Rossi’s sponsor brewing big F1 plans for young American driver

Rossi will need more backers like Gesser to come up with $10M to buy his F1 ride in 2016
Rossi will need more backers like Gesser to come up with $10M to buy his F1 ride in 2016. Can I pay the Dallas Cowboys to be their QB? If the athletes have to buy their way onto the field it's not a sport.

If horse racing is the sport of kings, then Formula One is the sport of billionaires. The opulence extends to the sponsors, where Swiss watch manufacturers, oil giants, Persian Gulf state airlines and high-octane energy drink-makers all jostle to throw millions and millions of dollars at the teams on the F1 grid.

So why is the Alaska Coffee Roasting Co., with two shops in Fairbanks, one in Florida and an eye on Austin, part of the sponsorship mix?

"I'm still a little numb," said owner Michael Gesser. "I'm sort of a legacy guy, a boutique, a smaller company."

Pieter Rossi, whose son Alexander is the only American driver in F1, explained that "Mike is a modest (financial) sponsor, and he never professes to be the big guy, but he's by far the most loyal. He's at the top of the pile when it comes to loyalty."

Gesser, who plans to be brewing some Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and other exotic roasts this weekend in the paddock area at Circuit of the Americas, said his company will rate at least some patches on the helmet and suit of Alexander Rossi, the first U.S. driver in Formula One in eight years. Rossi will make his U.S. Grand Prix racing debut this weekend, competing for the Manor Marussia team.

"I have been with him since he was 11 years old and in a go-kart," Gesser said. "It has been quite a slog."

While many F1 sponsorships are calculated business decisions and frequently short-lived, Gesser's support for Rossi's career has been about following a nearly impossible dream of getting onto the starting grid of Formula One.

That's far more daunting than making it to the NFL, the NBA or Major League Baseball. It would be as if each of those sports consisted of only one team with about 20 players. And those coveted F1 slots are sought by drivers from all around the world. It's the ultimate long shot.

"That was the goal. There was no other goal," Gesser said. "I didn't sign up for weekend racing. It never crossed my mind that he wouldn't be a world champion."

There's still a ways to go before that dream is realized, and Gesser once had a similar vision. He grew up in New York in the 1960s, when Watkins Glen was the popular site for the U.S. Grand Prix and when there was an American F1 world champion, Phil Hill, in 1961.

"I heard voices in my head when I was 10," joked Gesser, who began racing go-karts and dreaming of bigger things while racing in that area. "I did that until I was 16, but there was no ladder."

Lacking a clear path to advance in open-wheel racing in the U.S., Gesser focused his energy elsewhere.

"I'm an adventure traveler," said Gesser, adding that he lived in Kenya for six years. While there he developed an appreciation for African coffee. When his travels eventually took him to Alaska, he put down roots and started the Alaska Coffee Roasting Co. in Fairbanks in 1993. The brand now has a shop in the University of Alaska's Museum of the North in Fairbanks and one in Miami, of all places.

Gesser prefers the air roasting method for coffee and in addition to his prized Yirgacheffe, he might feature such brews as Jamaican Blue Mountain or Organic Blue Java for his customers.

When the coffee business was firmly established, Gesser again indulged his passion for racing at Sonoma Raceway in California. It was there that he got to know Pieter Rossi. Gesser said he was impressed almost immediately with the beyond-his-age poise of Pieter's son, Alexander.

"He was in a very dynamic place with a lot of white noise, and he had the ability to become quiet and focused like a fighter pilot," Gesser said. "He has a controlled aggression."

That's just one quality needed for an aspiring American driver to make it to F1. The European influence in F1 is so strong that the few talented young Americans serious about getting to the grid must at least race in Europe, and Rossi has lived overseas for years. When his schedule allowed, Gesser traveled with the Rossis in Europe. He also accompanied them on a trip to Austin when Circuit of the Americas was still under construction and there were rumors that it would not be done in time for its inaugural U.S. Grand Prix in 2012. The problems with the track were a concern to the Rossi team because it was generally acknowledged that having a Formula One race in the U.S. was essential for developing young American drivers and helping them attract sponsors.

Gesser recalled that on a trip to the construction site, they approached an authoritative-looking person and asked if the problems were serious.

"You're talking to Buddy, and we get (expletive) done in Texas" was the reply.

Blunt, but prophetic.

Now, there's a possibility that Rossi could be racing at Circuit of the Americas for years to come.

"I may put a cafe in Austin. Who knows?" Gesser said. The Statesman

Social Media Auto Publish Powered By :