Will Power fades to fifth after critical error in the lead at Barber

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Will Power will enter the Month of May at Indianapolis as the Verizon IndyCar Series points leader, but a critical error while leading today’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama may have cost him further momentum.

After the race finally started after a weather delay of several hours, Power gradually pulled away from Ryan Hunter-Reay and the rest of the field. But on Lap 16, he went in too hot at the left-hand Turn 5 hairpin known as ‘Charlotte’s Web.’

Power couldn’t hold on and he ended up taking his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet through a gravel trap before swiping a nearby tire barrier. The Australian got back on track, but while he narrowly avoided disaster, Hunter-Reay took control of the lead.

It proved to be an important moment in the race, as Hunter-Reay went on to earn his first victory of 2014. As for Power, his car’s performance faded as the 2.37-mile Barber Motorsports Park circuit gradually dried out and he eventually finished fifth.

“I just locked up. Once you lock a wheel in the wet, you just go straight,” Power said to NBCSN afterwards. “That was alright, we had a big enough lead to only lose one position. But man, I missed that [barrier] there – missed it by an inch, I reckon.

“We just didn’t have the pace in the dry. Maybe just a little heavy on downforce, but in that half dry, half wet condition, we kind of struggled.”

Power was able to hold on to second after the mishap but Hunter-Reay and him were shuffled to second and third while Sebastian Saavedra stayed out on his wet tires to take the lead under caution at Lap 22.

Another caution bunched up the field at Lap 31, and shortly after the subsequent restart, Power was jumped by Marco Andretti going into ‘Charlotte’s Web’ for the runner-up spot (Saavedra had finally pitted by this point).

Power settled in third position as the race crossed into the final half-hour of its 100-minute time, but a round of green-flag stops began a few minutes later.

With 26 minutes to go, Hunter-Reay and Power pitted together but when the cycle was over, Power had fallen to fifth behind Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud, with whom he had contact and a post-race argument with two weeks ago in Long Beach.

However, it’s still a Top-5 finish and that helps Power big-picture wise. He holds an 18-point advantage over Hunter-Reay in the championship going into the two races in May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – the Grand Prix of Indianapolis road race in two weeks (Sat., May 10) and the Indianapolis 500 on Sun., May 25.

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.