Alexander Rossi sent Mercedes’ Toto Wolff an amusing message on Lewis Hamilton opening

Alexander Rossi Mercedes Hamilton
Chris Owens/IndyCar
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Though he left behind his dream of a Formula One career a while ago (and happily found a home in IndyCar), one ride still piques the curiosity of Alexander Rossi – enough to playfully inquire about the interim opening at Mercedes to replace Lewis Hamilton last weekend.

During the Dec. 3 episode of his “Off Track” podcast with co-host James Hinchcliffe, Rossi revealed he jokingly had suggested his plausible candidacy to Mercedes AMG team principal and CEO Toto Wolff.

“To be honest, I did text Toto,” Rossi said with a chuckle. “Because it would be dumb not to. Did I get a response? No.” (UPDATE: In the Dec. 10 episode of “Off Track”, Rossi said he did receive a text reply (including a “winking face” emoji) on a new number from Wolff, who apparently had been told about this story.)

Explaining that he had texted “a hand-raised emoji,” Rossi said his credentials (aside from five F1 starts in 2015 and seven IndyCar victories, including the 2016 Indianapolis 500) were obvious for the Sakhir Grand Prix, which was won by Sergio Perez at the Bahrain International Circuit.

“I’ve raced at Bahrain like nine times,” Rossi said.

Hinchcliffe noted none of those starts likely came on the shorter, outer course used in Sunday’s race.

“That is irrelevant, James,” Rossi deadpanned. “I’ve been to Bahrain like 11 times if you count ‘The Amazing Race.’ ”

After working his way through European ladder series, Rossi had a star-crossed experience as the most recent American to race in F1 before joining the NTT IndyCar Series full time in 2016. He since has become a perennial Indy 500 and series title contender who has said he is committed to being an IndyCar lifer.

For the record, the Andretti Autosport driver highly approved of Mercedes’ choice for Hamilton’s seat, which Rossi called “the greatest opportunity in all of motorsports, probably ever.”

“I think there is only one person who should get that chance: George Russell,” Rossi said.

Racing for the ailing Hamilton (after the seven-time champion tested positive for COVID-19), Russell led 59 of 87 laps after starting second at Bahrain.

His shot at a breakthrough F1 victory was foiled only by a botched pit stop by Mercedes and a late tire puncture while chasing down Perez. Wolff said Russell will race the car again in the season finale Sunday at Abu Dhabi if Hamilton is unable to return this weekend.

It was the capper to an eventful week in F1. Hinchcliffe and Rossi spent much of the podcast waxing insightfully about Romain Grosjean’s miraculous escape from the fireball crash on the opening lap of the Bahrain GP a week earlier.

“As much as everybody that contributed over the last 30 to 40 years to safety in Formula One — and the creation of carbon tubs, the HANS device, the halo and fireproof everything, all those people obviously deserve a tremendous amount of credit for their combined efforts — but 50% of the appreciation or credit for Romain Grosjean’s life being spared goes to Romain Grosjean,” said Hinchcliffe, who survived his own brush with death in an Indy 500 practice crash five years ago. “For how that guy in that fight or flight moment had the wherewithal while completely engulfed in flames to take off his headrest, remove the steering wheel, unbuckle his seat belts, unplug his radio and get out of the side of the halo.

“He had to climb out a part of the car he’s never had to climb out before (while) wearing a HANS device, wearing a helmet. While on fire. I can not even fathom how difficult that would have been. Obviously, he was highly motivated but still. The fact he had the wherewithal to do it and did it as quickly as he did. And after just having suffered a massive impact as well. He just had a massive 50G hit and then had to do all that instantaneously.”

Said Rossi: “At the end of the day, it’s amazing, and we’re all very blessed that Romain is OK, and he’s fine. He’s going to get back in a race car at some point in time. And hell, he might even come IndyCar racing, that would be cool.

“It obviously shows as much as people can take F1 guys who are no longer racing F1 coming to IndyCar as a slap in the face, that’s completely the wrong way to look at it. Formula One is the pinnacle of motorsports. It always has been, it always will be. But there are guys who still love what IndyCar has to offer. They’re not coming here for the money. They’re not coming here to go to glorious locations all the time. They’re coming here because at the age of 6, 10, 12, 15, they fell in love with competing. They fell in love with racing, and they know IndyCar offers that.”

The “Off Track” episode, which also features a thick riff on Rossi’s savant-like knowledge on the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols and roster rules, can be heard by clicking on the embed below or downloading the episode wherever you get podcasts.

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance
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LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).