FAIRBANKS — In the rarified air of Formula One racing, it’s common to see the sponsorship logos of huge corporations emblazoned on the drivers and the cars themselves. Hewlett-Packard, Valvoline, Red Bull, TAG-Heuer, Credit Suisse ... and Alaska Coffee Roasting Co.?
That’s right. Formula One driver Alexander Rossi’s helmet proudly bears the name of one of Fairbanks most popular and venerable coffee houses. Rossi, 24, will wear that helmet as he races this Friday at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, currently the only grand prix track in America.
Alaska Coffee Roasting Co. owner Michael Gesser spoke to the News-Miner Monday afternoon as he was preparing to fly to Austin to watch the race. Just how did he come to sponsor an up-and-coming Formula One racer?
Gesser, a former North Slope construction worker, world traveler and car racing enthusiast, struck up a friendship with Rossi’s father Peter when they competed against each other in various races in the Lower 48. They were racing at Sears Point in Sonoma, California, when Peter asked Gesser to take a look at his then 11-year-old son Alexander, who was racing go-karts at the time.
Gesser said he resisted at first but in the end spent three days watching the boy race.
“I kind of thought Alexander displayed a lot of the basic elements that I thought in the end would produce the results that we have. He’s now one of 20 people in the world that drive grand prix cars. Very few Americans have accomplished this,” Gesser said.
Rossi has worked his way up from go-carts through the different levels of open-wheel racing until becoming the youngest driver to hold a Formula One super license at the age of 18. He left his home in California at the age of 17 and moved to Europe, where he could fully dedicate himself to the sport.
Gesser calls Formula One “the Olympics of motor sports,” and said Rossi is an “enormously humble and talented young man with a great intellect” who has what it takes to dominate the field.
“Our goal is ultimately to win a world championship and that’s been our goal for 13 years, since I met him when he was 11,” Gesser said. “Alexander has, in my view, been the real deal forever and a very important figure in sport for the early 21st century. Alaska Coffee Roasting has been helping to move him to the place that he is. That’s been very exciting.”
Gesser said he is only one of several sponsors and that he’s also an equity investor with stock value in Rossi’s career. In return Gesser gets decals and joint marketing opportunities, which helps build market value and brings recognition to Alaska as well as to his coffee company.
“It’s statistically very odd. By bringing Alaska Coffee Roasting to this level of global competition, obviously the name of Alaska becomes part of the gestalt of the sport,” Gesser said.
Gesser sent his store manager, Desiree Jolley, to Austin and she’s busy setting up equipment to provide coffee service at the race.
“We’re going to have our brand represented. It will be very nice,” Gesser said.
Contact staff writer Dorothy Chomicz at 459-7582. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.