Haas plans to field Formula 1 team in next 2 years

Gene Haas, right, the founder of Haas Automation, listens to a question as Guenther Steiner, team principal, Haas Formula, sits near during a news conference about forming a Formula One auto racing team in Concord, N.C., Monday, April 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Gene Haas, right, the founder of Haas Automation, listens to a question as Guenther Steiner, team principal, Haas Formula, sits near during a news conference about forming a Formula One auto racing team in Concord, N.C., Monday, April 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — NASCAR team owner Gene Haas is out to prove that an American-based team can succeed in the Formula One racing series.

“I think we can beat the Europeans at their own game,” Haas said Monday at a news conference.

Haas said he plans to field a team “Haas Formula” either in 2015 or 2016, depending on how long it takes to find an engine supplier and get things up and running.

“News that an American team will be joining the ranks of world-class competitors in the Formula 1 paddock is a tremendously positive development for U.S. F1 fans and Circuit of The Americas, which has given the world’s most popular motorsport a permanent home in Austin,” said Jason Dial, the circuit’s president and chief executive officer. “Giving Americans a natural rooting interest through a U.S.-based F1 team is a great way to grow awareness for F1 in our country.  We commend the new Haas Formula racing team for this undertaking.”

Haas Formula would become the first American-based Formula One team since Parnelli Jones Racing in 1974-76, which employed Mario Andretti as its driver.

The FIA granted entry to the American-based USF1 team in 2009 but it was a major failure and never hit the grid in part of because of a lack of financial backing. As a result, there is plenty of skepticism when it comes to Haas’ foray into the Formula One world.

“It’s extremely hard to do,” Haas said. “I wouldn’t be doing it if I thought I was going to fail. But that’s the challenge — proving other people wrong.”

Haas said he expects the venture into Formula One racing to cost billions of dollars.

“Every week it goes up by another billion,” he said with a grin.

However, he said he has better resources than the failed USF1 team, which puts him ahead of the curve.

Haas is the owner of CNC machine manufacturer Haas Automation, one of the largest machine tool builders in the world. He recently said the company, which is based in California, currently exceeds $1 billion in annual sales.

He also operates the Windshear wind tunnel, one of the most sophisticated wind tunnels for the testing of car aerodynamics in the world.

“USF1 was a basically startup that had no resources whatsoever and didn’t have a racing team and it took on a huge challenge,” Haas said. “I admire the fact they took that challenge.

“But on the other hand I’m partners with Tony Stewart in a very successful (NASCAR) racing team and I have a machine tool company that has the capability of building the most sophisticated machines in the world. … I have a lot of the resources and infrastructure that is necessary to succeed.”

Haas said his goal is hire a young American driver with a great potential — although he hasn’t begun to narrow down that search.

He co-owns a NASCAR team with Stewart and Danica Patrick, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch all drive for them.

However, Haas essentially ruled out his current collection of NASCAR drivers as potential candidates, saying it would be “impossible to accomplish that and survive” given the grueling schedule Sprint Cup drivers face and the challenges it takes to learn how to drive a Formula One car.

Haas plans for his Formula One headquarters to be based on Kannapolis, N.C., in a building adjacent to where his NASCAR team calls home.

The 61-year-old Haas made it clear his venture into Formula One is to broaden Haas Automation’s exposure in the European market — and he believes the worldwide racing series will give him that opportunity.

“We want to become a household name” in Europe, Haas said.

Haas was granted a license from Formula One’s governing body to start a U.S.-based entry in the series on Thursday.

Haas said he must inform the FIA of the team’s plans to begin racing — in 2015 or 2016 — by June. He expects he’ll know much sooner, probably within the next four weeks.

“I think 2015 is too close and 2016 is too far — that’s kind of where I see it,” Haas said. “If we wait until 2016 were are going to start delaying and spending even more money because we will be a neutral. … What we need to do is come up with a plan where we can basically arrive with a car that is based on our partner’s technology within the rules of the FIA. We are going to have to beg, borrow and steal to arrive at that first race so we can compete.”

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