Mario Andretti to have a role in Jersey's F1 race
Attention residents of Weehawken and West New York, N.J., living in the area of Pershing Road, Anthony M. DeFino Way, Port Imperial Boulevard and John F. Kennedy Boulevard East: If you see a Lamborghini or some other very sporty looking car speeding past your home one of these days and you think the guy behind the wheel might be Mario Andretti, you may be absolutely correct.
|Mario Andretti lives in nearby Nazareth, PA. He was always fast on street circuits|
"It's going to spark my curiosity pretty quickly to go there, I guarantee you," the 1978 Formula One world champion from Nazareth said Thursday about the site for the first Grand Prix of America, which will be held on June 20, 2013.
The announcement of a 10-year contract for an F1 race in the streets on the waterfront of the Hudson River, with a backdrop of the New York City skyline, was made earlier this week, and only a prior commitment kept Andretti from being there. He had been invited by promoter Leo Hindery, son-in-law of former Charlotte Motor Speedway promoter Humpy Wheeler, who is a close friend of the Andretti family.
"I'm the biggest fan Formula One has, and I fully endorse it," said Andretti, who also said he has been asked if he would be willing to assist in an advisory position. While no specifics have been arranged, he said, "Since I was asked, I'm sure I'll get my two cents in there somehow. I truly, truly believe this can be very successful."
While he had heard and read about the possibility of an F1 event in the New York market for some time, Andretti "didn't put a lot of credence in it" until he received a call from Hindery telling him that everything was in place to bring the globe-trotting, high-tech, open-wheel series to New Jersey.
"I liked what they did; they did not put the cart before the horse," Andretti said. "They did their homework, secured a date and signed a long-term contract before they went public, even with me."
Andretti said the involvement of Wheeler is important to him.
"I always said Humpy is the greatest auto racing promoter in world. We always laugh about that, but I mean it," Andretti said. "He's realistic. In Charlotte, he was the first one to have a track that rivaled Indy as far as infrastructure and everything else. He contributed so much to NASCAR becoming a mainstream sport. Humpy thinks big. He does his homework, too. He said. 'We're fully financed,' and when he says that, I believe it."
The New Jersey event will become a second U.S. race on the circuit — Austin, Texas, has a 10-year agreement for the United States Grand Prix, with the first one set for November 2012. A $25 million licensing fee will be paid by the people in Austin. No figure was given in conjunction with the New Jersey race.
Andretti said, "The folks in Austin never bothered to call me at all at any time, even to tell me in case the press asks me about it. The press asks me all the time about that project, and I say I only know what I read. [The call from Hindery] was a good courtesy call on their part because they know the press is going to be asking me. They gave me all the right information and I can make up my mind whether I rejoice or not. I have cause to feel really good about it."
Andretti continues to be involved with the Izod IndyCar Series, in which his son, Michael, has a four-car team. That open-wheel series, the American equivalent to the F1 series, has no race in the immediate New York market.
"Look how successful Baltimore was [over Labor Day weekend]," Andretti said. "It was incredible for the first year. Outside of Indianapolis, it was probably the best attended race this year. You have a solid foundation. At the moment, Formula One is going to have the upper hand in New York; that's fair enough. Baltimore is a great venue. The city has been a great host, so I see that being solid for the future."
Speaking of the future, how about IndyCar at Pocono Raceway, which is planning a complete repaving before the 2012 season?
"I would love that," Andretti said of the Monroe County raceway that for years hosted an IndyCar-style event. "I always consider Pocono as the absolutely best super speedway for Indy cars. I enjoyed driving Pocono more than any other oval, mainly because of its character. To me, it's the closest thing to setting up a car for a road course.
"Pocono has done all the safety features that are necessary. I don't even think they needed to repave it. I like bumps. That's me, though."
While Andretti, 71, got his racing start in a stock car at Nazareth Speedway, he saw his first races as a young boy in his native Italy. He fell in love with the F1 cars at the 1954 Italian Grand Prix at Monza and has never lost that.
He may be most famous in the United States for his 1969 Indianapolis 500 victory, but he is best known around the world for his 1978 F1 championship, winning six races while becoming only the second American to become world champion.
Asked earlier this year whether his career was more defined by his Indy win or the F1 title, he said, "You cannot compare them, a championship vs. one race. I don't care where you go in the world, they know you won Indy, and my personal satisfaction of winning the world championship is beyond words.
"And where I feel very fortunate is that I've been able to really be part of both worlds … being at Indy 29 times, but also satisfying what my first love was. So, I would hope I would never be asked to choose one over the other. I'm lucky that I did both."
Andretti drove in 129 Grand Prix events, winning 12 races and starting on the pole 18 times. His only Grand Prix win in the U.S. came at Long Beach in 1977. He raced 10 times in the U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen and seven times in the USGP-West at Long Beach, Calif. mcall.com