MELBOURNE, Australia — Gene Haas is no stranger to top-level motorsports, yet as he prepares for his first race as a team boss in Formula One, he admits to nervousness, and awe at the task ahead.
Having created the NASCAR team that grew into the successful Stewart-Haas outfit, Haas knows about how to start a team from scratch and make it work. He aims to apply that knowhow to motorsport's premier series, which has been a burial ground for the dreams of many with even deeper pockets and larger ambitions.
F1 team ownership has attracted plenty of egotists and dreamers over the years but Haas — despite his success in racing and business — brings a humility and patience to the task that begins at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix early Sunday.
"I have the feeling that if you over-anticipate what you can do in the sport, it will humble you very quickly," Haas said Friday. "The first year or two, just to be able to come to the race, be competitive, not make any major mistakes, would be a tremendous achievement."
F1 has welcomed Haas, hoping it will help the series end a longstanding lack of American investment, be it in terms of sponsors, media, or fans. A market already sated with NASCAR and IndyCar has seen little need to follow a series whose base remains largely Euro-centric, and whose broadcast times are not U.S.-friendly.
However, Haas was unable to resist the lure of taking on the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes on their turf.
"I'm nervous," Haas said. "You can watch this racing your whole life but there's nothing like being a participant to really understand it, and I have a lot of respect for the teams that are here, and the level of technical competence you have to have to even start one of these races. …I know there's hard times ahead but I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Sprint Cup: Austin Dillon earned the pole for Sunday's race at Fontana, Calif., at 188.482 mph on the 2-mile oval. He edged Kevin Harvick by 0.031 seconds. Dillon's only previous pole in 90 career races was at the Daytona 500 in 2014 at the start of his first full Sprint Cup season driving for grandfather Richard Childress. "This means the world to me," Dillon said. "It's a drivers' track at Fontana, and you really can study and find different lines and move around and find speed, and it makes our whole team feel really good going into Sunday."
Sports cars: Olivier Pla earned the pole for today's 12 Hours of Sebring in a Honda HPD Ligier. His best lap around the 3.74-mile circuit was 1 minute, 51.217 seconds, edging fellow Ligier driver Luis Felipe Derani.
NHRA: Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) led the first day of qualifying at the Gatornationals in Gainesville.