• US Grand Prix

US GP organisers on the hunt for home-grown talent

ESPNF1 Staff
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Mario Andretti was the last American champion in 1978 © Sutton Images
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Organisers of the 2012 US Grand Prix are on the hunt for the next American Formula One driver and will offer three finalists an introduction to the sport at the inaugural race in Austin next season.

Tavo Hellmund, the man behind the US Grand Prix, is willing to give three up-and-coming drivers the 'Ultimate Pit Pass', which will set up meetings with F1 team owners, mechanics, drivers and journalists. Those selected must be between the age of 14 and 20 years old on January 2012 and will be picked "from a pool reflecting talent across all forms of racing including karting, stock cars and open wheel", according to a press release.

"This is an opportunity that can serve as a tremendous benefit and career booster for a potential future Formula 1 driver," Hellmund said. "Most young drivers only dream of having firsthand access to experience what the world's top teams and drivers go through during a typical grand prix weekend. Until now, this kind of opportunity has only been available to young drivers who have either already worked their way up the racing ladder or are in a team/driver development program."

Formula One has not always struck a chord with race fans in the USA and its popularity was dealt a critical blow when only six cars contested the 2005 US Grand Prix at Indianapolis. A home-grown talent would significantly boost the sport's popularity, but the last American to race in F1 was Scott Speed and the last world champion was Mario Andretti in 1978. Hellmund said getting an American on the grid is part of the promoters' wider plans in F1 and has the backing of Bernie Ecclestone.

"Bernie is a big advocate for America growing our talent pool for Formula One," Hellmund added. "This opportunity aligns with his goals and mine to build an active presence with home-grown talent."

And Ecclestone said the 'Ultimate Pit Pass' competition presented a good opportunity for young drivers in the USA to experience F1.

"I think this will be a good opportunity for young American drivers to see what one day they may get to experience," the F1 CEO said. "Hopefully one of them will progress and perhaps someday join us in Formula One."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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