First Bahrain F1 night race a resounding success

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For many years, Bahrain has been considered to be at the bottom of the list of “great grands prix” that currently have a place on the calendar. Following a great deal of political unrest in the kingdom in the wake of the Arab Spring, and the subsequent cancellation of the 2011 race, many expected the race to disappear from the sport altogether. Would it have been missed? Probably not. Mark Webber once said that racing at the Bahrain International Circuit was like driving around a car park. With dwindling attendances and a lack of atmosphere, it was hardly a race people relished.

So when the organizers confirmed that the 2014 race – the 10th Bahrain Grand Prix – would be a night race, many wrote it off as being another gimmick; a last roll of the dice to try and give the event some life. Singapore was at the time the only total night race in the sport, but it worked because of the location and the way that the race was promoted; the “Monaco of the east”, a glamorous event that attracted the rich and famous.

But Bahrain? That would not work as a night race, surely.

Instead, the doubters (including this writer) were proved very wrong last weekend. Not only did the on-track action give us a classic grand prix, but the off-track activity and atmosphere seemed to be a world away from what it used to be. Hundreds of floodlights were erected to illuminate the circuit, and this worked perfectly for the drivers who had no problems with visibility.

Around the circuit, the palm trees and run-off areas were draped in golden lights that came on as the sun went down, creating a quite beautiful overhead shot of the circuit.

It might seem quite odd, but the fact that we could not see the desert in the background went a long way to helping us to forget that this is essentially a grand prix in the middle of nowhere. The grandstands also appeared to be busier this year, with the main straight cheering and cooing at every bit of action before spilling out onto the circuit come the checkered flag.

Just as Qatar has proven to be a successful night race in Moto GP, Bahrain has pulled a similar trick in Formula 1. It was indeed the “celebration” that the organizers promised to mark the 10th anniversary of the first race, and it comes as little surprise that before the weekend had even finished, officials confirmed that they will be keeping the race as a night-time event from now on.

Formula 1’s foothold in Bahrain has never been stronger, and in 2015, we might actually earmark the race as being a highlight for the season ahead.

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.