Looking ahead to Indy Lights’ next race, and new future with new chassis

2 Comments

The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season resumes next weekend at Pocono Raceway, marking the series’ first race since the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the end of May.

We’re a month removed from the series’ unveil of its new car, the Dallara IL-15, at IMS, and also one month away from the car’s official on-track debut in Mid-Ohio. A shakedown in Italy is scheduled for two weeks from today, on July 15.

It’s a little early to say yet what the demand and interest level in the new chassis will be. But initial discussions from key players set to be involved with the car after the unveil were positive.

Start first with project leader Tony Cotman, who had previously been instrumental in the creation of Champ Car’s new Panoz DP-01 chassis in 2007. While visually there are some similar lines to the DP-01 – including just a roll hoop with no airbox – Cotman called this a “clean slate” project.

“There were not too many parameters from Dan (Andersen) that tied your hands,” Cotman told MotorSportsTalk. “I didn’t walk in with any preconceived notions. We formed it as we went along. Any new car is exciting, and to be honest, it’s the most fun I’ve had on one.”

He added about the decision to avoid the airbox, “It’s one of those things where this particular vehicle didn’t need it. There’s many that like the no airbox look – me included – so we took that opportunity.”

Andersen, whose Andersen Promotions organization runs and operates the top three rungs on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, said details were important for the first new Indy Lights chassis since the series was reincarnated in 2002.

“There were so many big and little decisions to do, from the wiring, the water pumps, the fuel systems and on down the line,” he said. “We brought the car weight down 160 pounds, added more horsepower and created a better layout overall.”

Lower costs are a goal with this new chassis, but crucially, Andersen wants this chassis to serve as a selling point more for the opportunity and clarity the Mazda Road to Indy ladder creates.

“Cost is important, critical in fact. But I don’t know that current problems (with the series) have to do with budget. It’s about perception of what the series has,” Andersen explained. “Drivers pay double in Europe compare to a current Lights budget, with no guarantee of advancement, with no prize money, no exposure. We have to do a better job of selling what our championship is.”

Andersen said as a promoter and entrepreneur he’s “nervous” until he gets results, but did say there was good interest. Several team principals from other Road to Indy series – Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – were on hand at the chassis unveil at IMS.

One big racing name who is involved in this project is that of Dyson – their Advanced Engine Research company, AER for short – is tasked with being the engine for the new car. Rob Dyson, and later son Chris, were on hand at Indy for the unveil.

“I think it’s an evolution that was necessary,” Rob Dyson said of the new car. “It needed a freshening in every respect. I’m proud they’ve done not only the chassis but the engine combination with our technology. I’m elated we’re part of it.”

Driver-wise? Quick chats with Tristan Vautier, who will handle most of the car’s testing, and Spencer Pigot, the Pro Mazda points leader who’s poised to advance into Indy Lights next year, brought rave reviews for the car’s look.

“I really like the design – it’s got that Italian class, I guess,” Vautier said. “It’s a good mix of the American race car style, and Indy style, with modern European style as well. It’s a good blend. It looks beautiful and should be quick.”

Added Pigot, “It’s a very cool looking car; it’s a big improvement from the current model and the performance should be better. It’s very modern looking. It looks like a fast race car.”

Street race in Vietnam could lead Formula One’s Asia expansion

Formula One logo
Leave a comment

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.