IndyCar drivers ready to face Le Mans

Leave a comment

IZOD IndyCar Series fans will be busy watching the proceedings this weekend at Iowa Speedway, but they also ought to keep tabs on the 24 Hours of Le Mans as well, which will see some current and former open-wheelers take part in the famous sports car event.

Topping the list of IndyCar veterans in the field at Le Mans are Mike Conway (pictured) and Ryan Briscoe, who have both competed in IndyCar this season at various points. Conway, who won the first Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit race for Dale Coyne Racing, will compete in the LMP2 category for the No. 26 G-Drive Racing team alongside Russia’s Roman Rusinov and Australia’s John Martin.

Conway and his partners managed to put their Oreca-Nissan on the front row of the LMP2 class, qualifying second in the category and 10th overall for today’s event.

“Once you get to know the track, it’s a lot of fun to drive,” Conway said on Friday according to AutoWeek. “[Qualifying in second] on old tires was fantastic, but it’s going to be a tough, long race and anything can happen. Being at Le Mans though and experiencing my first 24 hour race is very special, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow and hoping we have a good race.”

Also having his inaugural experience at Le Mans is Briscoe, who has suited up for Panther Racing (Detroit, Milwaukee) and Chip Ganassi Racing (Indianapolis 500) in 2013 while pursuing full-time duties in the American Le Mans Series.

Briscoe will also battle in the LMP2 class for Level 5 Motorsports in their No. 33 Honda/HPD ARX 03b, which he’ll share with team owner Scott Tucker and Marino Franchitti. This particular driver combo has already hit paydirt this season in the ALMS, claiming the P2 category title at the 12 Hours of Sebring. However, they’ll have to work their way up as the race plays out after qualifying 18th in class and 26th overall.

Past IndyCar drivers are also lending a bit of open-wheel flavor to the grid at Le Mans. Among the notables are Bertrand Baguette (who almost won the 2011 Indy 500 but had to pit for fuel in the final laps) and Martin Plowman, who’ll team up with Mexico’s Ricardo Gonzalez as part of the No. 35 Oak Racing Morgan-Nissan LMP2 squad. Former Firestone Indy Lights champion J.K. Vernay, Shinji Nakano, Tristan Gommendy, Ryan Dalziel, and Nicolas Minassian are among the other ex-open wheelers on the grid as well.

The 90th anniversary race of the 24 Hours of Le Mans is slated to begin this morning at 9 a.m. ET.

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

Formula One logo
Leave a comment

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.