An interview with three-time World Champion Sir Jackie Stewart about the United States Grand Prix, June 18-20 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Formula One and his memories of competing in the Indianapolis 500. Q: This will be the fifth year...
An interview with three-time World Champion Sir Jackie Stewart about the United States Grand Prix, June 18-20 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Formula One and his memories of competing in the Indianapolis 500.
Q: This will be the fifth year that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has hosted the United States Grand Prix. What were your impressions of the first four years of the event?
Sir Jackie Stewart: I've been impressed. I'm impressed by the enthusiasm. I'm impressed by the attendance. America is a big country, and Formula One is by far not the largest sport there. But it is the Rolex of sports. It's got quality. People who are real enthusiasts of the highest echelon of motorsport come from every comer of America to be there. It is a wonderful mix. You get people from the South, from the Northeast and the Northwest, people from the West Coast and the East Coast, and middle America. So you get a very good collection of hardcore, real enthusiasts -probably as many aficionado enthusiasts as we would get at one of the aficionado European Grand Prix. They are real knowledgeable fans.
Q: Is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the best place for a Formula One race in America?
JS: Everybody knows that Indianapolis is Indy (home of the Indianapolis 500). For the uncles and aunts opposed to the anoraks (die-hard racing fans) and petrol-heads, there is no second-guessing what goes on at Indianapolis. So to make F1 more popular in America, Indianapolis was the right place to do it. They have had several attempts at doing it, from Texas to Las Vegas to Detroit to Long Beach to Phoenix, etc.
Q: What can be done to help accelerate the popularity of Formula One in the United States?
JS: Good racing, which is something difficult to guarantee. I don't think that there is going to be a fast acceleration for F1. But neither was soccer. But soccer is now becoming an integral pastime of the young people's development in America, and you are going to see in the world of soccer a great many Americans in the future. We don't have enough Americans in road-racing motorsport. Until we get two or three Americans who could be coming on to the grid of F1, the American people will not pay a big amount of attention to it.
For example, bicycle racing was not very interesting in America until Lance Armstrong created the success that he has achieved. Mario Andretti did a lot when he won the (1978) World Championship. You need to have a top-line American driver who is not just in the race, but who is capable of winning not only Grand Prix but also World Championships.
Q: Why is it so important for Formula One to be in the United States?
JS: America is hugely important for Formula One because you have got eight of the largest brand names in the automotive industry in the world all participating: Ferrari, Renault, Mercedes, BMW, Honda, Toyota, Ford and Jaguar. You have Michelin and Bridgestone. These are giant multinational corporations. Without the American market, all of these companies would be considerably poorer. And that's only mentioning some of them; there are also companies like: Hewlett- Packard, HSBC, Vodafone, Allianz, DuPont, Lear, Shell, Castrol and Mobil. AT&T's headquarters are in America. Eighty percent of AT&T's business is in America. If they don't have an American Grand Prix, then why are they in Formula One?
I know that there is enormous potential for all of those companies encompassing the rest of the world, but if they are based in America, and if the car companies did not have the American marketplace, most of them would be out of business. So it is a very important commercial arena for Formula One and the companies that are associated with it.
Q: Why is Formula One so spectacular and compelling to watch?
JS: Because it is the cr?me de la cr?me. Because it is international. Because it is, as I said, the Rolex of motorsport. Quality, substance, history, great names. In America, you've got the Foyts, Pettys, Unsers and all these great names, but the rest of the world doesn't really know those names because they were domestic. There is the mystique of Formula One. The sophistication. It is rare air. Not everyone is allowed in the paddock. People sometimes object about that, but nevertheless it is rare air to get the privilege. So there is a quality about it. Where there is rareness, there is exclusiveness, and it is an exclusive type of environment.
Q: What are some of your best memories of the Indianapolis 500, both as a driver and as a television commentator?
JS: As a driver, just going to the Brickyard was a big deal. Just seeing the scale and the size of it in the 1960s. Leading it with eight laps to go and having nearly a two-lap lead. Winning the Rookie of the Year in 1966. All these things were important in my career and my life as a racing driver. As a commentator, ABC's "Wide World of Sports" had an immense grip on America. It was the leading sports channel in America and probably in the world. To be part of that with Jim McKay and co-hosting the event and anchoring it on one or two occasions from the studio was, for me as a racing driver, a great feeling of having achieved something in a country that was not my own.
I was well received in America. I loved the country, and the people were very kind to me. As a commentator it was fantastic, whether we were doing it live, or whether we were doing it live to tape. We were going out in the evening, but we were actually commentating and recording it all live. That was challenging, and they were long shows. We did both qualifying weekends and the "500" itself. My days with "Wide World of Sports" were very happy days. And one final great memory: the Speedway Motel!
Tickets for the United States Grand Prix can be purchased online at www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com or by calling the IMS ticket office at (317) 492-6700 or (800) 822-INDY outside the Indianapolis area. Parking and camping information also can be obtained through the ticket office.