Muscle Milk wins bizarre ALMS race at Baltimore

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The American Le Mans Series Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT started with a bang, and finished with a thrilling conclusion to salvage something on an abnormal day.

Some of the series pre-eminent teams: Muscle Milk Pickett Racing (P1), Level 5 Motorsports (P2), Corvette Racing (GT) and Flying Lizard Motorsports (GTC) all won their respective classes, and Performance Tech Motorsports grabbed its first PC class victory.

How they did, however, was another story. It was an odd race, and officially the shortest in ALMS series history at approximately one hour and 15 minutes. The race start was delayed after a red flag for a start-line crash involving more than six cars.

Muscle Milk’s pair of Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf won their sixth straight 2013 race in its HPD ARX-03c, to secure the P1 class championships. On the start, however, Graf felt as though Chris Dyson had jumped the start in the Dyson Racing Lola Mazda cope. Dyson, unsurprisingly, felt differently and neither minced their words in TV interviews.

Once Luhr was in the car, he emerged behind Dyson’s co-driver Guy Smith and would make the winning pass on Smith, to the inside in the Turn 3 hairpin with just more than 10 minutes remaining. Smith stayed within three or four tenths for the rest of the race but lost more than three seconds lapping through GTC traffic.

The P2 1-2 was next up with Level 5’s second car of Guy Cosmo and Marino Franchitti beating the fellow HPD ARX-03b of ESM, Cosmo’s old team, and the No. 01 driven by Anthony Lazzaro and Scott Sharp. Each car pitted with just more than 24 minutes remaining to ensure Franchitti and Sharp hit the minimum drive time. These two were the survivors after the start-line dust-up.

GT runners finished fifth through ninth overall, with the two Corvettes leading the two BMW Team RLL Z4s and the No. 91 SRT Viper. It was a great battle between the Corvettes and the BMWs all day and the winners, Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia, took their second win of the year. Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner’s No. 4 Corvette was second with the No. 56 of Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand third. Corvette actually led overall for just more than a lap but lost the lead as the P1 leaders cycled through.

PC had three different leaders just in the last 10 minutes, in what was a chaotic finish. Colin Braun led in the No. 05 CORE autosport car but needed a pit stop within the final 5 minutes to hand to Jon Bennett, to ensure Bennett hit his minimum drive time amount. Dane Cameron, in his first PC start of the year, inherited the lead in the PR1/Mathiasen entry but had apparent suspension failure exiting Turn 4. That allowed Performance Tech to sneak through and for Tristan Nunez and Charlie Shears to take their first ALMS win. Braun and Bennett were classified second.

Lastly GTC had a great battle from second through fifth behind the winning No. 44 Flying Lizard entry driven by Dion von Moltke and Flying Lizard team principal Seth Neiman, who secured his first ALMS race victory as a driver.

Behind von Moltke, the polesitting No. 22 Alex Job entry of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Cooper MacNeil finished second ahead of the surging No. 11 JDX entry of Jan Heylen and Mike Hedlund. Heylen nearly passed Bleekemolen for second on the front straight heading to the checkered flag.  Just behind the podium finishers were the No. 27 Dempsey Del Piero car driven by Patrick Dempsey and Andy Lally, with the No. 30 NGT car of Sean Edwards and Henrique Cisneros fifth.

The second Flying Lizard car, the No. 45 driven by Spencer Pumpelly and Nelson Canache, finished seventh with some issues after entering the weekend as the class points leaders.

Next up for ALMS is its first trip to Circuit of the Americas on Sept. 21, a joint weekend with the FIA World Endurance Championship in Austin, Texas.

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.