Hinchcliffe, de Silvestro due for big Long Beach weekends

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Two of the stars of the St. Petersburg IZOD IndyCar Series curtain-raiser figure to play heavily into the equation at this weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, if history is any indication.

James Hinchcliffe’s Long Beach record includes a podium in his first Formula Atlantic start (2006), his first Indy Lights win (2009), his first IndyCar top-five (fourth in 2011) and first IndyCar podium (third last year) in the last seven years.

The Andretti Autosport driver and St. Pete winner seeks a bounce back after a frustrating early exit from Barber when a wheel went loose.

“It’s a track I’ve always enjoyed, and one where Andretti Autosport has a good history here too,” said Hinchcliffe. “Ryan (Hunter-Reay) and (Mike) Conway have won here. And I got the first Lights win, first IndyCar top-five and podium. The first pole would be nice? That would translate well.”

For KV Racing Technology’s Simona de Silvestro, Long Beach also holds a special place in her heart with her first Formula Atlantic win in 2008 – a win that was overshadowed as Danica Patrick won her first and only IndyCar race the same weekend, the other side of the world, in Motegi, Japan.

“Yeah, it’s always cool to be here, as it’s a real tricky place!” she said. “My IndyCar career has had some good weekends here and some miserable. Last year we actually had a strong car (probably her best with Lotus, after starting 17th) and with the things we learned at St. Pete, should be competitive. I always enjoy coming here.”

Both drivers noted the key to Sunday’s race will once again be tires, as Firestone is expected to bring the same primary and alternate compounds as was at St. Pete. Hinchcliffe’s managing his tires helped aid his victory, while de Silvestro fell off on the red alternates just shy of a podium finish.

“It depends when you use what compounds at what stage. You have to stay up on it,” said Hinchcliffe.

Both have had some fun this week too, Hinchcliffe with recent filming of a new GoDaddy spot with Patrick – Hinch estimated a full five minutes of footage was usable, only to be condensed to 30 seconds – while de Silvestro took in her first NHL hockey game Wednesday night, as the Anaheim Ducks played the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“I was very excited, but unfortunately they lost and Graham (Rahal’s) team won!” she admitted, reluctantly. “I was a bit frustrated about that. But they’re going to the playoffs, and that’s what counts.”

Street race in Vietnam could lead Formula One’s Asia expansion

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TOKYO (AP) — Formula One is expected to add more races in Asia, including a street circuit in the capital of Vietnam, a country with little auto racing history that is on the verge of getting a marquee event.

“We think Hanoi could come on in the next couple of years, and we’re working with the Hanoi government to that end,” Sean Bratches, Formula One’s managing director of commercial operations, told the Associated Press.

There is even speculation it could be on the schedule next season, which Bratches rebuffed.

Vietnam would join countries like Azerbaijan, Russia and Bahrain, which have Grand Prix races, little history in the sport, and authoritarian governments with deep pockets that serve F1 as it tries to expand into new markets.

“This (Hanoi) is a street race where we can go downtown, where we can activate a large fan base,” Bratches said. “And you have extraordinary iconography from a television standpoint.”

A second race in China is also likely and would join Shanghai on the F1 calendar. Bratches said deciding where to stage the GP will “be left to local Chinese partners” – Beijing is a strong candidate.

Bratches runs the commercial side of Formula One, which was acquired last year by U.S.-based Liberty Media from long-time operator Bernie Ecclestone.

Formula One’s long-term goal is to have 24-25 races – up from the present 21 – and arrange them in three geographical segments: Asia, Europe and the Americas. Bratches said the Europe-based races would stay in middle of the calendar, with Asia or the Americas opening or ending the season.

He said their positioning had not been decided, and getting this done will be slowed by current contracts that mandate specific places on the calendar for several races. This means eventually that all the races in Asia would be run together, as would races in Europe and the Americas.

The F1 schedule is now an inefficient jumble, allowing Bratches to take a good-natured poke at how the sport was run under Ecclestone.

“We’ve acquired an undermanaged asset that’s 67-years-old, but effectively a start-up,” Bratches said.

Early-season races in Australia and China this year were conducted either side of a trip to Bahrain in the Middle East. Late in the season Formula One returns to Asia with races in Japan and Singapore.

The Canadian GP this season is run in the middle of the European swing, separated by four months from the other races in the Americas – the United States, Mexico and Brazil. These three are followed by the season-ending race in Abu Dhabi, which means another trip across the globe.

“With the right economics, with the right structure and cadence of events across territories, 24 or 25 is probably where we’d like to be from a longer-term standpoint,” Bratches said.

Big changes are not likely to happen until the 2020 season ends. This is when many current rules and contracts expire as F1’s new owners try to redistribute some income to allow smaller teams to compete.

“There’s more interest than we have capacity in the schedule,” Bratches said, firing off Berlin, Paris or London as potentially attractive venues. “We want to be very selective.”

“Those cites from an economic impact standpoint would find us value, as do others around the world,” Bratches added. “It’s very important for us as we move forward to go to locations that are a credit to the Formula One brand.”

An expanded schedule would have to be approved by the teams, which will be stretched by the travel and the wear-and-tear on their crews. The burden will fall on the smaller teams, which have significantly smaller revenue compared with Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull.

Bratches also envisions another race in the U.S., joining the United States Grand Prix held annually in Austin, Texas. A street race in Miami is a strong candidate, as are possible venues like Las Vegas or New York.

“We see the United States and China as countries that could support two races,” he said.

Liberty Media has reported Formula One’s total annual revenue at $1.8 billion, generated by fees paid by promoters, broadcast rights, advertising and sponsorship. Race promotion fees also tend to be higher in Asia, which makes the area attractive – along with a largely untapped fan base.

In a four-year cycle, F1 generates more revenue than FIFA or the International Olympic Committee, which rely almost entirely on one-time showcase events.

Reports suggest Vietnamese promoters may pay between $50-60 million annually as a race fee, with those fees paid by the government. Bratches said 19 of 21 Formula One races are supported by government payments.

“The race promotion fee being derived from the government … is a model that has worked historically,” Bratches said.