Pieter Rossi, the guiding force behind his son, Alexander, becoming a Formula One driver, Indy 500 winner and perennial IndyCar championship contender, is asked the question all the time.
How much money needs to be raised to follow the same path of taking a budding star driver from the grassroots to the top levels of U.S. single-seater racing? To reach the NTT IndyCar Series through the Road To Indy (which includes the U.S. F2000, Indy Pro 2000 and Indy Lights ladder series that offer championship scholarships)?
“I want to preface, in defense of IndyCar and the Road to Indy, that it’s the most efficient cost-wise it’s ever been,” Pieter Rossi told NBC Sports, noting it was “much more” (including inflation) to reach the top 25 years ago. “You can do it for anywhere from $2-2.5 million to get from go-karts to IndyCar if you’re a winning driver making efficient use of the scholarship ladder.
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“We typically tell families that it’s anywhere from $2-5 million, but you want to focus on the lower end, because that means you’re proving yourself along the way and not staying in USF2000 or IndyPro for three years. It’s important to be efficient with the dollars.”
Few have been as efficient and well versed as Alexander and Pieter Rossi with the seven-figure capital outlay required for making it to Formula One and IndyCar, and that’s the major reason why they were announced Wednesday as investors in the Evolution Development Group (EVO), a unique new crowdfunding startup aimed at helping drivers reach the highest ranks of racing.
The Rossis essentially built their own business model to realize Alex’s Formula One dreams by establishing a support structure of investors to help foot the bill for the Nevada City, California, native’s rise in European racing. After a brief F1 career, Rossi returned to the United States, won the 2016 Indy 500 and became a fixture at Andretit Autosport.
While still managing his son’s career through Team Rossi Motorsports, Pieter Rossi has formed another company (One Motorsports Marketing and Management, or 1MMM) with Alex to groom drivers in junior formulas for long-range career planning.
Their success caught the eye of EVO founder and businessman John Norman, whose son, Ryan, raced in Indy Lights for Andretti.
We are excited to announce @AlexanderRossi became an EVO advisor and investor!
This is your chance to join him and own part of the future earnings of all #EVO athletes.https://t.co/UCna6jWPVL to learn more and invest! pic.twitter.com/UII2vTHwdv
— EVO (@dg_evolution) February 10, 2021
“I think what we were able to do as a father-son team was very special because it hadn’t been done before,” Alexander Rossi told NBC Sports. “You look at all the other American drivers, or even drivers getting to Formula One in the first place, they either had huge factory support from F1 teams, a support of a company or wealthy family. I think the fact we were able to do it a little bit on our own in terms of at least the business model is something that we have a lot of pride in and are very thankful to the people that were involved. And a lot of those people still come to the track to this day and are at most of the races and are a part of this journey.
“John saw that we were able to do this and looked to us for the experience and the trials and good and bad things that came out of it and how we could help him.”
Norman approached Pieter Rossi in 2019 for advice on starting a similar program but with a different framework. EVO will feature a much lower price point for entry and also will include other sports (golf, MMA and boxing), but the goal will be the same for race car drivers: Helping shoulder the astronomical financial burdens of getting top-flight rides.
“The sport is very expensive, and everybody even at the top level is always struggling for sponsors and funding,” Norman told NBC Sports. “I was sitting at one of the races thinking this is a horrible problem, but is there any way to fix it?”
Through a friend who’s a lawyer with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Norman worked for more than a year on getting SEC approval for the venture, which he said will operate similar to a public company with transparency over investments and divestitures. Investments are open to anyone online at EVOinvest.com with a minimum investment of $150 (which is 200 shares at 75 cents apiece). Akin to a mutual fund, EVO will distribute 5 percent from all of its athletes’ annual earnings (according to shares owned) starting at the end of 2021.
“It’s just like you’d do in a regular corporate environment,” Norman said. “The good thing here is it’s not a net profit of EVO. We’re taking the actual winnings we get from the athletes and distributing a percentage. Nobody has been able to say before, ‘Hey, if an EVO driver wins the Indianapolis 500, I actually benefit from it.’ Having that team approach is what we hope will generate more people wanting to be involved, and the more people invest in the company, the more athletes that we can support.”
Norman wants to raise $2.4 million in the first investment round over two months and has been pleased by early returns since its launch last week. “I’ve got people who put in $7,500 and a whole bunch that put in $150 and $300,” he said. “We get to appeal to everybody.”
Norman, who said his project was received well in a meeting with IndyCar officials, said EVO hopes to announce two to three drivers soon (investor contributions will be collective; selective investment in a specific driver won’t be offered) and eventually wants six to eight drivers across multiple series. He said the company also has drawn interest from NASCAR, IMSA and NHRA hopefuls.
As a member of the EVO advisory board (along with his father and team owner Michael Andretti), Alexander Rossi is helping “spend a lot of time and having a lot of input with various people” in scouting talent for EVO.
“Our ability to attract people within those other series will be a lot easier to walk into the room with them by your side,” Norman said of the Rossis’ involvement. “If they think the project and program is unique and want to be involved, it’ll certainly help our efforts in racing.”
Alexander Rossi said driver investment is “a very common practice” in European racing and has been used by other IndyCar drivers but not at a level allowing for fan involvement. Typically, drivers have sought contributions of $20,000 to $50,000 from angel investors with a passion for motorsports.
“Whereas now, you’re able to get in at a much smaller dollar amount, and it’s accessible to people who are passionate about racing, are passionate about the future of the sport,” Rossi said. “And ensuring that young drivers who might otherwise not get the opportunity can get to the top level. I’ve always said that I think some of the best drivers in the world probably aren’t in racing because they never had the opportunity.
“The monetary side of it is a huge factor whether we like it or not. That’s just reality.”
Rossi doesn’t miss a beat when asked for the best driver he saw that didn’t make it at top level: Richie Stanaway, a veteran of sports cars and Supercars who once seemed headed to F1.
“I actually lived with him in Europe for a little bit,” said Rossi, who still maintains ties to his early days. “You looked at his career and thought, ‘Oh this guy is going to go all the way,’ then he had a couple of accidents and hurt his back, and the financial support started to dwindle, and he wasn’t afforded top rides anymore.
“He got kind of disenfranchised, and guys who weren’t as good as him were able to get better rides because they had bigger paychecks or pocketbooks. And so he just stopped, and that was it. And it’s pretty sad, because I think I could have been at least a successful guy in Formula One, if not a potential race winner.”
With no plans to represent anyone in IndyCar besides his son, Pieter Rossi said the 1MMM management company will continue to consult and manage five or six younger drivers, sometimes chiseling out 15-year plans for those less established than the winning drivers that EVO’s platform will support.
“It takes a village to get a driver there,” Pieter said. “There might be one single driver in the cockpit, but there are a lot of people behind them to get that success. So you can see from the example of Alex’s career, it’s worked. So with EVO, we’re sharing all that knowledge we can and also helping to find the talent pool that we know about in motorsports for the next rising stars.
“The goal with EVO is to find winners that have already had success and now are needing that extra help to get them to the top, and that’s a passion project for us, because we see it all the time. We see talent slip through the cracks, and the idea here is to avoid that, but at the same time, benefit the investor.”
Norman said drivers also will benefit beyond just financial support. EVO plans to supply performance coaches to provide mental, nutritional and physical training (which investors will be given access to witness an exclusive behind-the-scenes content). “We’ll make sure they have the ability to focus 100% on their craft and not have to worry about all the other distractions they might have on and off the track,” Norman said.
Rossi, 29, went through a similar developmental program as a Formula BMW driver.
“So much of being a race car driver is not actually driving a race car,” Rossi said. “I thought that was a brilliant thing they did because not only were they teaching guys how to drive race cars, but it was how do you present yourself in terms of marketability? How do you do interviews? What is the fitness and nutrition side of it? What is the mental side of it? All of these different areas that exist that are necessary in order to become successful, they were kind of providing you the introduction, and I think that’s something that is severely missing in motorsports globally. There’s no actual structured program that’s teaching these young guys what they need to be successful.
“I think that’s one of the huge benefits of what EVO is going to provide is it’s not only financial support to further their career, but it’s also helping with the other side of things they’re going to need off the track in order to be successful and hopefully make it to the top levels.”