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Massa: “There is always a big expectation to perform in front of your home crowd”

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After Alexander Rossi (United States) and Sergio Perez (Mexico) have been the home darlings the last two Grands Prix in the Americas, its the dual Felipe’s turn this week in Brazil.

Sauber’s Felipe Nasr will make his maiden start at Interlagos this week, but the unquestioned crowd favorite will be Williams’ Felipe Massa, who will make his 12th start at the Autodromo Carlos Pace.

The track and Massa will always be linked in one of F1’s truly iconic moments, when he won the 2008 race and came mere seconds from securing the World Championship. Of course Lewis Hamilton’s pass of Timo Glock for fifth put that dream to rest, but Massa’s incredible sportsmanship and heroism in defeat earned him praise that exists to this day.

That race marked his most recent win in the sport and while he’s still a longshot to capture another Grand Prix win, which would be the 12th of his career, he’s still keen to impress on home soil.

“Your home Grand Prix is always the most important race for a driver,” Massa said in Williams’ pre-race advance.

“For me to race at home where I started my career – first on the other side of the wall at the kart track, then onto the race track – there is always a big expectation to perform in front of your home crowd.

“I love the track, it’s one of the best tracks for me and I’ve always had good results there. I’m really looking forward to hopefully achieving another amazing result this year.”

Massa’s podium last year was his fifth at the track. He had an incredible three-year run from 2006 to 2008 in his home race, and also finished third in 2012.

“Last year we managed to finish on the podium. It was a race with so many things happening – I had a five-second penalty and even stopped in the wrong garage – but we still managed to have an amazing race so it’s important to look back on what we did last year to try to repeat it and have a very strong weekend once again,” he said.

“The passion from the fans is amazing. The emotion they have and how close they are to me as a driver, it’s really an amazing feeling to race at home. The experience is difficult to explain.”

Massa said over the weekend if he can’t find a competitive home beyond 2016, when his contract with Williams expires, he’ll end his F1 career.

Massa’s record at Brazil

  • 2002: Sauber-Petronas, Started 12th, Finished 16th, DNF (collision)
  • 2004: Sauber-Petronas, Started 4th, Finished 8th
  • 2005: Sauber-Petronas, Started 8th, Finished 11th
  • 2006: Ferrari, Pole, Won
  • 2007: Ferrari, Pole, Finished 2nd
  • 2008: Ferrari, Pole, Won
  • 2010: Ferrari, Started 9th, Finished 15th
  • 2011: Ferrari, Started 7th, Finished 5th
  • 2012: Ferrari, Started 5th, Finished 3rd
  • 2013: Ferrari, Started 9th, Finished 7th
  • 2014: Williams-Mercedes, Started 3rd, Finished 3rd

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).