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Formula E still the priority for Nelson Piquet Jr.

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SPA – Defending FIA Formula E champion Nelson Piquet Jr. says that the series is still his priority despite recently dovetailing his commitments with a drive in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Piquet won the inaugural Formula E title at the London finale last June, but has been unable to defend his crown thanks to issues with the powertrain supplied by his NextEV TCR team.

The Brazilian confirmed ahead of the WEC season opener at Silverstone that he would be joining Rebellion Racing in the LMP1 Privateer class, racing alongside Formula E colleagues Nicolas Prost and Nick Heidfeld.

Despite his struggles in Formula E, Piquet remains adamant that the series is his priority, with his WEC commitments simply being a good complement to it.

“It’s very easy going over here, you’re sharing a car with these other drivers. There’s no really big competition,” Piquet told NBC Sports.

“To be honest it’s much more of a relaxed weekend than anything else. You try to work together, try to get the car good. There’s a lot of teamwork. So it’s not stressful.

“Obviously you want to win out of the three cars, but it’s different to Formula E. You need to do well to keep your job. Over here, I’m doing this as a fill-in to help them out. They called me last minute, it’s not something I was aiming for.

“Formula E is my priority. I have a long-term contract over there, so that’s where you get really stressed and get pissed off when the car’s not good.”

Piquet is hopeful that NextEV will be able to resolve the issues with its powertrain for season three, which is due to be tested on-track for the first time before the Berlin ePrix in two weeks.

“Hopefully it’ll be better, I don’t think it can get any worse,” Piquet said.

“The team is working really hard to get their act together for next year. I’m positive that they’ll do a good job.

“Maybe because we fell back so much, I need to be a bit realistic too. Maybe from one year to another you’re not going to go from last to first, but at least you can have a competitive car to be running top five.

“It’s a different thing than getting to the grid every weekend and knowing you’re going to be running from 18th to 15th.”

Even in light of NextEV’s struggles, Piquet is set to remain with the team for next season, saying there is no consideration of moving away.

“No. I have a long-term contract with them, so at the moment, I’ll be with them,” Piquet said.

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).