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USF1 owners play the name game

2/25/2009
AP Photo/Chuck Burton

On Tuesday afternoon, mechanic-turned-journalist Peter Windsor and race engineering guru Ken Anderson officially unveiled their new Formula One race team, titled USF1. It is a team with no race shop, no cars, no engines and only two employees -- Windsor and Anderson.

On Wednesday morning, that pair was scheduled to begin interviewing the first of what could be up to 120 Charlotte-based employees, from office managers to aerodynamicists to -- oh yeah -- two drivers to pilot the designed-from-the-ground-up race cars.

Their sales pitch from now until USF1's planned grid debut at the 2010 Grand Prix of Australia consists of two simple questions:

How bad do you want to go into Formula One racing?

How much do you love America?

"I know that last one sounds odd coming from a man with a British passport who was raised in Australia and lives in London," Windsor said with a chuckle. "But we want to be America's national F1 team. That's why we chose the name USF1; that's why we want to be based here in North Carolina, why we want to build our cars here in the United States. And that's why we want to make sure that our drivers are American-born."

U-S-A! U-S-A!

As Windsor talked, the team's sporting director (aka Face of the Franchise) fiddled with the carefully chosen pin on the left lapel of his sport jacket. For American open-wheel racing fans, the rounded AAR logo is instantly recognizable.

Dan Gurney's All-American Racers is the gold standard for do-it-yourself U.S.-based F1 efforts, having earned the only Grand Prix victory for an American-based-and-built team, engine and chassis.

That was 42 years ago.

"It has been a while," Windsor acknowledged with a roll of the eyes and a smile. "But Dan's efforts are still the ruler to which we will be measured. And it is also proof that, while it has obviously been some time since it happened, it can be done. With my current job [as an F1 pit reporter for SPEED], I am in constant contact with thousands of American F1 fans, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to support our effort because they want to see the home team succeed."

Windsor and Anderson aren't merely hoping that such national pride is for real. They're banking on it.

"We have been recruiting investors to get behind this project for a long time," says the soft-spoken, American-born Anderson, who will serve as the team principal. "Most of our investment has come from Silicon Valley, where there is obviously a lot of enthusiasm for new technology and making sure that the United States stays on the leading edge of that."

"I'm not saying that we go into meetings waving the Stars and Stripes," Windsor added. "But we've thought about it."

Drivers wanted

When word of USF1's plans leaked to the ravenous European motorsports media a full two weeks before Tuesday's announcement, speculation about who the team's two drivers would be started running more rampant than Michael Schumacher in the wet.

At first the speculation centered on recently unemployed F1 vets Rubens Barrichello and Jensen Button, both of whom were left out in the cold when Honda F1 suddenly folded its tents during the winter.

Then Windsor admitted that the team wanted to focus on American-born drivers, which fueled rumors involving names such as Danica Patrick, Scott Speed, A.J. Allmendinger and Graham Rahal. In the middle of Tuesday's press conference, a ridiculously enthusiastic Mario Andretti made a pitch via telephone for his grandson, Marco.

"It would rejuvenate me," the 1978 F1 World Champion shouted to the assembled media when asked about the possibility of Marco as a Grand Prix racer. "If I were to design a Formula One driver today, I would design Marco."

Windsor mentioned the name Kyle Busch no less than three times during the press conference and another half-dozen times during one-on-one interviews. He also talked about a potentially bright second wave of team drivers, mentioning a handful of next-generation U.S. racers, including Florida-born Jonathan Summerton, the current A1GP driver for Team USA.

Whomever Windsor and Anderson call, they will heavily weigh the answers they get from the other half of the sales pitch -- how bad do you want to go into Formula One racing?

"You might consider putting a guy like Rubens in the car first," Windsor admitted. "He knows what the situation is and he's a pro. His experience would no doubt help an inexperienced team. But there is something to be said about bringing in someone like a young NASCAR driver who would be thrilled to finish 15th in a Formula One event. What you don't want is someone with a lot of success and experience whom you know isn't giving 100 percent because they know they have no chance of winning."

"Trust me, the coolness of it all wears off once you realize that you're going to be riding around in the back all the time." Those were the words of current Team Red Bull NASCAR driver Scott Speed during Daytona Speedweeks when asked about his 28 GP starts with also-ran Toro Rosso, with whom he scored all of zero points in two years of trying.

"You spend your entire life with this one goal in mind," Speed said. "But then you get there and realize that's not enough. For someone to step into a start-up ride, it will take a lot of patience. But if you got to build something up and see it through, it might be worth it."

I'll have a tall half-caff latte and a wind tunnel …

For the two men who currently make up the entirety of USF1, signing drivers is somewhere around the 20th item on their checklist.

First are those job interviews slated to begin Wednesday morning -- welcome news to a Charlotte motorsports community that has seen more than 1,000 layoffs since last summer.

"You hate to put it this way," Windsor admits, "but the recession has been fortuitous for a team like us. The talent available is amazing. It certainly helps us sell our 'lean and mean' team philosophy. And if you ever wanted to get a deal on carbon fiber, now is the time."

Next, the pair hopes to get the lease signed on a massive building in North Charlotte to convert into a race shop. Currently, they hold their two-man team meetings in the same local Starbucks where Anderson first pitched the USF1 idea to Windsor last year. They are also near having a deal inked for a storage and logistics facility overseas, most likely in Spain.

They plan to be in the up-fitted North Carolina building by May, and receiving their first parts and parts-making machinery by the time the area is abuzz for Coca-Cola 600 week at the end of the month. They won't have to build their own wind tunnel because Anderson already owns a stake in the nicest one on this side of the planet, located just a few miles away. And they won't have to build a gotta-have-it climatic seven-post shaker because Clemson University, just a couple of hours down I-85, has the nicest one of those.

"All we need now are race cars," Anderson says with a smile. "And I hope to have one of those on the floor and ready to go by September."

Then he sighs.

"Sounds like a long time from now, doesn't it? It's not."

Ryan McGee, a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine, is the author of "ESPN Ultimate NASCAR: 100 Defining Moments in Stock Car Racing History." He can be reached at mcgeespn@yahoo.com.