We’ve chatted with Garett Grist before this season, but it was time to check in on the Andretti Autosport USF2000 driver to see how his season is progressing. Grist is one of several Canadians working on moving up the Mazda Road to Indy, and currently sits P5 in the USF2000 after Toronto. Grist updated INDYCAR Nation on his season thus far, as well as his thoughts on some other key topics in today’s open wheel racing:
Garett, great to hear from you again. You know, we touched base earlier this year, but Toronto looked to be an important weekend for you guys. How would you characterize your weekend there overall?
GG: For me personally, Toronto was an up-and-down weekend. It was great to have a lot of my friends and family there, as well as sponsors like DaVinci Foods, Sofina Foods, and Lander Property Management. It was great to have them all there, but the on-track portion was tough. We were third-fastest in second practice, but in qualifying, the red flag came out, and we had to start P8. That sort of set us back for the whole weekend. We were back where more of the incidents happen, and we lost our front wing on Saturday for Race 1. That hurt us, too—we had to start P11 on Sunday, but we moved up to finish P6. I look at it that every week is an improvement and a step with the team towards making ourselves better.
The track itself [Toronto] is a blast. I’m a big fan of street races, and they did a great job at Toronto. Certainly I think the paving they’ve done has made it even better from other racing there I’ve watched.
So now that you have a few USF2000 races under your belt with Andretti Autosport, how do you compare them to the team you drove for last year? What’s the culture comparison between Andretti Autosport and your previous team, Bryan Herta Autosport?
GG: Well, last year I had a great time with the Herta guys, and I’m having a great time this year with the Andretti guys. I don’t think there’s many differences, on one level. They both have great employees and great drive. I think it comes down to a matter of scale. The Herta guys have the one IndyCar and their F1600 team, but Andretti has the whole Mazda Road to Indy ladder covered. The shops are definitely different in size, as are the number of employees available. This year I’m fortunate enough to have some Public Relations help, and things like that, which I didn’t really have last year. So I really like both teams, but Andretti is obviously a bit larger and deeper overall.
With that in mind, does having those resources available impact your learning curve as a young driver? Does it lend itself to mentorship from some of the more experienced drivers right now?
GG: For sure. Matthew Brabham and Shelby Blackstock are two guys I can always go to when I’m struggling. I’ll ask if I can watch their videos, or review videos with them, or if they’ll talk out some advice with me. Their engineers are much the same, too. Even the IndyCar guys help out—I sat down with Ryan Hunter-Reay before Toronto, and he helped me with my racing lines.
So what about those Cape Motorsport with Wayne Taylor Racing guys? It seems like they’ve been on another level in recent years in USF2000. When you see them out at the track, are they doing anything special, or are they just that sharp as a team?
GG: Cape certainly is a good team, but I don’t know that they’re inherently better than an Andretti or a Belardi or JDC team. I don’t think they’re anything special in particular, they just work really well together and make sure they get the best drivers possible in those cars.
James Hinchcliffe has been winning—a lot—this year, and throughout the Mazda Road to Indy, it seems like we’re seeing a proliferation of Canadian prospects—Scott Hargrove, Stef Rzadzinski, etc. Is it possible we’re seeing a renaissance in terms of open wheel Canadian drivers right now?
GG: I’m certainly hoping so! I’m hoping with things like Toronto’s Indy event, that more Canadians get drawn to IndyCar, and we see some good growth up there. James Hinchcliffe winning certainly helps us in that.
So when we talk about events like Toronto for you Canadian drivers, there’s got to be a bit of an extra push at those events to win, doesn’t there?
GG: Certainly, from both the sponsor and the fan perspective. I know I had people come up from my hometown in Toronto and ask for pictures, and finding out their kids went to the same school I went to when I was little. That’s something you don’t get at other races.
With Dan Andersen taking over Firestone Indy Lights, do you have any thoughts what that portends for the Mazda Road to Indy?
GG: I think it’s great he’s taking over. We’ve seen what he can do with taking over USF2000, and more recently with Pro Mazda. Hopefully, he can do the same for Lights. It would be really great to see all three series fielding 20 or more drivers.
Do you feel a push to go to Pro Mazda next year?
GG: The option is certainly there to move up to Pro Mazda, if we wanted. We want to stay with Andretti, because we absolutely love them. I have no problem, though, staying in USF2000 next year. Scott Hargrove took a year to learn, and look at how well he’s doing this year, for example.
That’s interesting, because so often we talk to drivers who seem in an awful hurry to move up the ladder as soon as possible.
GG: No, I’m not in any rush. I’m 18, I have plenty of time.
Well, there’s James Hinchcliffe, of course, who spent years in Atlantics and Firestone Indy Lights before moving up. I suppose you can look to that, right?
GG: Exactly, and look how well he’s doing now.
Speaking of Hinch and company, what do you think of IndyCar this year? Do you have a favorite picked for the championship?
GG: I think the racing’s been incredible. Look at Brazil—that’s probably one of the best races I’ve ever seen. You had Hinch’s last-lap pass for the win. I think the series is building momentum. I know in Canada it seems as if they are. Rogers SportsNet has taken over the broadcasts, and is doing a great job with it.
For the championship, I’m hoping it’s an Andretti Autosport driver!
What do you make of the Indy 500 and ovals?
GG: Well, this was my first oval this year, and I wasn’t sure going in, but my first oval race—going for the win on the last lap of the race—it was amazing. So I’ve had one experience with an oval, and it went extremely well, so I’m probably a bit biased. [laughs]
The 500 is such a great race, and if I’m fortunate enough to make it to IndyCar, I’d love to try it. Right now, it’s all about developing that oval mindset, and learning to run in traffic.
What are your goals for the remainder of the season?
GG: Well, if we hadn’t gone through the bad luck in Toronto, we could have been second or third in the standings, but instead we were looking at fifth or sixth. Looking to the rest of the season, I still can’t wait for Laguna Seca—such a cool, historic track. We’ll do our best to keep improving the whole season long, wherever we are.
Zachary Houghton runs www.indycaradvocate.com, which features regularly-updated INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Mazda Road to Indy interviews, commentary, and more. You can find him on Twitter at @indycaradvocate, or drop him a line at mail.rpgblog(at)gmail.com.