AP Sports Writer
BARCELONA, Spain — Gene Haas is entering Formula One carrying the same recipe that led him to success in NASCAR, confident it will be good enough to help him thrive in a sport where few Americans have prospered.
The team owner is seeing his F1 endeavor come to life this week in preseason testing in Barcelona. It is the first time in three decades that cars from an American-led team have made it to the track.
Haas feels he can beat the Europeans at their own game using his experience in stock-car racing back home in the U.S.
“It’s something that we know how to do and I think it’s something that we can do well,” Haas said at the Circuit de Barcelona. “We are just basically doing the same thing that we did in NASCAR. We are going to do it worldwide.”
Haas brings the first American team to F1 since Carl Haas (no relation to Gene) and Teddy Mayer fielded cars in the series in 1986. The last U.S.-based team was Parnelli Jones Racing in 1974-76, when Mario Andretti drove. The USF1 team gained an entry in 2009 but failed to hit the grid in 2010 because of financial difficulties.
Haas, a longtime industrialist, founded his NASCAR team in 2002, and in 2009 brought driver Tony Stewart aboard in a co-owner role. Two years later, Stewart won the Sprint Cup Series title for the team.
“I think from NASCAR, the one thing we’ve learned is how to run a race team,” Haas said. “How to manage inventory, how to keep track of costs, all those things are vital to any race team. I think those are the basis for starting in Formula One.”
Haas was granted his F1 license in April 2014 and intended to be part of the grid in 2015, but decided to postpone the debut so the team could be more prepared to do well when it entered the world’s top series in open-wheel racing.
“Our goal is to get our walking legs, learn how the sport works,” Haas said. “I’ve been in the Formula One garage, I’ve seen what they do. I don’t think anything they do there is that much different from what we do in NASCAR. People do say it’s a lot harder. The expectation is we have to learn how it works. I don’t see why we can’t participate in Formula One like any other team.”
Haas F1 Team has offices in Kannapolis, North Carolina, but he took his F1 operations to Banbury in England and Parma in Italy. The team has a technical partnership with Ferrari, which is the car’s engine supplier.
“Almost everybody that’s come on board has had prior Formula One experience all the way from the bottom to the top,” the 63-year-old Haas said. “We’re not starting off with novices or anything like that.”
The move to Europe also has a business benefit for Haas, the founder of tool-building behemoth Haas Automation. He hopes to use F1 to help expand the brand’s exposure in the European market.
“We feel that if we can prove to the rest of the world that we can compete in Formula One, then the parts that we make must be the best in the world, too,” he said. “It was a simple business decision.”
The team’s drivers in 2016 will be Frenchman Romain Grosjean and Mexican Esteban Gutierrez, both with previous experience in F1. They took the new cars to the track for the first time on Monday in what the team called “a positive” start despite a front-wing failure that forced engineers to work on a reinforcement solution.
Haas said the goal for 2016 is to score points and earn the respect from fans and other teams.
“We are going to do the best we can,” he said. “These people have been doing it for a while. They are tough to beat, and they are not going to give you an inch. I think that if we go out there and we are reliable and we place well, we qualify well, I think we can actually do quite well as far as the constructors’ (championship).”
Only time will tell is his prediction was right, and Haas himself can’t wait to find out.
“It’s taken a while,” he said. “I felt like we’ve been pregnant for 12 months. It’s just time to go racing.”