Haas’ F1 interest piqued by Anderson’s USF1 project

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Some six years after USF1’s false start, as it never even made it to the 2010 Formula 1 season opener, Haas F1 Team remains on target, on schedule and with full focus on preparing not just for Melbourne, but the season’s first test in Barcelona.

The origins of Gene Haas’ squad, however, date back to the USF1 era, when Haas was a supplier of some USF1 machinery and had talks with his former Haas CNC Racing technical director, Ken Anderson.

The tale of Haas F1 Team, then, in a sense almost comes full circle to the USF1 project, as Haas told assembled reporters today during this week’s NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte.

“Everything in F1 is a long process. Guenther (Steiner), actually, approached Joe (Custer) and myself at dinner one night,” Haas said. “We’d been involved with Ken Anderson in his project. He said, ‘Hey, are you guys interested in some F1?’ He preached customer cars, which were on the table at the time.

“We spent time dillying and dallying when the customer car concept was around. Like we could think, ‘We’d just get a car from Ferrari, I know the guys over there.’ Then it came to B, ‘We can do this and be cost effective.’ But like everything else, you put these things out on the table, and hardly anything actually gets approved. So customer cars never happened, and a couple years wasted there.

“Then Guenther said, ‘What do you want to do?’ We talked to Bernie a bit, and he was a bit standoffish. It was like, ‘If you want to be serious … you’re welcome to take a shot.’ But I don’t think he took us serious. He was kind of, well, ‘I have people ask all the time. But of 100 people, hardly anyone makes it.’

“After three years, if you’re serious, we put forth a tender. And it went from there.”

Haas expanded on the Anderson/USF1 partnership later in the media session, noting that Anderson and USF1’s progress – regardless of them not actually making the grid – still piqued his interest.

“I found it rather intriguing. It was a whole different racing venue. I thought it was interesting,” Haas said.

“If anything, Ken Anderson left a taste in my mouth for Formula 1. I liked the Formula 1 format. Formula 1 has a lot of history, great racetracks. And so being able to participate in that is very gratifying.

“We supplied USF1’s CNC machines, and they had a handful of machines. I went to that shop maybe twice. He showed me how they were doing things. It was different.”

Much of Haas F1 Team’s program is different – the several location-effort between the U.S., England and Italy and the combination of two veteran manufacturers (Dallara and Ferrari) to produce the chassis and power unit.

But again, and we’ve written this before, Gene Haas didn’t get to where he is in business and racing by being status quo.

And being different is one of several reasons why Haas F1 Team is so damn intriguing heading into this F1 season.

The key is that it’s different enough from USF1, where the idea entered Haas’ mind.

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.