IndyCar: Saavedra’s best run of year, possibly career, goes begging at Iowa

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The 50th start of Sebastian Saavedra’s Verizon IndyCar Series career nearly produced its best ever result. Unfortunately for the driver of the No. 17 KV/AFS Racing Chevrolet, a slight brush of the wall just before his third pit stop ended his charge in the Iowa Corn Indy 300 presented by DEKALB.

Saavedra matched his car number in qualifying, but marched forward from P17 into the top five by half distance. He made it to third shortly thereafter, but then got in the marbles in Turn 2 and needed to bring the car in for repairs.

It was a hairy exit as Saavedra nearly collected Ryan Briscoe as he moved down the back straight into pit in. An accident there was averted and Saavedra made it into the pit lane, although he’d lose seven laps under caution. Mechanical issues ended his race for good on Lap 258 in the same place he started… 17th.

“Very hard to describe how disappointed I am,” Saavedra said post-race. “This was our day, we had a car that I connected very well with. We were very loose from the beginning but I loved it and I was driving where I needed to drive it. Unfortunately at the end of the third stint, everyone was struggling with grip and my rear tires were extremely worn and I just couldn’t save this ‘moment’ and it ended our day.”

The 24-year-old Colombian was introspective as well, and mature in taking responsibility for the mistake.

“Last night’s result doesn’t show how good a car we had,” he said. “I want to apologize to everyone who believed in me today, we had this race and I take full responsibility. We have shown that we can do and that we belong at the front, so we will keep digging and head to Toronto next weekend.”

Saavedra has been a weird driver to pinpoint this year. Two results of 11th and ninth out of the gate showed good promise and he ranked in the top-10 in points.

But since then, it’s been myriad struggles. Saavedra scored the Grand Prix of Indianapolis pole before his race there ended in disaster following his stall on the grid. In the last 10 races, Saavedra has yet to finish better than 14th, and ranks only ahead of the equally luckless Takuma Sato among full-time drivers in points (Saavedra is 20th, Sato 21st).

Again, as was the case in 2013, the flashes are there for the likable Colombian. But he’s been a bit overshadowed this year by his three countrymen; Juan Pablo Montoya and Carlos Huertas are race winners, and Carlos Munoz has made multiple podium visits.

Saavedra’s best chance yet to join that trio in earning his own round of good headlines – and praise – went begging Saturday night at Iowa Speedway.

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.