What to watch for: IndyCar at Mid-Ohio (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN & Live Extra)

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SEIZE YOUR OPPORTUNITY

Mid-Ohio’s rolling hills and narrow ribbon means that those with track position are going to be sitting in the catbird’s seat. On-track passing can be at a premium here, and drivers may need to rely more on their pit crews to gain ground.

But while passing is tough, it’s not impossible. A big chance lies in Mid-Ohio’s signature Turn 2, known as the Keyhole, which comes at the end of a long straightaway. Ditto for Turn 4, a right-hand corner that leads into the track’s “rhythm” complex of corners – it’s where Charlie Kimball made his race-winning pass on Simon Pagenaud last year.

TIME’S RUNNING OUT FOR TITLE CONTENDERS

Helio Castroneves and Will Power are first and second in the standings with four races to go, and are separated by just 13 points. Meanwhile, their closest pursuers, Ryan Hunter-Reay (third, -69 points) and Simon Pagenaud (fourth, -71 points), pretty much have zero margin for error at this point. If they’re going to hunt down the Penske duo over these last few races, their big push needs to start today. RHR starts fifth today, while Pagenaud starts ninth.

ON TARGET?

It may be up to Tony Kanaan to keep Chip Ganassi Racing atop the podium at Mid-Ohio, where they’ve been since 2009. Kanaan starts toward the front in third position and has been a threat to win in the last few races. Meanwhile, Ryan Briscoe, Kimball and Scott Dixon are all starting within the last two rows of the grid. Count out a Ganassi driver at your own risk, but these three in particular may need some clever strategy in order to contend late.

SPEAKING OF STRATEGY…

Expect that to play heavily into the outcome of today’s race. Kimball pulled off a three-stopper last season for the win, but there will be plenty that try to make it on two stops. Other variables to keep in mind: 1) As reported by our man on the ground, Tony DiZinno, a lot of the teams will have three sets of Firestone ‘alternate’ reds on hand; and 2) this race has gone caution-free in each of the last two years.

UPSET ALERT

After a well-deserved runner-up at Iowa, Josef Newgarden came down to Earth in the Toronto doubleheader two weeks ago. But the American pilot will start on the front row alongside pole sitter Sebastien Bourdais, and a victory today for Newgarden and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing would be a popular one in the paddock. Let’s also keep an eye on Andretti Autosport rookie Carlos Munoz (starting fourth), who’s picked up three podiums this year and won’t think twice about dueling with his veteran peers.

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.