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Mario Andretti plugs grandson for new F-1 ride

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


AP Auto Racing Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The founders of a new U.S.-based Formula One team plan to hire a pair of American drivers, and Mario Andretti believes his grandson is the perfect choice to fill one of the seats.

Ken Anderson and Peter Windsor, the principals behind the team they call USF1, officially announced their intent Tuesday to run the 2010 schedule. The motorsports veterans said they'll base the team in Charlotte, home for most NASCAR teams, and scour the market for young American drivers.

"Who they are ... your guess is as good as mine," said Windsor, a former team manager for Ferrari and Williams and current F1 pit reporter for Speed TV. "But two American drivers, that's what we intend to do."

Windsor rattled off a prospect list of relatively unknown open-wheel drivers currently competing in lower ranks, the most notable Jonathan Summerton, a 21-year-old Florida native racing in Europe in the A1GP Series.

Then he and Anderson turned to their dream list, which included former F1 driver Scott Speed, NASCAR star Kyle Busch and IndyCar glamour girl Danica Patrick. But Speed has said he has no interest in leaving NASCAR for an F1 return. Busch and Patrick both are willing to discuss the opportunity, but neither has been contacted by USF1 representatives.

Neither principal mentioned Marco Andretti, the budding IndyCar star and grandson of 1978 F1 world champion Mario Andretti.

Mario Andretti called into the news conference, which was televised live on Speed TV, as an invited guest in support of the USF1 team. During his comments, he recommended his 22-year-old grandson for a future F1 ride.

"Every time I mention Formula One, he says 'I'd give anything to have this opportunity,"' Andretti said. "If I were to design a Formula One driver today, I would design Marco. We'll see what the future brings for him."

Marco Andretti signed a contract extension last year with Andretti Green Racing, the team co-owned by his father, Michael. He was testing Tuesday at Homestead-Miami Speedway and not immediately available for comment.

After Andretti hung up, Windsor added Marco Andretti to the list of potential hires, as well as Graham Rahal, a 20-year-old IndyCar driver.

There has not been an American driver in F1 since Speed was released from Toro Rosso in the summer of 07. Speed, who has since moved to NASCAR, was the first American driver since Michael Andretti in 1993.

The list of potential drivers was one of the few details revealed, as Windsor and Anderson had nothing concrete to offer about their planned race team.

They are looking at a building in Charlotte to house the operation, and plan to hire roughly 100 team members and operate with an annual budget of about $64 million. They also plan to have a "logistical base" in Europe to house transporters and equipment.

Beyond that, they would reveal little else.

Windsor said they've secured four private investors, but declined to reveal their identities and said their stakes in USF1 are small enough that he and Anderson will remain the primary owners.

Anderson, who worked for the Ligier and Onyx F1 teams in the 1980s before turning to designing and engineering IndyCars, said the team will rely heavily on American technical support.

"Most of the technology in Formula 1 comes from the United States to begin with," he said. "The cost of doing business in the United States is significantly cheaper than Europe, and there are a lot of good people here."

Windsor said the duo has been working for several years on forming this race team, and waited until they felt it was actually a reality before revealing their plans. He recognized their timing coincides with the worldwide recession, and getting off the ground will not be easy.

"We've set some unbelievably steep hills to climb in the recession," he said. "We're now two guys that can say we're going to do a Formula 1 team -- because we've got the capital to do it. For those out there who say 'Where's all the money? Where's the huge facility? Where's all the money falling out of the sky?' that isn't ever going to happen with USF1.

"We've always had a very different approach and that approach will become visible as time goes on and this year unfolds."

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