Rebellion reigns again at Petit Le Mans (UPDATED)

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With their main rivals from Muscle Milk Pickett Racing sidelined midway through with an overheating issue, Rebellion Racing claimed its second consecutive victory at the Petit Le Mans this evening at Road Atlanta, bringing the American Le Mans Series era to a close.

Neel Jani, who was part of Rebellion’s 2012 Petit-winning team, brought home the team’s No. 12 Lola B12/60 Toyota (co-drivers Nicolas Prost and Nick Heidfeld) for a six-lap win over the No. 551 Level 5 Motorsports P2 entry of Scott Tucker, Marino Franchitti and Ryan Briscoe.

“In some sense, it’s frustrating because [us and Muscle Milk] had a good race going,” Prost told Fox Sports. “I mean, I think it would’ve been really tight. But in the end, you’re happy to win and we’re happy to have back-to-back [Petit] wins in the final race of the ALMS. It’s fantastic.”

In P2, the class win from the No. 551 Level 5 team enabled Tucker to claim the 2013 P2 driver’s championship. Tucker, Franchitti and Briscoe bested the No. 01 Extreme Speed Motorsports machine of Scott Sharp, Anthony Lazzaro and David Brabham for top honors.

“These guys are the best,” Tucker said of his teammates Franchitti and Briscoe. “They did a great performance today. I couldn’t be more proud of the whole team. The [Extreme Speed Motorsports] guys put on a hell of a fight for us, and we’re lucky that we got here. But these guys did a great job.”

The narrow battle in GT went to the No. 17 Falken Tire Porsche squad of Nick Tandy, Bryan Sellers, and Wolf Henzler. Shortly after a restart with 11 laps to go, Tandy had a brief off-course excursion at the downhill esses while leading the race but was still able to keep the point over the No. 56 BMW Team RLL entry of Dirk Muller.

After that heart-stopping moment, Tandy settled down and hung on by .74 of a second over Muller, who also fell short in the GT driver’s championship as the No. 3 Corvette Racing duo of Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia claimed that crown with a sixth-place finish alongside Jordan Taylor.

“I couldn’t have wished for a better year to do it – the last year of the ALMS,” Magnussen said. “Who would’ve thought after Sebring [retirement due to gearbox problems] that we’d be here celebrating a championship…It just couldn’t be better.”

The No. 8 BAR1 Motorsports trio of Chris Cumming, Kyle Marcelli and Stefan Johansson were triumphant in Prototype Challenge for its third consecutive ALMS victory.

Even better for BAR1, Cumming was able to overtake PC points leader Mike Gausch and win the driver’s championship in that class. Or so we thought.

As it was later revealed, the second-place car in the PC class – the No. 25 8Star Motorsports entry of Ozz Negri and Sean Rayhall – was not a full-season entry and thus, they do not receive points and the teams behind them move up.

That meant Gausch, who had finished fifth, received a fourth-place points finish, enabling him to claim the driver’s championship by one point over Cumming.

In GTC, the No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche of Nelson Canache, Spencer Pumpelly and Madison Snow won, while a fourth-place finish enabled the No. 22 Alex Job Racing Porsche of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Cooper MacNeil to wrap up the driver’s championship there.

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.