Ecclestone: No concerns about taking F1 to Russia in six weeks’ time

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Bernie Ecclestone has once again affirmed his support for the Russian Grand Prix, which is set to take place in six weeks’ time amid concerns about tensions in the region.

Political relations with Russia have been tenuous following the crisis in the Crimea and the recent MH17 disaster, casting doubt on the viability of the planned grand prix in Sochi.

The eleven teams have stood by the FIA and the commercial rights holder, saying that if the race goes ahead they will be happy to take part.

Ahead of this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix, F1 supremo Ecclestone confirmed to Reuters that he had zero concerns about the race going to plan.

“We have a contract,” he said. “Our friends there, they are happy with the contract so we’ll be there.

“If people have got arguments with Russia maybe they have [issues]. I don’t know. We haven’t got any.”

FIA race director Charlie Whiting visited the circuit earlier this week, and was full of praise for the facility that has been built around the complex that hosted the Winter Olympics earlier this year.

Although concerns about the race in Russia will linger until the race weekend itself, Formula 1 does look set to venture to the nation for the first time in 100 years.

A common misconception is that this will be the first Russian Grand Prix. It will indeed be the first that is part of the official Formula 1 world championship, but two grand prix events were held in 1913 and 1914 around the streets of St. Petersburg before the outbreak of the First World War. Therefore, the 2014 will actually be the third Russian Grand Prix.

F1 has said that it is not looking to make any kind of political statement by going to Russia, but is instead focusing on taking the sport to a new and exciting market in 2014.

The race is set to take place on October 12th this year.

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.