UPDATED: Coke Zero 400 resumes after rain delay

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UPDATE 9 (12:08 pm ET): The Coke Zero 400 has resumed after about a 22-minute rain delay and resulting red flag race stoppage. Matt Kenseth is back at the front of the field, followed by pole sitter David Gilliland. The big question now is how long will it be before the next rain stoppage. Rain is visible on the National Weather Service radar, but we should be able to get perhaps to Lap 50 before we need to worry about more rain. Remember, this is a 160-lap race, so drivers only need to get to 81 laps (one lap past halfway) for it to be an official race if rain continues to be an issue going forward for the remainder of the day. The NWS is still predicting 60 percent chance of thunderstorms this afternoon.

UPDATE 8 (12:01 pm ET): Drivers are back in their race cars and track dryers are on their way back off-track. We expect engines will be fired momentarily and cars will be back on-track. We expect at least one, possibly two pace laps before the green flag falls for the second time today.

UPDATE 7 (11:53 am ET): Although sun is showing on the front stretch, the race remains under red flag conditions. However, there’s more bad news — aka RAIN — on the horizon, based on National Weather Service radar.

UPDATE 6 (11:36 am ET): The race has been red-flagged due to rain on Lap 11. Cars are back on pit road and some are having tarps placed over them.

UPDATE 5 (11:35 am ET): The race remains under caution and SportingNews.com’s Bob Pockrass is reporting that NASCAR has told the Air Titan track dryers to “power up.”

UPDATE 4 (11:26 am ET): Mother Nature has once again stepped in the way of NASCAR’s Coke Zero 400. The race is under caution after just six laps as rain has again begun to fall, primarily in turns 1 and 2. Oddly, the sun has again popped out around Turns 3 and 4. Matt Kenseth is in the lead, while pole sitter David Gilliland has dropped to second.

UPDATE 3 (11:22 am ET): We are underway for the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. Clean start. Track looks dry. Now the big question is how long will Mother Nature cooperate? Will teams’ strategy be solely to get to halfway in the event more rain comes? If that’s the case, this could become a sprint to an 81-lap race (one lap past halfway of the scheduled 160 laps).

UPDATE 2 (11:17 pm ET): Sun is shining on the frontstretch of the massive 2.5-mile, high-banked Daytona International Speedway and the green flag is still waiting to fall. There are reports of sprinkles around the track. After the lights on the pace car were turned off and it appeared we were ready to go green, the lights are back on the pace car for at least one extra pace lap.

The National Weather Service is forecasting a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms this afternoon and 40 percent in the evening.

UPDATE (11:10 am ET): The command to start engines has been given and we’ve begun pace laps.

NASCAR vice president of operations Steve O’Donnell just tweeted that rain is outside Turns 1 and 2.

ORIGINAL STORY: The good news: The rain-postponed Coke Zero 400 is due to start shortly after 11 am ET this morning at Daytona International Speedway.

The bad news: Rain is once again in the forecast. The National Weather Service has issued a hazardous weather warning for Daytona Beach and points south.

While the skies have been partly sunny for much of the morning, dark clouds are definitely on the horizon west of Daytona Beach.

A check of the NWS radar at 10:50 am ET shows a storm cell due west of Daytona and moving northeastward. However, once that cell were to pass, there’s little chance of rain for at least the following few hours. There are storms on the west coast of Florida, but it’s too early to predict if they’ll go cross-state and impact the Daytona Beach area or not.

The race is due to be televised on TNT, which could result in a Heidi-like backlash from viewers, as Lord of the Ring: The Fellowship of the King began at 9 am ET and is slated to run until 12:45 pm ET. It’s expected the network will switch to the NASCAR telecast at 11 am ET. There will be no pre-race show, with the green flag slated to fall some time around 11:10 to 11:15 pm ET.

We’ll be back with more race and weather updates as they become available.

 

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.