Franchitti set to pace field, take in 2014 Indy 500 from outside the cockpit

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Of all the 2013 drivers who aren’t in the 2014 race, one stands heads and shoulders above the crowd in terms of accomplishments and accolades: Dario Franchitti.

The three-time Indianapolis 500, and four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion, was forced to retire due to injuries sustained in an accident last October in Houston.

But the adverse effect has happened instead of him slowing down after not driving 230 mph. Franchitti told me Friday during the Carb Day pit stop competition he’s busier than ever, and so is the case where even over the course of our 20-or so minute conversation, there were multiple picture requests and a phone call from brother Marino back in Scotland.

He’s still active in several aspects, between his advisory role with Target Chip Ganassi Racing and some commentary and ambassadorial roles.

“I offered to change tires for them, but they turned me down,” Franchitti joked during an NBCSN interview on Carb Day.

He has more time away from the cockpit when he is in the U.S., but he’s being pulled in so many other directions than when he was a driver and had a single focus.

But now, from the outside, he sees what drivers go through in their zone, in their element, for the entire month of May.

“I am loving life, but it’s a little different,” he said. “You don’t have the pressure or hardness either. What you go through is extraordinary. You can get short-tempered. I thought when I saw these guys, I couldn’t do that right now.

“I don’t have that level of (driving) commitment right now. I’m in the right place. I’m having fun and still being part of the IndyCar Series and Team Target.”

One part of his workload that he can translate is playing analyst – both for the quartet of Chip Ganassi Racing entries and additionally for the rest of the field. Franchitti described how his former teammates are shaping up for today’s race.

“(Tony) Kanaan’s car is very strong as is (Scott) Dixon’s. Charlie (Kimball) and Ryan are happy (Briscoe),” he said. “Going 1-2 this morning was strong. The boys were happy in traffic. It’s one of those days, where the whole Target team has done a great job. We’re seeing that result today.”

There is that one other key part of Franchitti’s 2014 month of May – his role as pace car driver in the Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R. And he told reporters Saturday morning that yes, he’s nervous.

“I just don’t want to mess it up,” he said. “There’s 33 of my contemporaries, it’s the most important thing of the year. I joked with Will (Power) about brake checking him on one of the laps.”

Now, Franchitti can take in the entire race morning experience from a different perspective.

“I can’t wait to be on the grid, soak up the atmosphere for the first time,” he said. “My job before was to walk out and focus. Now this year I can soak it all in.”

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.