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Ingram: US F1 Parks Hopes, Can It Restart Them?

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 22 2010
USF1 owner Ken Anderson, left, and driver Jose Maria Lopze. (File photo courtesy of USF1)

USF1 co-owner Ken Anderson, left, driver Jose Maria Lopze, center, and co-owner Peter Windsor. (File photo courtesy of USF1)

Jonathan Ingram |Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

From The Monday Morning Crew Chief:

Is there such a thing as park and start in Formula One?

You might as well ask for a bailout.

That’s why it’s so odd that Ken Anderson, whose under-funded US F1 team has failed to produce a car, should suggest his team be given permission from the FIA, the ruling body of F1, to skip the first four races of the season – while he continues to look for a financial bailout.

For Americans with fond hopes of a return to F1 by a U.S team, park and start is a far cry from the days of Dan Gurney or even Scott Speed. At least Speed, who eventually rode Red Bull’s coattails into NASCAR and was a race leader in California this weekend, made it to the grid in F1.

With some incendiary rivalries expected at the front of the world championship field this year between Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher (and with Jenson Button showing the way in testing at Jerez), it’s also a bit odd that there should be so much attention on the back of the grid in general. But if you put yourself into the shoes of Formula One Management’s owner Bernie Ecclestone, F1’s opening day at Bahrain would look better if there were 26 cars, the maximum allowed under the new Concorde Agreement.

What to do at the back of the pack? I suspect that Ecclestone is working on getting four existing chassis that did not attend this month’s official testing in Spain onto the grid, even if their team owners take a page from NASCAR, i.e. start and park due to a lack of pre-season testing. The principal participants in terms of assets: the two chassis intended for use by Toyota, now in the hands of Stefan GP, and the two Dallaras built by the Italian manufacturer that are still waiting at the company’s manufacturing facility for sufficient payment from Spain’s Campos Meta to release them.

Absent any bailout money, there’s one major wild card in this undertaking, an unheralded former F1 test driver from Argentina. Jose Maria Lopez signed a contract to drive for US F1 in return for a handsome sponsorship package. Anyone who can access that sponsorship package could likely bring in enough money to purchase the Dallaras.

We would not be surprised if Anderson tried that tactic – using the commitment from sponsors of Lopez to arrange a deal for the Dallara chassis. If so, it apparently failed. Anderson may have even tried to cut a deal with Zoran Stefanovic, the Serbian owner of Stefan GP. If so, that too apparently failed. There’s also the chance that Anderson might have tried to use the $10 million in travel fund money advanced by the FIA to each team on the grid at Bahrain to cut a deal. (I will gladly pay you on Tuesday after Bahrain.)

Virgin Racing and Team Lotus, two of the four new signatories to the Concorde last June, were actually testing their new cars in Spain, evidence that new methodologies put in place during the final days of the FIA’s former president Max Mosley are working. It remains to be seen if the other piece of the puzzle – cost containment for all teams – is feasible despite the all-new racing concept of forensic accounting to keep everybody’s spending in line.

Meanwhile, at the back of the grid, the other new signees at Campos Meta, which still needs to come up with money to get the Dallaras, and a badly trailing US F1 are both trying to avoid becoming a snack for Stevanovic, who needs an official entry, on his way to the starting line. Anderson has apparently exhausted all avenues to access money in the short term and can only throw a “Hail Mary,” if not a “Magna Carta,” into the wind by suggesting a four-race extension to the FIA.

Anderson has one ace in his corner in the form of Nick Craw. As the president of the Automobile Competition Committee of the U.S., Craw is the delegate to the FIA, where he is the president of the Senate as well as a sitting member of the World Motorsports Council. He holds an MBA from Harvard, but more importantly the former IMSA driving champion and former SCCA president is a veteran of many a back-room brawl in motor racing.

There’s still the issue of what circumstances allow a team to miss up to three races under the current Concorde Agreement. This provision in the Concorde sounds more like a built-in, last-ditch bailout to be used only when the future of the sport might be on the line, cirumstances under which all philosophical commitments to earning’s one way are disregarded. In other words, a bailout.

Stay tuned for details. Be advised, in the coming days an Argentinian driver, whose nickname “Pechito” literally means “small breast,” may be one of the most powerful men in F1.

Quote of the week: “I swear, we almost pulled a Joey Logano there. I would have laughed my ass off if we would have won that race under rain like he did. We put ourselves in the best position every single time the rain was coming.”

– Red Bull Toyota driver Scott Speed on leading at the Auto Club Speedway while looking for more rain and an inaugural Sprint Cup victory.

Quick Takes: Former F1 driver Speed’s strong performance at the Auto Club 500 on a weekend when Danica Patrick drove her second Nationwide Series race was a reminder that drivers, engineers and even team owners have been steadily pouring into NASCAR from all forms of racing for well over a decade. In the hoopla over close racing at Daytona, it was generally overlooked that former IMSA and Trans-Am driver Max Jones scored his first victory as a team owner in a Sprint Cup race when Kasey Kahne won one of the 150-mile qualifying races…

The relatively underwhelming response to racing in the Los Angeles market continues to be a bit of a mystery. It’s not a well-known fact, but the first major stock car race occurred at the Mines Field Speedway in 1934, a 1.9-mile dirt circuit located at the present site of the Los Angeles International Airport. A 250-mile race featured a field dominated by Ford Roadsters equipped with the company’s new flathead V-8 and drew a crowd of 75,000, according to the headline and story in the L.A. Times. That was two years before the first stock car race on the Beach and Road Course in Daytona in 1936 and 15 years before the first NASCAR “Strictly Stock” race at the Charlotte Speedway, which drew a crowd of aproximately 15,000. At any rate, Charlotte is drawing a lot bigger crowds to its stock car races these days than Los Angeles…

The sad news of a woman’s death at the NHRA event at the Firebird Raceway as a result of debris from a Top Fuel accident came across our screens as Monday Morning Crew Chief was being wrapped up. It’s far too early to comment on the incident due to a lack of details, other than to rue the loss of life due to a motor racing accident.

See ya. …At the races.

Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com.

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 22 2010
7 Comments

7 Comments »

  • Craig says:

    I am really shocked that so many informed and intelligent people didn’t see through this “USF1″ SCAM some time ago.
    Yes…SCAM… fits nicely. Peter Windsor knows at least as much as the next dork what goes on in a proper F1 operation. Don’t try to convince me that he ever REALLY thought he was going racing at that level. If he did, his detachment from reality was clinical and dangerous and he should be seen by professionals (real professionals like Peter Sauber or Frank Williams)

    These guys stole opportunity from real efforts that might have otherwise materialized, credibility from the whole concept of America in F1, and maybe money from sponsors, drivers, vendors and investors (who all should have known better if they were a bit more Zen and a bit less “hopeful”).

    The good thing is that we surely never have to listen to Peters smug pitlane interviews that never exposed more than his resentment/jealousy towards the real stars of the sport.

    You folks who silently participated in this “ruse” (intentionally or otherwise) by NOT erupting into belly laughs when “investigating” or “reporting on” the “operation” in Charlotte will have their chance to explain themselves. Do you have a clue….or do you DON’t have a clue?

    Steve Matchett and Bob Varsha (others)…..c’mon guys. You have both been to McLaren International. How could you walk into that community college computer lab and NOT say “wait a minute old pal, something smells funny”. Those CNC mills were marketing tools….not production tools. How is it possible for you to see what was being passed off as an F1 effort and not be a little skeptical at least (or just start slapping your knees and pointing your fingers as if Windsor announced Oprah as a candidate for a race seat…he might as well have).
    I understand there were lots of good folks who saw this through rose colored visors. The drivers, fans, many of the employees surely wanted this to be real so badly that they “parked” their intuition.

    Lesson Learned?

    • Ed Kelley says:

      Wow Craig,
      Maybe its you that needs to see someone. You are either a real angry guy or constant pessimest. People do dream and I feel this
      effort was real. Remember Craig, When you stop dreaming its time to die. Ed

    • Ed Kelley says:

      Craig,
      Did you have an investment in USF1?

  • ANM says:

    “Stay tuned for details. Be advised, in the coming days an Argentinian driver, whose nickname “Pechito” literally means “small breast,” may be one of the most powerful men in F1.”

    LOL He should be looking for a ride that matches his talent a few million wouldn’t and hasn’t helped in landing any other more appropriate ride like in GP3 or F2. Only a factor due to the scam in Carolina.

    USF1, Donington? A bad scam is still a scam.

  • Ed Kelley says:

    What a bummer. I was looking forward to Peters team. I wonder what happened. I understand business enough to know that some times your passion for what it is you are doing consumes you to the point that you lose focus on the monetary aspects of what it is you are doing.
    What a shame! Best wishes Peter! Ed Kelley

  • Richard in N.C. says:

    I got the impression that at some point the White Rat had a change of heart and began making statements in the press to undermine US F1’s chances.

  • Kirk says:

    Nice article. I don’t think that ‘Pechito’s sponsorship money is really such a big deal; he’s only bringing 2 million, and there are plenty of drivers around that can deliver that kind of money.

    What we are looking at is a grand game of bluffing. USF1 can’t make the first race because they don’t have a car (or money), but Stefan GP can’t make the first race because they don’t have a grid spot. Funnily enough, each has what the other needs. But where will they meet, and will they come to an agreement?

    Stefan GP, if it is for real, has all the power here. USF1 has no leg to stand on when the first race in Bahrain rolls up. If they miss that race, they may very well be kicked from the series. And Stefan GP will be trackside, cars ready, with a nice sponsorship covered media backdrop ready to do a joint press conference with Bernie Ecclestone to announce their new entry in F1.

    USF1 might be able to swindle some money or glory from this, but their chance is quickly evaporating. They’ve had as long as the Virgin (Manor) team, and longer than the Lotus team, but they have nothing to show for it. It’s time for them to pull the pin.