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Report: Could NASCAR seriously expand internationally?


A report from USA Today’s Nate Ryan is a good one to read in full, summing up the prospects of NASCAR’s international aspirations. NASCAR’s senior vp Steve O’Donnell told Ryan the sanctioning body is “approached every day” with opportunities to race in other countries.

Some of the countries mooted are Singapore, Malaysia, Russia, Brazil and Japan. NASCAR has already had exhibition races in Japan in the 1990s, and points races for its Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series divisions in Mexico and Canada. Additionally, the report notes that the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series will race in Germany, England, Spain and France in 2014.

All of the above countries hold a round of the Formula One World Championship except for France and Mexico; Russia’s inaugural GP will premiere in 2014 as part of a banner year for that country. It hosts the Sochi Winter Olympics in February, and that’s going to do the most to expose modern day Russia to the world stage.

But the difference NASCAR wants to achieve, per this report, is that it doesn’t want to merely show up and collect an appearance fee. In O’Donnell’s words to Ryan, “We want to be international but build from the grass roots. The goal is not to become Formula One and collect a fee and leave.”

The goal, ultimately, is to attract more foreign drivers to NASCAR over F1. And O’Donnell’s comment is also a big statement because it speaks to NASCAR wanting to export its brand and become a part of other countries, rather than merely a stop on a circus, as F1 is in the countries it chooses to visit.

NASCAR has the American motorsports market cornered. F1’s fan base in America is smart, passionate, dedicated … but still a fraction of NASCAR’s. IndyCar – for all its upsides, including an excellent on-track product – perpetually underachieves and deals way too frequently with political wrangling. Sports car racing, at its core, is simply too confusing to grow beyond the ultra hardcore, niche market it already has in play.

When it comes to motorsports around the world, F1 is the pinnacle and will remain the pinnacle based on the sheer volume of coverage it receives. NASCAR, worldwide, is a mere foot note. And if it truly wants to grow internationally, it needs to expose its brand and build drivers and fans in other countries.

So what NASCAR is saying in this story, to me at least, is, “We’ve conquered the U.S. and now, a la an NFL, we are determined to grow our brand globally.”

It’s not something that can be done in a day. The NFL is king of the American sports market, yet NFL Europe has already gone under and it’s taken a handful of years to begin to export the brand globally thanks to the regular season games in Wembley Stadium in London. And no, having the Jacksonville Jaguars there isn’t the best way to do so.

NASCAR is a uniquely American sport and one that probably could, I’d argue, almost be better served by trying to return more to its Southern roots rather than try to expand its brand globally. More short track races, dirt races, or races in Southern markets could do more to placate and grow the fan base domestically.

But that’s a topic for another day. Assuming NASCAR forges ahead with these aspirations, it will be very interesting to watch whether it can sink or swim as part of a global sports market, and who chooses to eat it up.

Vandoorne, McLaren lead Abu Dhabi’s single day of Pirelli tire testing

xxxx during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 11, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.
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It was only a test, two days after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix season finale at Yas Marina Circuit, but it’s still nice to write as the 2015 Formula 1 season officially draws to a close: A McLaren Honda was fastest.

GP2 Series champion Stoffel Vandoorne resumed aboard the McLaren MP4-30 Honda chassis and compared to a year ago, when he barely made more than an installation lap in the post-Abu Dhabi test, ended 2015 on top of the timesheets – albeit with times not really the focus in what was a Pirelli tire test of various configurations for the new “ultrasoft” compound.

“We had one shot when it came to testing tires for next season, and we can be satisfied by what we’ve achieved in this test, even if we have to fully analyze the data,” Pirelli’s Paul Hembery said, via Autosport.

The “ultrasoft” compound, marked with a purple stripe, could further the delta between Pirelli’s prime and option tires in 2016. There’s only been a step of one compound between primes and options between the four 2015 compounds: supersoft, soft, medium and hard.

As it was, Vandoorne’s best time of 1:44.103 was 0.353 clear of Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari, who ended his season on the podium with third place on Sunday.

American Alexander Rossi, who finished second to Vandoorne in GP2 this season, poked fun at Vandoorne ending P1 on Twitter.

Other 2015 regular season drivers who tested included Raikkonen’s teammate Sebastian Vettel, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat (although Kvyat didn’t turn a lap), Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Toro Rosso teammates Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr.

Fellow young guns – Mercedes’ Pascal Wehrlein, Lotus’ Jolyon Palmer, Sauber’s Adderly Fong, Force India’s Alfonso Celis Jr. and Manor’s Jordan King and Rio Haryanto – also ran during the private test session.

Here are the unofficial times below, via McLaren’s Twitter account:

Detroit Grand Prix names new General Manager, Michael Montri

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Michael Montri has been named the new General Manager of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, which runs next June 3-5, 2016.

Montri replaces Charles Burns, the former director of INDYCAR security who ran the event from the end of 2012 through the end of November, this year.

Since its return to the calendar in 2012, the Penske-run event has established itself as one of the best-run events on the INDYCAR calendar from an operational and organizational standpoint.

It’s also asserting itself as the lone doubleheader weekend on the INDYCAR calendar, following Toronto’s reduction to one race and the absence of Houston on the schedule.

Montri, as it is, has been within the Penske organization for more than a decade in a variety of roles, starting as a marketing and public relations intern when Penske still ran Michigan International Speedway.

From the Detroit Grand Prix release:

“Since 2002, Montri has worked with Penske Automotive Group (PAG), serving most recently as Vice President of Fleet Operations for Penske Car Rental and as Vice President of Procurement for PAG. For the last several years, Montri has also worked with the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix team, providing support leading up to and during race weekend.”

“We are excited to welcome Michael Montri as the General Manager for the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix,” said Bud Denker, Chairman of the Grand Prix. “Michael has a strong background in motorsports and he brings a wealth of knowledge, experience and leadership from his time in Detroit with the Penske Corporation companies. He has also worked closely with our Grand Prix staff over the last few events so he is a great fit to lead the team into 2016 and beyond.”

“The Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix is such a positive and important event for our region and I’m really looking forward to the opportunity of leading our Grand Prix team,” said Montri. “I’ve always had a passion for motorsports so this new challenge really represents a return to my roots. Most importantly, the Grand Prix is about giving back to Detroit and, specifically, to Belle Isle. I look forward to working with all the stakeholders involved with the Grand Prix and continuing its mission of revitalizing the jewel within our city – Belle Isle Park.”

As King, Haryanto test, Manor’s venerable chassis MR03B retires at last

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Will Stevens of Great Britain and Manor Marussia drives during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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The period of transition continues for Manor Marussia F1 Team, as today two of its young potential future stars tested, while its own venerable, workhorse chassis MR03B took its last scheduled laps.

GP2 drivers Jordan King and Rio Haryanto were behind the wheel for today’s running at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. Neither was really in it for lap times – best times were only 1:49.593 (Haryanto) and 1:49.661 (King) respectively – but more a chance to go through Pirelli’s designated program and gain further experience in a Formula 1 car.

English driver King completed 59 laps in his first ever outing in a Formula 1 car, while Haryanto, the young Indonesian driver, made 56 laps in his first bit of F1 running since 2012. So this marked his first running in the current generation of machinery, which debuted ahead of the 2014 season.

“It has been quite a while since I last tested a Formula 1 car, with Manor, in fact, in 2012,” Haryanto said. “The cars of today though are quite a lot different, especially in respect of the new engine developments, so it took some time to get used to the changes, especially the engine management. As the morning progressed though I was improving all the time and with no issues I could really get into the program.”

King added of his day, “My first time at the wheel of an F1 car has been an incredible experience and I can’t thank Manor enough for providing me with this opportunity. Today’s Pirelli tire test had a very specific focus and I was determined to make the most of this chance to show my development capability as well as my potential for the future. We had a trouble-free day, so I could really get stuck into the plan, and this enabled me to build my confidence as the afternoon progressed.”

As for the chassis, which was Will Stevens’ race chassis this year, Manor confirmed it has completed more than 20,000 km over its two-year lifespan.

A calculation from veteran F1 journalist Adam Cooper puts that at some 65 race distances!

Manor Marussia F1 Team heads into the winter with former team chiefs Graeme Lowdon (sporting director) and John Booth (team principal) leaving and perhaps pursuing a new adventure, Dave Ryan (racing director) now entering and as the only team on the grid yet to confirm its driver lineup.

American Alexander Rossi is known to be among the contenders for a full-season seat, while Stevens, Haryanto and Mercedes reserve Pascal Wehrlein’s names have also been mentioned as possibilities.

Is there a new adventure for Lowdon, Booth? @RealManor Twitter launches today

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A mere two days after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and John Booth and Graeme Lowdon’s sign-off to the Manor Marussia F1 Team occurred, Lowdon’s already dropped a hint of what his next move could be.

Lowdon and Booth sat front and center in a Twitter post released Tuesday, with Lowdon writing: “So maybe time for a new adventure? Why not come along too? For any news, just follow MM .”

Fittingly, the aforementioned new Twitter account – @realManor – has premiered today.

Two things to note here. One… the timing is very intriguing to say the least. Booth, then team principal, and Lowdon, then sporting director, tendered their resignations from a team that appeared to be moving forward for 2016, with confirmation of a new Mercedes power unit and technical support from Williams, in the form of gearbox and suspension components. But Booth and Lowdon resigned following apparent disagreements with the direction of the team under new owner Stephen Fitzpatrick.

Second, the naming of the new Twitter account as Real Manor implies, intentional or not, that Manor is more closely aligned to Booth and Lowdon, rather than with the Manor Marussia F1 Team. The Twitter bio page makes that fairly clear: “Official Twitter account of Manor Motorsport. Established in 1990. Over 180 race wins and 19 National and International Championships. We love racing.” Naturally though, the Manor Marussia F1 Team continues with @ManorF1Team as its Twitter account.

With Manor F1’s management structure now going through the change, with Booth and Lowdon now out and former McLaren F1 sporting director Dave Ryan joining the team as racing director, and now this new cat out of the bag, it will be very intriguing to see what develops from a name and/or new adventure standpoint that Lowdon is referring to.

UPDATE: The below tweet and story from DailySportsCar editor Graham Goodwin might offer a pretty, pretty good idea of what Lowdon was teasing.