AP Photo/R Brent Smith
AP Photo by R. Brent Smith

Team owner Andretti confident he will re-sign Alexander Rossi

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ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. – Team owner Michael Andretti told NBC Sports.com he is “realistically confident” he will re-sign NTT IndyCar Series star Alexander Rossi by August.

Andretti indicated it all depends on renewing NAPA as the team’s sponsor for the No. 27 Honda.

“We are working hard,” Andretti told NBC Sports.com Friday afternoon at Road America, site of Sunday’s REV Group Grand Prix. “He wants to be here. We want him here. We just have to put the package to together. We are working day and night to make it happen.

“NAPA has told me they are happy with the team and with Alex and believe we have been a great value for them with sponsorship. But whenever we ask them if they are ready to renew, they are still talking about it.”

Watch Road America race at noon, et on NBC

Because Rossi’s contract expires at the end of this season, he is the biggest star available for other teams to acquire. A heavy contender for Rossi is believed to be Team Penske, but Andretti believes the entire IndyCar paddock has interest in Rossi for 2020.

Other top teams that have shown interest in Rossi include Chip Ganassi Racing and Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, both Honda teams. Team Penske is a Chevrolet team.

“Technically, he can talk about the contract with anybody, but I’m sure Roger has contacted him and probably everybody in the paddock has given him a call,” Andretti said. “When you are a good talent, people are going to be after you.

“The good news is we all want to stay together, so we have to find a way to make that happen.”

Andretti is more confident he can re-sign Rossi than he was in 2017, the last time Rossi’s contract was up for renewal. At that time, Andretti was considering switching to Chevrolet, but Rossi was so determined to stay with Honda, he had a preliminary arrangement to join what is now Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Once Andretti decided to stay with Honda, Rossi quickly re-signed with Andretti Autosport.

“All sides are working very hard to make it happen,” Andretti said. “If everybody is on the same page, one way or another, we’ll figure it out.”

Rossi was asked if he is already getting tired of media reports about where he will race next season.

“Yes,” Rossi told NBC Sports.com. “I just focus on what we are doing. The way the schedule works, you don’t have time for down days. It’s spent shutting down one event and moving on to the next event. As a whole team, we are focused on our job. We said at the beginning of the year, we have to win this championship.

“That mental focus and ambition hasn’t changed.”

INDYCAR PHOTO BY JOE SKIBINSKIRossi looks at where this team started and how it has grown together and believes it’s a special part of his career. When Rossi came to Andretti Autosport as a rookie in 2016, he had some acclaim as the lone American driver in Formula One, but at Manor Racing, he never had a chance to show his true ability.

The team and Rossi have developed together.

“It’s been very cool for me to be part of the team’s resurgence,” Rossi said. “They were the team to beat for a really long time. They have always been strong at Indy, but when the aero kits came in 2015, the team had lost competitiveness. When I joined in 2016, there were events where in our view, we were one of the worst teams on the grid.

“To see the improvement every single year and come back to a championship level team has been really cool to witness. I love being part of this organization with Michael Andretti and JF Thormann and Rob Edwards, it’s pretty cool to see what they have done to make sure Andretti Autosport is back at the front of the series.”

Another key factor is Rossi has been extremely loyal to Honda, and Honda has been extremely loyal to Rossi and Andretti Autosport.

“The only relationships I know in this series are Andretti Autosport and Honda,” Rossi said. “Honda has been a great partner of ours. I see where they were in 2016 and what they did last year winning the manufacturers championship for the first time since 2011 and a driver’s championship.

“We are focused on giving that to them again this year.”

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).