situation with 27 cars coming in at the same time. It was sporadic. That issue we thought would happen to create a calamity on pit lane never happened.”

Two of the Arrow McLaren drivers got into their own shoving match on the track with Felix Rosenqvist getting the best of Alexander Rossi for third place.

But none of the Chevrolet drivers were able to catch Palou at the end as the No. 10 Honda took the checkered flag.

“When you have Chevrolet as the backdrop, and them being the key partner and sponsor of this thing, you want to keep them happy,” Denker said. “They also know competition drives this sport. We saw some great action. Will Power made a great move late, some great action there. The competition between the Arrow McLaren cars were unbelievable the last 10 laps. Will Power made a great pass of Alexander Rossi to get position to take over second place. I loved the competition.

“We saw some passes late between Turns 8 and 9 and Turns 1 and 2 that I don’t think anybody thought would happen. This turned into a very, very competitive race track.

“Once this track rubbered up, the drivers said this track was very worthy.

“It’s a new place. They have to learn new things. There are some bumps in certain corners. Guess what? We’ll fix those things.

“No one got to test here because we couldn’t close the roads down a week ahead of time or a month ahead of time or two days ahead of time. I got some feedback from drivers who did simulation. I ground some track areas they wanted fixed. I put new pavement in Turn 3 to drivers right because of feedback.

“I got no feedback to repaving drivers left. If I had, I would have repaved that, also. It shows that I will make those changes because I made those changes to driver right, but I never got that feedback.

“It goes both ways. Provide me the feedback, I’ll make those changes. But now that we’ve had the race, we have a lot more opportunity to make changes based off of what actually happened.”

There were accolades and plaudits from some of IndyCar’s most accomplished drivers afterwards, including six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner Scott Dixon.

“It was wild,” Dixon said. “I had a lot of fun. The car was super difficult. The track was difficult. It had a lot of character. It was interesting but very difficult on the restarts.

“These things aren’t meant to be easy. I had a lot of fun, just frustrated with how my day went and not getting the most out of a really good car.”

From both an event and race standpoint, team owner Dale Coyne believed it was a blockbuster.

“This is a really big event,” Coyne said. “We’ve brought Long Beach to a major city like Detroit. This is the type of event that we should be doing in IndyCar.

“I would rather be in Detroit than in Milwaukee. Events like this one in Detroit are IndyCar’s future. Milwaukee is IndyCar’s past.”

While that comment may not resonate with some of IndyCar’s older fan base who long for the days of The Milwaukee Mile as the first race after the Indianapolis 500, that distinction has belonged to Detroit since it returned to the IndyCar schedule in 2012.

Now that it’s back on the streets of downtown Detroit for the first time since 1991, Denker predicts even bigger events to come for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

“Our city was showcased to the world in ways that people had probably never thought,” Denker said proudly. “The riverfront, you couldn’t tell if you were in San Diego, or even Monaco, these boats that were out there harbored. We couldn’t be more proud of our team.

“We are already planning for next year.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500