Indy 500 rookies learn the ropes on Opening Day

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As he attempts to make the field for his first Indianapolis 500, A.J. Allmendinger’s past stock car experience at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is of very little help to him.

“It just tells me that there are four corners around this racetrack and I have an understanding of what they feel like,” said Allmendinger (pictured), who was one of three Indy 500 rookies to pass the Rookie Orientation Program this afternoon at IMS. The former Champ Car driver posted a top lap of 219.239 miles per hour in his ROP session.

“Obviously, it’s two different race cars — completely different race cars. The line and just the way the track feels, that I kind of knew, but from there it’s a completely different technique of how to get in the corners. You can’t hit the brake pedal, and you don’t want to lift. [I’m] trying to get used to that. The first few laps when I was trying to go wide-open, the right foot was quivering. I had to get the left foot to hold it down and say, ‘OK, it’s time to get used to this.’ It was enjoyable.”

Unlike Allmendinger, Tristan Vautier does have some open-wheel experience at Indy to fall back on. However, that was in a Firestone Indy Lights car that is considerably slower than the IZOD IndyCar Series’ Dallara DW12 he’s been driving for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports this year.

“That was so much faster than an Indy Lights car,” said Vautier of his rookie orientation. “It was harder to run slow when they were asking us to stay between the lower speed ranges, because it was difficult to judge how much to lift to stay in that segment. It was fun, though. I managed 15 laps at full speed at the end and loved it. Everything happens faster in these cars, and you need to anticipate everything. It’s easier to make a mistake, and you have to be on it all the time.”

As for Andretti Autosport’s Carlos Munoz, the third man to pass ROP today, he came away P3 overall on the practice charts behind Ed Carpenter in first and Josef Newgarden in second. That should give the young Colombian some energy as he prepares throughout the upcoming week for qualifications.

“My day ended really well with this afternoon’s practice,” he said. “I feel like each time I get in the [car] that I’m getting better. I’m starting to feel more and more confident, and I think my last lap was one of my best of the day. But it is still a long month with a lot of work left to do. I’m with the best team this season, which gives me confidence in my abilities as we go through this month.”

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.