Photo by Bruce Martin
Photo by Bruce Martin

COTA announces $100,000 ‘Win from the Pole’ IndyCar Bonus

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AUSTIN, Texas – If an NTT IndyCar Series driver wins Sunday’s IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas from the pole, he will collect an additional $100,000. That bonus was announced Thursday as teams set up for this weekend’s inaugural IndyCar Series race at COTA, the home of the Formula One United States Grand Prix.

“That will buy a nice bottle of wine,” Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver James Hinchcliffe quipped.

It actually might buy a very nice wine cellar.

The bonus was announced by Rick Abbott, Executive Vice President of COTA.

“We wanted to make this race very special to distinguish ourselves from everybody else,” Abbott said. “It’s always bigger in Texas, and we wanted to do something different and very cool to make qualifying more exciting. If you win the pole on Saturday and win the race, a driver will win an extra $100,000.

“That’s a ‘Welcome to Austin’ with a little extra incentive for you guys.

“Circuit of the Americas is one of the most challenging tracks in the world, and we have the best drivers in the world. This race will be incredibly difficult to win, and it will be exciting to see these drivers navigate this course.”

A collection of some of the NTT IndyCar Series top drivers were at the announcement.

“That’s very generous,” Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi said. “Obviously, we have a huge incentive to do that as it is. This makes it very exciting and I’m sure some guys will commit to it very heavily to make it happen.

“This has been a long-time coming for IndyCar to race at Circuits of the Americas and to be in Austin, one of my favorite cities in the United States.”

Qualifying is set for 3 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday, March 23 with the race scheduled for 1 p.m. ET Sunday. Leigh Diffey is the lead announcer for NBCSN alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. Pit reporters are Marty Snider, Kelli Stavast, Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis and Robin Miller.

The extra money available for the pole winner is an extra incentive that can help set this race apart from the other events on the schedule. In the past, large bonuses were paid to the pole winner of the Indianapolis 500.

“It’s a pretty long lap in an IndyCar, but hopefully, there will be lots of room to pass,” said former Formula One driver Max Chilton. “It’s also great that an English band, Muse, will be playing on Saturday night.”

When asked if he would be attending the concert, Chilton quipped, “That all depends on how well we do on Saturday.”

One of Rossi’s teammates, Marco Andretti, believes the 20-turn, 3.41-mile race course already is one of the most challenging tracks on the schedule. It’s also the only track that hosts both IndyCar and Formula One on the same layout.

“It’s not necessarily a Marco Andretti track because it rewards smoothness, so I’m going to have to work on my style,” Andretti said. “There are a lot of different ways to drive this track fast and a lot of places where you can screw it up as well.”

Winning from the pole happened in six of the 17 IndyCar Series races in 2018. Rossi won from the pole at Long Beach and Mid-Ohio, Newgarden won from the pole at Barber Motorsports Park and Road America, Power won from the pole in the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Ryan Hunter-Reay won from the No. 1 starting position at Sonoma.

In the seven F1 races at COTA, Lewis Hamilton has won from the pole three times.

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).