Rossi: Looking back on a US GP that was everything I wanted it to be

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It’s hard to know where to start when looking back at the last week and everything that has happened in New York, Austin and LA since my last blog for NBC Sports. The simplest thing to do is take you through the last week chronologically, and hopefully this will illustrate a picture describing why the last seven days have been so mega, and a culmination of 15 years of hard work.

First up was New York for a couple of days of media interviews. We arrived on Sunday night and started early Monday with an appearance on the Fox Business Network. Then it was a trip uptown to Bloomberg and then to the NBC Sports studios in Stamford, Connecticut, while in between conducting a series of phone interviews with national and international media.

Tuesday I appeared on the new Sports Illustrated TV show on NBC, so watch out for my appearance on that. It was a real pleasure to meet them and see how they’re embracing F1 at the magazine and the show and to see their excitement about my F1 role and being the only American in the sport.

New York was non-stop and then it was straight down to Austin, where we arrived Tuesday night.  Wednesday was another early start with a full day of media around Austin, including some filming with the guys at The Chive.

If you don’t know The Chive, it’s a hugely popular website based in Austin and one that hasn’t really done much with F1 before. This year that changed and we hung out for a couple of hours – I helped them teach visitors to their site how to drive a stick shift as part of a new segment that they’re running on the site. It was a blast and we had the chance to mess about with a car they’d been lent for the filming. It was a really good way of not thinking about F1 for a couple of hours and I’m sure you’ll like the end result when it’s up on their site.

Thursday, it all started coming together as we began the serious work on track. COTA had done a great job preparing for the race weekend, especially with the terrible weather conditions that were predicted, and it was awesome to see how excited everyone at the track was about the weekend ahead. This is the fourth year of the US Grand Prix at COTA and I’ve been to every one, driving in FP1 in 2012 and 2013, but this year was different. I was really touched with the warm welcome from everyone: fans, locals, media, airport and hotel workers, everyone! The list is too long to name them all but everyone was amazing, it really has been a truly special time.

Thursday was my first FIA press conference, an event that’s broadcast around the world with five other F1 drivers taking part. This was a fantastic experience and obviously an important opportunity for me to be selected on the driver panel. I look forward to the next one and fielding more questions from the world’s media.

The rest of Thursday on track was actually pretty normal. We did the track walk with the engineers, had a bunch of interviews with the F1 media pack, and then headed back into town to take part in COTA’s Fan Forum that they’d organized at their FanFest venue. The rain that had been falling, and with even more predicted for the whole weekend, hadn’t put off any fans. The place was packed and again I was humbled by the reception I received. It meant even more to me to hear that it wasn’t only the US fans who were pleased about the event, but also for those who had flown in from all around the world.

The Fan Forum events are always great. It’s a casual atmosphere and the questions are often more direct than you might get from traditional media outlets. One of the first questions asked was about 2016 and me being in F1 for full season.

This was a standard question over the whole weekend and I’m very pleased to give the same answer; things are moving along perfectly and while nothing is confirmed yet, I’m very confident I’ll be racing in F1 next year. I have a fantastic team of people that allow me to focus on my job behind the wheel and off track and who are helping put 2016 in place.

Friday… well, let’s just say it was wet, very wet! We put 11 laps on the board in FP1 but FP2 was cancelled due to the horrible weather conditions. We knew it was going to rain but in the end Austin had some of the heaviest downpours of the year in a very short space of time, continuing on Saturday when FP3 ran as scheduled, but qualifying was pushed back to Sunday.

That sort of chaos could be very distracting for everyone involved, including drivers. We prepare physically and mentally for the job you have to do in the car, and then it all changes. It’s not great for anyone, the teams, the officials and particularly the fans. It all came good on Sunday and it’s fair to say everybody was rewarded with one of the greatest races in recent memory.

With quali being pushed to Sunday morning we had a much earlier start than originally scheduled. I love driving in the wet so I was really looking forward to the session and it came good for me, out-qualifying my teammate and without any moments on track in the very tricky conditions.

With the various penalties for other drivers kicking into play, my grid position was 17th. The build-up to lights out, as you can imagine was very surreal. Hearing the Star Spangled Banner playing on the grid was a perfect start to my first home Grand Prix. It was a huge honor, privilege and responsibility to be on track representing the USA in F1.

With the wet surface the race started on we were all on intermediate tires. My start was OK but I was involved in turn one contact and had a broken front wing. I made it back to the pits for a new nose and nursing a punctured tire. This was not the start I’d planned but had nowhere to go when the impact happened. As drivers we have to adapt to what happens in these situations and I was focused on getting back to the pits to resolve the problems. Fortunately the in-lap was under caution so I did not lose much time.

From there I seriously enjoyed myself. The car felt great, and yes we’re down on power and aero compared to the cars ahead, but there is still an immense amount of torque to control and manage. With the package Manor has in place for 2016, I’m sure they’ll be making huge progress as the team does an incredible job with the budget and facilities they have access to.

I obviously couldn’t see what was unfolding at the front of the pack. I was making very sure I wasn’t in the way of anything that could affect the front runners, but after the start my race went pretty much exactly to plan.

I had a good little battle with Felipe Nasr for a few laps as the track was drying out. I overtook him under braking at one point before his better power performance pushed him back ahead. As the track dried out I had my first taste of COTA on dry tires with a 2015 spec car. I’d driven COTA in the dry in a modern F1 car with Caterham in 2012 and 2013, where both times I was limited by their FP1 runplans and on the harder prime tires. So finally I had the chance to really push on the option tires and with the fuel levels dropping, that was pretty special!

As the race unfolded I saw the attrition rate was helping push us up the field. I was just focused on my race, but at one point I did see I was in tenth and had a moment of “what if”, but I knew that we would need more cars to stop ahead to be into a point. At the end I was absolutely delighted with 12th and my plan is to build on that for Mexico.

This was my third F1 race and 12th equalled Manor’s best result of the year. The conditions had a big effect on the race and a few guys succumbed to what was going on around them, so to bring my car back and have a strong result at my home Grand Prix was a fantastic feeling.  This was a great reward for the fans who stuck it out in these conditions and for everyone who’s working so hard for my career.

After the race I caught up with the media and debriefed with the engineers, thanked everyone in the team for working so hard and then was straight on a plane to LA for some more engagements before heading to Mexico.

I’m in LA for two days and then flying down to Mexico City for the next F1 race, and I know what it’ll mean to Sergio Perez to be racing at home in F1 for the first time. After the reception I received last week and this week in California, I can tell him it’s a very special responsibility.

Looking back, my first US Formula One Grand Prix was everything I wanted it to be. I want to thank everyone who helped make it possible. Now though, Mexico is upon us and there is a lot to do! After that, it’s Brazil and then Bahrain and Abu Dhabi to cement my second place in the GP2 Championship.

After that it’s all back to F1 and finalizing the plan for 2016.

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).