IndyCar: Newgarden, good, unlucky, then good again en route to Milwaukee P5

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WEST ALLIS, Wis. – If the old adage “it’s better to be lucky than good” applied to Josef Newgarden and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing at Iowa, when the team finished second, then their day at Milwaukee was a case of being good better than lucky… and then lucky again.

Newgarden and Ryan Hunter-Reay had taken tires on the final caution at Iowa and the two rocketed through the field to the top two positions, in what Newgarden called a “video game.”

But this weekend in Milwaukee, in the Direct Supply-backed No. 67 Honda, Newgarden was consistently the best Honda-powered entry throughout the weekend. During the 250-lap Verizon IndyCar Series race, he was a top-five staple.

The only problem was, an off-sequence strategy negated what was a potential podium result – Newgarden ran third for most of the final stint – to a near finish outside the top 10.

Newgarden pitted on Lap 236 and on new tires, was the only driver in the field able to slice his way through traffic like a knife through butter. In doing so, he recovered six positions to get back to fifth, capping off the comeback with a last-lap pass of Ryan Briscoe.

“We had to stop for fuel and we weren’t planning on it,” Newgarden told MotorSportsTalk post-race. “I thought we’d run third to the end and we had to stop… so that put us all the way down a lap down in 11th place, and we had to take tires.

“Once we took tires, then was the advantage, and we could smoke as many people as we could. I can’t even believe we made it back to fifth. It’s awesome we didn’t lose as much.”

Newgarden was surprised to begin with that they even needed the extra stop.

“I didn’t realize it was that close. I thought we were good,” he said.

“We stopped I don’t know when before the (lone) yellow, but it was 15 laps or so, than stayed out with Montoya and Power. I figured we were good. Power stayed out, so I figured we were good to do so.

“We were taking a risk not taking tires at the time, but I thought we’d be able to make it work. It just didn’t pan out. We didn’t have the tires to make it. For us, we had a strong car.”

Team co-owner Sarah Fisher said the team was “evaluating their delta” in terms of figuring when to pit on the final sequence. A potential stop could have occurred 10 laps earlier and had it happened, Newgarden may well have had more time to drive back to the front.

But all told, between the Iowa runner-up, his near-miss at Mid-Ohio, and several other solid runs this season that haven’t produced results worthy of his pace (Long Beach and Barber immediately come to mind), it seems that Newgarden and SFHR are finally starting to hit their stride as a group, which is timely given his free agent status and SFHR’s integration with Ed Carpenter Racing to form CFH Racing in 2015.

“I think we were stronger here than Iowa. We were definitely a podium car,” Newgarden said. “Here, we were podium on pure pace. Iowa we were strong, top-five, but we’re a tick better here.

“We’ve had our ups and downs as a group. Made our miscalculations. But it seems like things are starting to gel. All we have to do is string two more together at Sonoma and Fontana.”

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.