IndyCar: Potential record-tying 11th season winner possible at Milwaukee

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The Verizon IndyCar Series has three races to tie or eclipse the overall record for most winners in a season a Sunday’s ABC Supply Co. Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest Presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers.

If that sounds like deja vu from last year, it’s because it basically is.

Last season, there were 10 different winners through 15 races, and the series had four shots to tie the mark of 11, achieved in the 2000 and 2001 CART seasons. But it stayed stuck at 10 with Will Power, the 10th different winner of 2013, winning three of the last five races.

This year… we again have 10 different winners through 15 races.

So who could potentially break through as lucky number 11? We run down the candidates, in order of likelihood:

  • Tony Kanaan. “TK” is the active starts leader (14) and a two-time winner at Milwaukee (2006, 2007) and most recently finished second to Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012. After leading 247 laps at the only other short oval this season at Iowa, Kanaan is a good bet.
  • James Hinchcliffe. The Canadian has the best average finish at Milwaukee in his three starts – 4.7 – and enters the weekend off his first podium of 2014 two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio. If the setup is right, Hinch should be a factor.
  • Marco Andretti. What’s been a recent stretch of rough races for Marco could be cleansed with a trip to one of his better tracks. His average starting position of 7.1 is third best in the field but he’s been unable to get a result to match on race day. Dominated a year ago before mechanical gremlins struck.
  • Ryan Briscoe. Briscoe and the NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing team have run better of late, and like Kanaan, he’s a former Milwaukee winner (2008). Also was strong at Iowa. Not the first person you’d pick to win, but wouldn’t surprise either.
  • Takuma Sato. It would make sense on several levels. Sato and the A.J. Foyt Enterprises’ team’s short oval package was very strong a year ago and seventh was a result unrepresentative of how the No. 14 Honda ran. Add in this is the home-sponsored race for sponsor ABC Supply Co. and you could well have a popular winner if Sato’s trademark “No Attack, No Chance” strategy comes good.
  • Josef Newgarden. Depends largely on setup, but as I wrote after his Mid-Ohio disappointment, his near miss there reminds me a lot of Michel Jourdain Jr. in 2003 – talented, promising young driver bouncing back and securing his first career win at Milwaukee.
  • Graham Rahal. Another in the “has run better of late than his results have indicated” camp, and also has a previous Milwaukee podium finish in the bank. Struggled on setup at this race last year and the hope is Bill Pappas’ engineering will improve what was a difficult race car in 2013.
  • Justin Wilson. Wilson’s been strangely anonymous this year – not bad by any stretch, but those usual Wilson/Dale Coyne Racing giant-killing performances haven’t come with the same frequency. Like Rahal, comes to Milwaukee with a different engineer, and with Pappas now at RLL it’s the Michael Cannon-led No. 19 crew trying to turn things around for the likable and tall Englishman.
  • Charlie Kimball. Milwaukee’s been something of a bogey track for Kimball, whose average start of 20th and average finish of 16th in three prior races is among the worst in the field. Here’s hoping the Ganassi short oval setup also helps the driver of the No. 83 car.
  • Sebastian Saavedra. The Colombian posted an oval career-best qualifying of sixth this race last year but was unable to sustain it in the race.
  • Carlos Munoz, Mikhail Aleshin, Jack Hawksworth. The rookie trio is unproven at this track and a win actually would be a surprise. I’d expect more from Aleshin this weekend given his quick adaption to ovals. Munoz is a hard one to project in Milwaukee. His team, Andretti Autosport, have been excellent in oval setup and so he could well be in the top five. Or, as in Iowa, midpack and out of lead contention. Neither he nor Hawksworth did particularly well here in Indy Lights, either.

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.