He attends Community School of Naples, where he’s an honor roll student. He likes football, paintball, and boxing.
Then you find out a little more.
While many high school students spend their weekends trying not to think about the coming Monday, Andres takes his life a little faster than most.
The 15-year-old high school sophomore is an open-wheel racer with his eyes on Formula 1. He competes in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, and will make his season debut for Arms Up Motorsports on the streets of St. Petersburg on March 28.
“I’m really excited for the season to start,” Andres said. “I raced at the St. Pete course last year, and I was really new to the car since I only had one test day in it. It’s so narrow it feels like the walls are closing in on you. I’m used to it now.”
Born in Germany, Andres grew up in France and Dubai, where his father Ayra liked golf and Andres liked the golf cart.
“We moved to France when he was two,” said Ayra. “From a very young age he would sit on my lap and play with the wheel on the golf cart. When we went to Dubai, he would drive the cart. I would hit the ball and he would look for it.”
Andres spent his youth racing karts all around Europe. Ayra said they would sometimes travel thousands of miles on a weekend to race. Eventually, Andres decided his goal was to make it to Formula 1, where the 12-year-old realized a problem: the European Formula car series require drivers be at least 16.
“If the goal is Formula 1, we thought why practice karts when we can drive cars?” asked Andres.
With that in mind, Andres left his mother behind in France and moved to the United States, where they started racing in the Skip Barber Winter Series. He promptly won the 2013-14 championship, winning eight of 10 races. He ran his first full season in USF2000 in 2014, finishing 16th in the overall standings.
Why give it all up? Why leave everything in Europe behind? Part of the reason, Ayra said, was the age restrictions, but cost factored in as well.
“We got frustrated with the European teams, because to run a go kart would cost about the same as USF2000,” Ayra said. “Since you aren’t allowed to drive cars until 16, some drivers stay in the karts too long and have trouble when they go to cars. Now if he goes back to Europe he’ll have an advantage.”
USF2000 is the first step on what the IndyCar Series calls the “Road to Indy.” The program encourages drivers to advance through the ladder to IndyCar, by giving the champion of each series funding to move up to the next level. Above USF2000 is the Pro Mazda Championship, followed by Firestone Indy Lights, and the top rung IndyCar. After that, Andres hopes, he can go to Formula 1.
If the American ladder doesn’t work out as planned, Andres still plans to pursue his dreams elsewhere by following the European ladder series.
“Being in the cars, if we go back to Europe, he will have an advantage,” Ayra said.
Life is already hectic enough as a teenager, but add on a goal which involves moving halfway around the world, and it adds a new layer of difficulty.
“The first week of school was hard, since I had to get used to the American school system,” Andres said about starting at Community School. “The grading system is different compared to France.”
Andres said his hobby isn’t a secret among his classmates, and adds that a few of his teachers and classmates plan to make the trip to St. Petersburg to watch him compete.
“The whole school knows I race, they’re always asking me for racing videos.”
Much like soccer, open-wheel racing is a sport that is significantly more popular internationally than it is in the United States. Motorsports in the United States is largely dominated by NASCAR, where competition is done in full-bodied cars on oval tracks, rather than screaming through road and street courses as Andres does.
“In a race, I love the battling. It’s the intensity and high speeds,” Andres said. “Being wheel-to-wheel, seeing who is going to break deeper, who is going to try harder and go harder to make the pass, it makes me feel really good. In NASCAR there are some passes, but Americans are missing out on all the good racing. When two cars are going 240 miles-per-hour side by side into a corner, trying to out-brake each other, it’s just amazing to see.”
Speaking of wheel-to-wheel racing, Andres’ eyes light up when he talks about a go-kart race he ran with IndyCar stars Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves, and ex-Formula 1 and current NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya.
“It was in Miami, and it was really fun,” Andres said of sharing a track with the professionals. “They went right away with it too. [Kanaan] was bumping me down the straights right away, I wasn’t expecting that.”
Did he win? Well, Andres grinned but didn’t say.
“He had a stronger kart than me, and he was pushing me around on the straights, but we were even in the corners.”
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