TUSC: Rolex 24 PC class preview

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The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship premieres this weekend with the Rolex 24 at Daytona. We’ll have sporadic posts and updates for the season opener of the unified series, which brings together the GRAND-AM Rolex Series and American Le Mans Series.

Next up in our list of class previews, the PC class.

PC CLASS

WHAT IT IS: The second prototype class. Cars require at least two Silver or Bronze drivers combined in four-or-five driver lineups. All-spec ORECA FLM09 chassis with Chevrolet powerplants (unbadged) and spec Continental Tires. This class carried over from the ALMS and has been praised for its low costs and good racing between both the pro and am drivers. This will be the first 24-hour race for the PC class, which never ran more than 12 in any ALMS race.

WHO THEY ARE: 9 spec ORECA FLM09s, driven by a mix of sports car veterans, IndyCar interlopers and gentlemen drivers ranked either Silver or Bronze according to IMSA’s driver ranking system (Platinum and Gold are reserved for paid professionals).

A QUICK BREAKDOWN: Starworks Motorsport (No. 7/8) and RSR Racing (No. 08/09) run two cars apiece, with 8Star Motorsports (No. 25), Performance Tech Motorsports (No. 38), PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports (No. 52), CORE autosport (No. 54) and BAR1 Motorsports (No. 87) rounding up the class.

CORE is the three-time defending team champion from ALMS; a win for BAR1 would be its fourth straight after taking the last three of 2013. All teams except 8Star (which only ran the season-ending ALMS race, and finished second in its debut) and Starworks (one PC class start) have at least one class victory from the ALMS.

WHO TO WATCH: The pro drivers in class include Sam Bird (GP2 runner-up), Kyle Marcelli and Renger van der Zande at Starworks, Alex Tagliani, Conor Daly, Bruno Junqueira and Duncan Ende at RSR, Tom Kimber-Smith and Rob Huff at 8Star, Raphael Matos at Performance Tech, Gunnar Jeannette at PR1/Mathiasen, Colin Braun, Mark Wilkins and James Gue at CORE, and Sean Rayhall at BAR1. Others may emerge depending on the timing of the stint or how well the am-ranked drivers hold up in their stints.

Picking a favorite? This is hard. I would not be surprised with any class winner, and likely the class winner is the one that endures the least amount of reliability issues.

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.