Ingram's Flat Spot On: Back in the pool

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Flat Spot On by Jonathan Ingram BACK IN THE POOL The U.S. is back in F1, at least that's the intent of Ken Anderson's start-up team in Charlotte, of all places. Here's wishing him and sporting director Peter Windsor well in the effort to get...


Flat Spot On
by Jonathan Ingram


BACK IN THE POOL

The U.S. is back in F1, at least that's the intent of Ken Anderson's start-up team in Charlotte, of all places. Here's wishing him and sporting director Peter Windsor well in the effort to get America moving again in F1 after their official announcement. They'll need all the help they can get.

The fortunes of the U.S. in F1 have been so star-crossed of late it's difficult to know where to begin the litany of frustration for fans of the sport. The setbacks just keep coming, given the loss of Montreal from the 2009 calendar, an extraordinarily great place to watch the circus go to play and the last organic connection for any fans of F1 in North America.

Nobody, of course, refers to F1 as the circus anymore, because it's no longer a delightful diversion. Like every other sport in the world, it's turned into something more akin to gladiators and mercenaries. In a past time it could be counted on for breathtaking ingenuity and bravado, but these days it's become what it used to parody: a corporate picnic.

Perhaps the new USF1 team can help change the current stodgy atmosphere. I believe most American F1 fans keep going to the Net, the TV and the magazines to keep up because of the past connections as much as anything happening in the present. But the recent past for American fans has pretty much been a disaster.

The last U.S. team, the ill-fated effort by Carl Haas, purportedly sponsored by Beatrice, ended in corporate acrimony and embarrassment. The drivers we may have pinned hopes on -- Danny Sullivan, Michael Andretti, and Scott Speed -- accomplished very little. Even our recent adopted sons like CART champions Alex Zanardi and Juan Pablo Montoya have been less than thrilling. At least Ford powered Michael Schumacher to a championship before Ferrari wooed him away with the big bucks, which was pretty much America's last hurrah on the playing field.

Hosting F1 on American soil at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway proved easier, we all recall, than hosting it on American asphalt. At least that's how it turned out for Michelin and the ill-fated 2005 U.S. Grand Prix, which started the run of the table when it came to F1 disappearing from North America.

The announcement by Anderson and Windsor of the USF1 team is just that: a public notice that a couple of guys are willing to spend a sponsor's money to go tackle F1 in the name of whatever values about America the sponsor might want to uphold. If this perspective sounds vaguely cynical and a bit doubtful on my part, it is. This rodeo has been through town before and offtimes turned out to be a goat roping.

What's needed is a 21st century version of Coca-Cola to come along to sweep America into F1's ultimate youth marketing venue with some panache and serious money. Alas, that role is already taken by Red Bull. Or, we need a manufacturer to step up to something other than the public trough in the name of America. This is not going to happen any time soon. Needless to say, cigarette money is no longer a viable option.

Evidently, the U.S. no longer has products that can be effectively marketed to youth outside its borders (i.e. products loaded with caffeine, ginseng or nicotine). The consumers sought by the car companies involved in F1 are not in America. They are slathered in oil money all over the Middle East, a region where consumption of high profile cars is growing and a region increasingly prominent on the F1 schedule.

So Americans are left to endorse a parapatetic engineer and his equally well-traveled sporting director, each who have a gleaming new patina. In a bid to take American back into the pinnacle of hobbled automotive technology known as F1, their business model, we learned, is Michael Waltrip Racing -- without the Toyota money.

It is a very dangerous thing to give up dreaming what is considered impossible in the present light in order to change the future horizon. That would be un-American. In this sense, there's less harm in wishing USF1 all the best and hoping this new team (or tandem) takes the U.S. and possibly an American driver back into F1.

I, for one, would suffer through it, because it beats a bank failure any day. The back of the grid, which is where these fellows are headed without a manufacturer involved, is better than no grid position at all. You have to admire gumption and hope American ingenuity will produce more than just another race car. Besides, in a world of downsized expectations I recall seeing at least a couple of good goat ropings.

Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jonathan@jingrambooks.com

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Series GENERAL , F1