Castroneves hits 227-plus to lead Thursday Indy 500 practice

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Helio Castroneves turned in a tow-assisted 227.166 mph in the waning moments of Thursday’s six-hour practice for the Indianapolis 500, easily the fastest lap of the month in the No. 3 Pennzoil Ultra Premium Chevrolet for Team Penske.

“It was awesome,” Castroneves said. “The car is handling really well. Certainly the draft counts a lot here. I feel very comfortable in the Pennzoil No. 3 machine. I don’t know fastest lap but I think it was a (2)26 last year. Conditions are really good. Cool, good for the tires, good for the Chevy engine. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Right now we’re looking ahead of the game.”

He had been second prior to that, and his lap beat that set by Ed Carpenter in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for his own Ed Carpenter Racing team. The defending Indianapolis 500 polesitter’s best lap was a tow-assisted 226.257 mph.

Castroneves’ teammate Will Power was third with KV Racing Technology’s Townsend Bell and Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport completing the top five.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan jumped up to sixth with Carpenter’s ECR Indianapolis teammate JR Hildebrand seventh, and the third Penske entry of Juan Pablo Montoya eighth.

Kurt Busch, back after missing a day to focus on his NASCAR obligations in Charlotte, was ninth at 224.739 and Grand Prix of Indianapolis winner Simon Pagenaud completed the top 10.

Elsewhere Carlos Huertas did well to get above 224 mph, and Sebastian Saavedra (223.955) and Martin Plowman (223.495) found speed they’d otherwise been lacking in traffic most of the week.

EJ Viso ran 40 laps in the No. 27 United Fiber & Data car before his engine cut out, and that ended his day. It may have ended his month as well with James Hinchcliffe cleared to drive following a concussion suffered Saturday in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Hinchcliffe’s car was towed out to pit lane near the end of the session but was unable to complete any laps for him to get back on course.

Buddy Lazier completed his refresher program and ran his first 18 laps of the month, with a best in the 218 mph range, while rookie James Davison completed the first two phases of his Rookie Orientation Program in single car runs. He ran his third in traffic, and ran more than 60 laps in total.

Today’s laps were the last with cars in race mode for the next three days. Extra boost will come into play for Fast Friday and speeds should top 230 mph for both single car and tow-assisted runs.

Here’s Thursday’s speeds.

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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.