KANNAPOLIS, NC (WBTV) - Gene Haas, whose Sprint Cup and fledgling Formula One race operations are based in Kannapolis, announced on Tuesday that veteran F1 racer Romain Grosjean would become the first driver for the new team when it joins the circuit in 2016.
Haas is the founder of Haas Automation, the largest CNC machine tool builder in North America, and he is chairman of Haas F1 Team, and partner with Tony Stewart in the Sprint Cup Stewart-Haas team.
Grosjean finished seventh in this weekend's race in Japan, one spot ahead of teammate Pastor Maldonado. The Lotus driver is a veteran of 78 Grand Prix starts and a 10-time podium finisher.
"What Gene Haas and everyone at Haas F1 Team is building is impressive, and I'm very proud to be a part of it," Grosjean said. "This is a new opportunity with a new team that is taking a very different approach to Formula One. I believe in their approach and they believe in me."
When asked about his impression of Kannapolis on his first visit to the area, Grosjean talked about his passion for racing and even gave a nod to a homegrown hero.
"I love it, I'm passionate about racing even before being a Formula One driver," Grosjean said. "To see that all the teams are in the same area and the statue of Dale Earnhardt, it's big and I really like it."
The new F1 team is actually operating in three countries with the Kannapolis facility being home to administration, marketing, and a research team, as well as a machine shop. The actual race team is based in Banbury, Oxfordshire, UK, near where several other F1 teams are based. There is also a design office in Parma, Italy.
The Haas F1 Team is on schedule to make its debut in the FIA Formula 1 World Championship in 2016, becoming the first American-led Formula One team in 30 years,
The team has taken significant steps in the last few months in order to become a viable team on the world stage that is F1. In September the Haas F1 Team announced it would team up with one of F1's most celebrated teams with the selection of Scuderia Ferrari as its technical partner.
Scuderia Ferrari, the most successful team in the history of Formula One with 16 constructors titles and 15 driver championships, will provide Haas F1 Team its power unit, gearbox and overall technical support. The multiyear agreement forms a strong collaboration between the two organizations that will allow Haas F1 Team to be competitive in its inaugural season and in the years following.
Haas also talked about why he based the team in Kannapolis and hinted at the possibility of expansion.
"It's a great working class community, we bought this first piece of land and then we had land available so it was a great place to put the F1 facility," Haas said. "I think down the road there's even more future development hat we can pursue here, so we built our wind tunnel here, I can only say that the experiences in Kannapolis have all been very positive."
Kannapolis City Manager Mike Legg says the city can take pride in being the home of a Formula One team, as well as the North Carolina Research Campus.