IndyCar: Penske/Ganassi hearken back to prior days with 1-4 sweep

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It’s not often anymore that entries from Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing sweep the top four positions combined, such is the level of competition in the Verizon IndyCar Series and especially since the current formula was introduced ahead of the 2012 season.

It only happened once in 2013 (Pocono) and once in 2012 (Barber), and has now happened for the first time in 2014 in Dual 2 of the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit Presented by Quicken Loans, Round 7 of the 2014 season.

The 2013 Pocono race saw a Ganassi podium sweep, with Scott Dixon, Charlie Kimball and Dario Franchitti, with Penske’s Will Power fourth. At Barber in 2012, Power led Dixon, Helio Castroneves and Graham Rahal, who was then in the Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing entry.

It happened rather frequently between 2006 and 2011, with the previous generation Dallara-Honda IndyCar. But it’s become an abnormal occurrence since.

Castroneves took the win on Sunday in Detroit in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet with teammate Power second in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, despite an early race drive-through penalty for contact on Lap 1. Those two have been top-four fixtures in the past.

In third was Charlie Kimball, in the No. 83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, for his first career third place. Kimball has had only three prior podium finishes, two runners-up (2012 Toronto, 2013 Pocono) and his first win at Mid-Ohio last August.

Fourth, hanging on late after starting 22nd, was Scott Dixon in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

This also was a top-four sweep by Chevrolet, the first time either manufacturer has swept the top four positions this year. Thus far, the parity between Honda and Chevrolet has been as close as ever.

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.