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"There's a lot of junk out there today. If you want it straight, read Kirby." -- Paul Newman

That Way It Is/ John Anderson is exactly what USF1 needed

by Gordon Kirby
Peter Windsor and Ken Anderson are lucky to have landed John Anderson as USF1's team manager. Anderson has been in the business for almost forty years. Most recently he guided Dario Franchitti to win the Indy 500 and IRL championship in 2007 and spent the last two years running Gil de Ferran's race-winning Acura ALMS team. I've had the pleasure of knowing 'Ando' for more than thirty years and I'm sure he'll do a tremendous job in getting USF1 organized and headed in the right direction.

"I've known Kenny for years and I like his approach," 'Ando' says. "There's some stuff around the edges we've got to knock the burrs off and it's not going to be any cakewalk. This is going to be a solid, vertical climb. The first four races are going to be critical and the first one in particular, just getting to it. We've got no illusions at all. It's going to be a tough road."

Anderson started his career in his native Australia where he worked as a mechanic on Formula 5000 and Australian V-8 cars for legendary Aussie stars like Frank Matich, Frank Gardner and Jim Richards. He came to the United States for the first time in 1973 with Matich's F5000 team, then returned full-time a few years later, working first with Graham McRae before joining the VDS Can-Am team, winners of the 1981 Can-Am championship with Geoff Brabham aboard Tony Cicale's VDS 001.

Anderson broke into Indy cars with Bill Alsup's little Vermont-based team before setting out on an odyssey that took him to many of CART's top teams. In 1983 and '84 he worked for Forsythe-Green who ran the works March for Teo Fabi, winng four races in '83 and finishing second in the Indy car championship. Anderson then served for four years at Gurney/Curb and Mike Curb Motorsports with Tom Sneva driving, followed by a year with Al Unser Jr. at Galles Racing in 1989. He spent the next two years with A.J. Foyt's team with Robby Gordon driving one year and a list of rentadrivers the next year before joining Bruce McCaw's fledgling PacWest team.

Anderson transformed PacWest from a wanna-be new team in 1992 into a race-winning operation in 1997 with Mauricio Gugelmin and Mark Blundell. But PacWest started to stumble in 1999 and Anderson moved to his old friend and countryman Barry Green's Team Kool Green operation where he ran Paul Tracy with lots of success and notoriety.

After four years at TKG Anderson tried his hand on the other side of the fence as the Operations Director for Champ Car. But as Champ Car began to fail he decided to get back on the race team side and joined Andretti-Green where he ran Dario Franchitti's car in 2006 and '07 before spending the past two years running Gil de Ferran's ALMS team.

Unfortunately, de Ferran has been unable to find sponsorship to race in 2010 in either the ALMS or IndyCar series. He's put his team on ice and hopes to return next year, but for Anderson and de Ferran's employees it meant they were looking for work as the New Year arrived.

"I've been pretty lucky," Anderson remarks. "When one door closed, another one opened."

Anderson is a complete realist. He knows he has plenty of work on his plate but is excited about the attitude inside USF1 and the prospect of tackling F1 for the first time in his long career.

"I got to know Kenny when I was at Foyt's with Robby," he says. "I think there was a mutual respect there. Kenny has always been the eternal optimist and I'd rather have it that way rather than the gloom and doom way.

"We'll get through a few races and see where we are," Anderson continues. "We have to get used to procedures and who does what, where and when and keep building. It's going to be a building year and there are no pre-conceived notions. But it's good, bloody good.

"This a good opportunity to get in on the ground floor and establish your own parameters and not be influenced too much by what happens in Europe. We'll see what we do well and see what we do poorly and pick the eyes out of it. It's going to be a real 'skunk works' approach, and that's what I like."

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Anderson has already hired a chief mechanic and is in the process of hiring more people. Just over forty people are currently employed at USF1 with that number expected to rise steadily over the coming weeks.

"I've got a young fellow from Indy named Keith Burton on board who's going to fill the chief mechanic's role," Anderson reports. "Keith spent the last couple of years with us at the ALMS races. He came from the junior series to Andretti-Green. He was there for a number of years and that's where we met each other. The guy is sharp. He's looking at everything all the time and he's very focused and conscientious and that's the sort of thing you need. This is an American team and it needs young American guys and a fresh approach. I'm looking for young engineers and talking to mechanics for the race team. We're going through that whole process.

"The first one was getting Keith who I'll be working closely with and be able to lean on. He's got the capability of co-ordinating the build and having two cars built exactly the same and making everyone in the team be part of this group, not this car or that car. If you build something for this car, then you'll build something exactly the same for the other car. The continuity has got to be there. Plus, it's important to have the team of guys all singing off the same page, getting on together, living and working together and enjoying it."

Anderson believes USF1's plan to run its European operation from a facility at the new Algarve circuit is entirely workable.

"The circuit at Algarve looks fantastic," he says. "I don't know where the state of progress stands but looking at the prospectus and what's planned is very impressive. There's a facility being built there for the team and it will be a maintenance base. The trucks will be based there and there will be some European guys looking after things there. The mechanics will turn the cars around, put them in the trucks and off they'll go to Germany for the flyaway races. The cars and equipment will fly out of Munich.

"How the rest of it integrates is a work-in-progress. If the cars are done and the guys are standing around in Spain it's still going to cost a dollar as it will to fly them home. We'll do what makes sense."

Anderson is very impressed with USF1's people and manufacturing capability and the quality of the pieces they're producing.

"Obviously, it all starts in the drawing office and they're full-bore," he remarks. "We've got some top guys and excellent equipment in the composite shop and those guys do a beautiful job. Stuff is coming out the door and it's top quality.

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"Most of the guys in the composite shop have got European experience. The machine shop is run by Brian Williams who's an old PacWest guy. There are ten machine centers in there plus the router for the composite components and some bloody good experience. They can make stuff faster than the drawing office can put the drawings out. So we might have a little bit of a building bottleneck that's got to be addressed, but the talent and capability is magic."

Expansion will continue to take place in USF1's composite and machining operations.

"The carbon shop is part of the main shop," Anderson explains. "There's one autoclave in there now and a bigger one coming that you can put an underwing in. They generate their own nitrogen for the autoclave. There's good equipment right the way through the shop. It's all Haas machinery and they're shooting-out parts.

"The majority of the stuff is designed and built in-house. There are times when we've got to get stuff from outside but that's just to facilitate the build or manufacture of the parts. It's not because the capability isn't here. Again, the capability is all here. I've been really impressed with all of that."

Anderson says USF1's much-maligned Charlotte home base is well laid-out.

"The car workshop is right in the middle of everything with the drawing office on one side and the machine shop on the other," he says. "There's a sub-assembly area for suspension and driveline components and more offices are going in to handle the staff as it increases.

"Everything centers around the car-build area. There's a glass partion about eighty feet long across the building so the guys in the drawing office can look out on the car build area. It all makes sense."

It took only a few days from when Anderson started talking to USF1 before he was hired.

"It was a funny deal," he says. "Scott Raymond, one of the engineers we had at de Ferran, had called down here inquiring about a position and the fellow he spoke to happened to mention that the team manager here had departed the scene. So Scott said to me, 'Why don't you give them a call and see what develops?' So I called Phil Morse and we had a bit of a conversation and he said he'd pass my particulars on to Peter and Ken and they'd get back in touch."

Anderson's phone rang almost immediately.

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"About an hour and a half later I got a phone call from Kenny. 'What the bloody hell are you doing?' he said. He didn't know that Gil was out of business. So he said, 'Why don't you come down and look at this place?' I said, 'When?' And he said, 'How about tomorrow?'."

Anderson fies his own Cessna 182 and he and his wife Lesley jumped aboard and flew from Indianapolis to Charlotte.

"Lesley and I came down two weeks ago. We spent the weekend here and flew back to Indianapolis on Monday and on Monday night Lesley was pushing me to call Kenny, so I did. I called and accepted.

"We will eventually move here," he adds. "Because it was such a quick decision we're thinking on our feet about how to do this. We've got a nice house in Indianapolis that we like and the time to sell it probably isn't now. So we may lease the place and time permitting, I'll zip back and forth. Having the airplane is good. It shortens the trip by about two-thirds. It's a little four-seater. It's a real workhorse and I can jam a lot of stuff in there."

Anderson has tremendous respect for de Ferran and he says Gil has not given up trying to put his race team back together for 2011.

"It's such a disappointing situation through no fault of any of ours and particularly Gil's," Anderson observes. "He did everything he could, but any sponsorship deal takes some nurturing and watering. It takes a year or two. When he came to the shop in early December he said he'd made arrangements to pay everyone through the end of December. He was beside himself, thinking he had failed. But he hadn't. In today's economic circumstances it was beyond his control.

"He's got some good irons in the fire," Anderson adds. "He's going to mothball the shop. Nigel Bloom will probably look after the general maintenance of the place to keep it all neat and tidy so the heat stays on and the water doesn't freeze. I think Robert (Clarke) will probably use the office there so if something does come up Gil can open the doors and get on with the program. He's still beating the bushes very actively."

It's the way the world works all too often, is it not? De Ferran's misfortune has turned into a boon for USF1. With 'Ando' at the helm, Peter Windsor and Ken Anderson have a fighting chance of making their new F1 team successful.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
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