Photo: Dan R. Boyd for BorgWarner

Borg-Warner Trophy face reveal, 2016 PRI Show notebook

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Spent the tail end of last week in Indianapolis for the 2016 Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Trade Show and the Borg-Warner Trophy face reveal, which saw Alexander Rossi’s face the latest one adorned on the trophy.

Notes from those two events are below:

-Wednesday’s Borg-Warner Trophy face revealing for Alexander Rossi was a particularly well-run event. Usually things of this nature are built up for quite a while before the actual unveil, but in this instance the program moved quickly and swiftly from its 5 p.m. start time to the face reveal at 5:10, which served as the formal end of the program before Rossi started making the rounds of interviews.

-One of the special moments after the unveil came when Holly Wheldon, sister of the late Dan Wheldon, and Rossi posed alongside Dan Wheldon’s winning No. 98 Honda from the 2011 Indianapolis 500. Rossi and Bryan Herta carried the tradition from 2011.

-To go along with the face reveal, the annual BorgWarner dinner followed later Wednesday night at Mo’s … A Place for Steaks in downtown Indianapolis, which brought together a number of assembled media and special guests to honor the new champion. Rossi and three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Bobby Unser were the featured attractions, while Jeff Gordon was a surprise visitor to the dinner to congratulate Rossi on his achievement. Gordon, now a FOX Sports NASCAR analyst, made an eight-race comeback to NASCAR’s top-level series this year as an injury replacement for Dale Earnhardt Jr., and has just been confirmed to race next year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona in Wayne Taylor Racing’s Cadillac DPi-V.R.

-On Thursday morning, Rossi’s winning car itself was presented to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. Prior to the presentation, Gordon came over for an encore to meet Rossi once again.

-Rossi is in a welcome position where it’s December, he knows what he’s doing next year, and has already had one test with two new additions to his No. 98 Andretti-Herta Autosport Honda. He seemed to be positively beaming about new engineer Jeremy Milless, and he’s also getting a great new strategist in Rob Edwards, as Bryan Herta is set to move to Marco Andretti’s car. Considering for the last several years, Rossi’s plans have come together late in the offseason, the fact he knows where everything is, will have year-to-year team and series continuity and also knows the tracks now, he should be poised for a better overall second season.

-Spoke to IMS President Doug Boles at the Borg-Warner Trophy face reveal. Boles is bullish on 2017 Indianapolis 500 ticket renewals, as it’s higher than anticipated compared to projections and trending ahead of 2015, which is the realistic target to hit. Additionally, Boles said there are a couple potential sponsors that could take on the IndyCar Grand Prix title sponsor role. In terms of other IMS events, Boles has been thrilled with the turnout thus far at the Speedway’s Holiday Lights display, which is a 1.7-mile drive around the circuit that’s had tens of thousands of visitors thus far since opening, and he’s also expecting a large number of entries for the 2017 SCCA National Championship Runoffs to be held next September. North of 750 cars are possible for the 2017 Runoffs, Boles said.

-Thanks to IndyCar for a fun end-of-year media dinner gathering at Hibachi Japanese Steakhouse in Indianapolis’ Broad Ripple neighborhood. Good times and laughs were had by most, if not all, attendees.

-Saturday saw an on-site taping of James Hinchcliffe’s “The Mayor on Air” podcast he co-hosts with INDYCAR Digital Media Director Brian Simpson. Hinchcliffe had got Simpson in a prank for his birthday in August, while Simpson – and a number of others – got him back not long after Hinchcliffe turned 30 on December 5. Hinchcliffe said he’s happy to get back into his normal in-Indianapolis routine after several months away with his “Dancing with the Stars” commitments.

-Hinchcliffe and Rossi weren’t alone on site among the IndyCar contingent. Charlie Kimball and Graham Rahal also made appearances.

-HP Composites, a premiere producer of carbon fiber and composite components for Motorsport, Series Production and the Industrial and Aerospace sectors, has established North American operations in Denver, N.C. HP Composites and Onroak Automotive are sister companies under the Everspeed group banner.

Photo: Sunday Group Management
Photo: Sunday Group Management

-The F4 U.S. Championship schedule was also revealed at the same time. The schedule for them is: April 8-9, Homestead (with Trans-Am), April 28-30, VIR (with PWC), June 8-11, Indianapolis (with SVRA), July 8-9, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (with IMSA), August 10-12, Mid-Ohio (with NASCAR Xfinity/Trans-Am), and Sept. 14-17, COTA (with FIA WEC). Note the Indianapolis date is part of the SVRA “Open Wheel World Challenge” weekend, while the Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational is the following week, June 16-18.

pwcteaser

-Pirelli World Challenge held its ‘State of the Series’ presentation on Friday at the show. The biggest change comes with a move to USAC for sanctioning, although PWC is working through the next step of its relationship with longtime partner SCCA, per PWC president/CEO Greg Gill. The race formats, TV and streaming package, and other components were revealed, including a move to online registration systems and a new timing & scoring partner in Timing Solutions Ltd.

shea-holbrook-driving-2017-honda-civic-at-25-hours-of-thunderhill-race
Photo: Honda Racing/HPD

-A number of intriguing participants were in the room from a mix of manufacturers in teams that either are set to continue in PWC as have they have in the past, or could be poised to switch from IMSA.

-One of the key manufacturer/team announcements was Shea Racing’s confirmation of an extended relationship with Honda Racing/HPD. PWC B-Spec champion Tom O’Gorman steps up to a new Honda Civic Si in TCA, while Shea Holbrook and Jason Fichter will continue to run a pair of Touring Car-class Honda Accords. Spoke to both Holbrook and O’Gorman at PRI and will have follow-ups with them to come.

-More content from breakout interviews gathered at PRI will follow in the coming days.

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.