Kurt Busch has “experience of a lifetime” in IndyCar test at IMS

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From the beginning, former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kurt Busch was very much impressed by what an IndyCar can do at over 200 miles per hour at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“That was wild,” Busch exclaimed according to Andretti Autosport after the first run of his test session this morning in Ryan Hunter-Reay’s No. 1 DHL/Sun Drop Chevrolet. The session was originally to close around lunch time in Indianapolis, but was extended into the early afternoon.

When on-track activity ended, the man known as “The Outlaw” told his crew: “Experience of a lifetime. Thank you, guys.”

Busch ran 83 laps, had a fast lap of 218.210 miles per hour, and passed all three phases of a simulated Rookie Orientation Program at the Speedway — which all first-time Indianapolis 500 racers must pass in order to compete in practice and qualifying. IMS says that Busch has now been licensed to drive an IndyCar.

“It’s a incredible feeling to be able to drive in Indianapolis in May in an IndyCar with the name Andretti on the car,” said Busch, who admitted to having a “kid in the candy store” sort of feeling during his opening laps.

“I couldn’t have asked for more from Ray [Gosselin], the lead engineer, and to have [team owner] Michael [Andretti] standing there — and then [James] Hinchcliffe came and put in his advice. To have a driver like himself just sit there and try to put my mind at ease is one thing, and then you have a legend like Michael telling me what to do. I couldn’t have asked for anything better — a treat that can’t be equaled, to say the least.”

Busch has indicated a possible interest in becoming the first driver since Robby Gordon in 2004 to sign up for “Double Duty” and attempt to run both the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the same day. However, Busch says that he’d prefer to have more time to learn about driving an open-wheel car before he’d feel ready to attempt the feat next year.

“This day and age, everyone wants more,” he said after his test. “When you have extra energy into any race, it makes it more exciting it for everyone involved. When you have sponsors wanting to be involved. It’s difficult to be done to be in peak performance for the Coca-Cola 600.

“I wouldn’t be able to do [the double] this year because of stamina. Today, I was white knuckled and tense, and that was only after 10 laps. To crawl and then walk and then walk and run, I think the next step is to go to another oval and another race and see how the car runs in traffic.”

As for Michael Andretti, he was complimentary of Busch’s performance in today’s test.

“We wanted to do it a proper way, mostly for Kurt,” he said. “We wanted him to have a real experience and we wanted to make some changes that he could feel, and he could start to understand a little bit more about what to expect with the car in different conditions and different setups. I think we were able to achieve that, so I would say the day went as good as we could’ve expected.”

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.