“Grand Prix” star James Garner dies age 86

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American actor and star of racing film Grand Prix James Garner has died at the age of 86, according to media reports.

Garner enjoyed a successful acting career, with his two most notable roles coming in TV series Maverick and The Rockford Files.

However, motorsport fans will undoubtedly remember him best for playing the role of American F1 driver Pete Aron in 1966 film Grand Prix, which is widely regarded as being one of the greatest racing movies of all time.

The movie gained a cult status in the motorsport world thanks to appearances from a number of contemporary racing drivers. Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Juan Manuel Fangio, Jim Clark, Bruce McLaren, Dan Gurney and Jack Brabham were just a few of the F1 stars to make a cameo in the movie.

Garner’s love for motor racing was aided by shooting the film, in which he did all of his own stunts and racing scenes. He went on to set up the American International Racers team, which raced at Le Mans, Daytona and Sebring in the late 1960s.

His feats in the film industry were recognized by the Screen Actors Guild in 2005, when he won its Lifetime Achievement award. He died at home in Los Angeles yesterday, and is survived by his wife, Lois, and his two daughters.

Rush director Ron Howard paid tribute to Garner on Twitter today, saying that he was “admired by all that knew him. When starring in Grand Prix the people around F1 said he had the talent to be a pro driver.”

1963 Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones also shared his thoughts on Garner, who was a close friend, and who also drove the pace car for the 500 on three occasions.

“I’ll miss Jim for sure and my family and I offer our condolences to his entire family and all his friends,” Jones said. “Jim was a hell of a driver, a competitor, most people don’t remember that and that he raced in a lot of different types of cars over the years. He truly was a “man’s man.”

“Jim was a friend and when he came to Indianapolis as a spectator and pace car driver we obviously welcomed him with open arms. People will remember him for his performances in “Grand Prix,” “The Rockford Files” and also for his excellent acting in so many other movies and TV shows, he was so smooth and such a natural, he made it look easy. He excelled in both movies and television a rarity back then.

“I’ll tell you something else, Jim was also one heck of a golfer, he played scratch golf and we shared lots of fun memories not only at the races together but on the golf course over the years. He was a good, good man and always shared his fun and smiles with those around him. If you were around Jim, you enjoyed the time you spent with him.”

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.