Colombian rookie Carlos Munoz’s driving set to earn more headlines

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Carlos Munoz’s two 2013 starts for Andretti Autosport in an IndyCar produced audible gasps more often than not.

There was no way he was going to make some of the moves and entry lines he did work. At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, his line of arcing in so high and then diving so low below the white line in the turns should not have ended without him in the wall. But it did, in second place in his Indianapolis 500 debut.

Then at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana in October, Munoz was moving high or low with ease in an action-packed 100 laps. Then, just past the century-mark, it finally bit him.

The 22-year-old Colombian is a seriously impressive star in the making, and with a full offseason to prepare for his first full season in the championship, he’s the early favorite for rookie-of-the-year honors in the team’s No. 34 Cinsay Honda.

Don’t tell him that, though. Munoz is a quiet, introspective student appreciative of the teammates around him and his countryman, Juan Pablo Montoya, who he’ll have the chance to race this year.

“Yeah, I’m a really quiet guy. I’m really shy,” Munoz admitted during IndyCar media day in Orlando. “That doesn’t mean I’m – how you say – bad person. I’m quiet and shy compared to James (Hinchcliffe). He’s always talking, making jokes, completely different mind.

“But they treat me as one of them. They treat me really well. After Indy they treat me really well!  But it’s great to have this combination of drivers, no?”

Munoz didn’t need to produce a star turn in the ‘500 to earn his place on the grid, but it didn’t hurt. He showed enough aggression, poise and pace in his two full seasons in Indy Lights that he was projected to move up this year, despite not winning the championship a year ago.

“That race just gave me the opportunity to be here in a full season,” he said. “I have another chance to go get that race. I’m focused on this year. But now I have my chance and I have to think and work for it.”

At least initially, he may have a slight pace edge on his two countrymen, Montoya and Sebastian Saavedra. Montoya will need to shake the rust off after his extended open-wheel hiatus, while Saavedra acclimates to a new team at KV/AFS Racing.

Munoz said Montoya wasn’t so much his idol, as much as a symbol of what could be achieved when Munoz was growing up. But he plans to consider him just “one of the guys” once on track.

“I don’t like the word ‘idolized,’ but he was a symbol for me when I was a kid, an example for me and many Colombian drivers, to follow him,” Munoz said.

“We have a great relationship.  He called me last year. We have known him a lot, giving me some little tips about the race and everything.  I have some pictures of him when I was small.  He was at a go-kart race with his brother when I was small.  It’s a strange feeling when you’re small, you’re looking at him as a big driver.

“But once I’m here, you just put your helmet on, everyone is the same. You don’t think, ‘Who is this guy, or what he’s done.’”

In just two years, Munoz has already done enough to get the buzz going for his rookie season. He still will need a couple races on the road and street courses to get further acclimated, although his Toronto cameo for Panther Racing last year was an impressive performance.

Whether he, Montoya or Saavedra emerges as the year’s top Colombian remains to be seen.

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.