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When Pippa Mann met the man who would become her husband – Schmidt Peterson Motorsports engineer Robert Gue – the native Brit had little idea the graduate of Clemson University would expose her to the big-time world of American college football.
Since their marriage, the Verizon IndyCar Series driver and her husband from Atlanta have attended numerous Clemson games. Tonight, Gue will be at college football’s national championship between Clemson and Alabama – a repeat of last year’s title game – not far from where the Verizon IndyCar Series opens its 2017 season in two months on the streets of St. Petersburg.
Gue attended Clemson from 1997-2001 and earned a degree in mechanical engineering. With the success of the Clemson football program, it makes him a proud alumnus of the South Carolina institution.
“It's cool to see,” Gue said. “It brings a lot of notoriety to the school and something you can take pride in. I was never part of the football team, but it's pride by association with the success of the school and the team.”
Gue and Mann have been to three Clemson games this season. Both know that taking on top-ranked Alabama will be a very difficult task, but they are confident the Tigers can overcome the Crimson Tide and win it all.
“If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best,” Gue said. “Alabama has certainly set the standard the last five or six years, ever since Nick Saban took over as head coach. It is a perennial powerhouse and seems that no matter who plays for the Tide, the system is always successful. They seem to be able to recruit very well and the next guy up seems to be better than the man they are replacing.”
Gue works on design and research and development projects at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. He serves as driver James Hinchcliffe's race strategist on race weekends. He is in charge of the pit stand and helps keep it organized.
“I look back on the 2016 season with some good memories, especially at the Indianapolis 500,” Gue said. “It is always an accomplishment to be on pole for the 500. Teams put a lot of effort on that. To have James Hinchcliffe on pole and all three Schmidt Peterson cars in the top 10 (in qualifying) is a good testament to the team and the preparation that goes into it.
“We would have liked to have won a race (in 2016), but it didn't happen. We have had a productive offseason assessing where our strengths and weaknesses were and hope to come out of the gate even stronger than where we finished 2016.”
After graduating from Clemson in 2001, Gue moved to Indianapolis and worked for a sports car company doing design work. He joined Walker Racing in 2003 as an entry-level engineer for the Champ Car team, remaining with it through the 2007 season. He worked at Vision Racing for two years and then FAZZT Race Team, which later merged with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
It was during that time when Gue attended at the annual Indianapolis 500 party for drivers and team members hosted by Mari Hulman-George, Indianapolis Motor Speedway corporation chairman emeritus. That is where he met Mann, who at the time was competing in Indy Lights.
“He went with some friends and I was dragged off to the party with some friends because, totally new to the United States, I had no idea how important it was to attend Mari Hulman-George's get-together as an Indy Lights driver,” Mann recalled. “Although my friends knew his friends, nobody actually knew who Robert was. So while our friends like to take credit for us being introduced to one another, we ended up sitting at this thing together totally by chance.”
Football in America has been a completely new experience for Mann.
“When I first moved to the U.S., I knew nothing about American football,” she said. “It's like rugby but they stop a lot, have a lot of silly rules and wear a lot more protection. I've actually grown to enjoy American football and I'm actually a big Indianapolis Colts fan.
“However, one of the much bigger cultural differences for us with me being from the United Kingdom and Robert from the USA is, in the U.K., college sports are just college sports and when you leave college you grow out of college sports. There are very few college sports in the U.K. that live on beyond that college age and the only example I can think of is the boat race between Oxford and Cambridge.
“So to me, to have all of the fuss made about what is the Indy Lights of football is amusing, interesting. I tease Robert for it mercilessly on occasion, but he has slowly turned me into a Clemson supporter. I wear a Clemson hat and I do wear the Clemson orange and I've been to Death Valley (the nickname for Clemson’s Memorial Stadium) four or five times now.”
So who is going to win tonight's game?
“Clemson will win 35-31,” Gue said.
“I have to say Clemson will win,” said Mann, who is unable to attend the game due to a prior commitment in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Otherwise I will be disowned and put out on the street. I think it's going to be a really close game. I definitely hope they win. It will be 28-21 with Clemson winning. That will be my guess.