Photos courtesy NHRA

2016 NHRA season in review: Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Chip Ellis

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MotorSportsTalk continues its season-ending reviews of the top drivers of the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

From Dec. 12 through Jan. 4, we’ll feature one daily in-depth review of a driver that finished in the top-five in each of the four professional classes (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle), as well as a compendium of select other drivers that did not finish in the top-five.

The list of drivers we’ve already posted is below. Today, we feature Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Chip Ellis:

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Driver: Chip Ellis

Age: 46

Hometown: Brownsburg, Indiana

Team: Junior Pippin Racing

Sponsor/motorcycle: PiranaZ Buell

Crew chief: Junior Pippin

2016 season finish: Fifth in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

2016 season statistics: 16 races, 1 win, 0 runner-up, 3 semifinals, 6 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier 0 times. Round-by-round record: 16 wins, 15 losses.

Career statistics: 128 races, 7 wins, 6 runner-up, 27 semifinals, 36 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier 16 times. Round-by-round record: 136 wins, 119 losses. 2 DNQ.

What went right in 2016: Ellis was the second-most pleasant surprise in 2016 after Jerry Savoie’s PSM championship. Ellis drove the heck out of his Junior Pippin Buell, enjoying one of the best seasons of his long two-wheeled racing career. It wasn’t easy at times, as Pippin – one of Ellis’ closest friends – has been battling cancer for more than a year. But Ellis’ success helped Pippin endure dozens of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and Pippin’s health battle helped inspire Ellis to some outstanding runs, including almost becoming the first PSM rider to break the elusive 200 mph barrier (198.47 mph at Sonoma and 198.38 mph at Englishtown). … Another high point was when Ellis not only qualified for the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoff, he also won the opening race of the Countdown at Charlotte, defeating five-time PSM champ Andrew Hines. In doing so, Ellis vaulted to No. 2 in the points after that race, but he eventually dropped to a final season finish of fifth.

What went wrong in 2016: Admittedly, Ellis did struggle at times this past season, particularly advancing past the first round. In the season’s 16 races, he made a first-round exit six times. … After winning the Countdown opener at Charlotte, Ellis had two first-round losses (Reading and Las Vegas 2), a pair of quarterfinal losses (Dallas and Pomona 2) and reached just one semifinal (St. Louis).

What to look for in 2017: As much as Savoie was the biggest surprise of 2016, Ellis has the talent and the horsepower to become the next version of an underdog like Savoie triumphing and riding all the way to the championship in 2017. If that were to happen, it would be quite fitting for a rider who has devoted his life to racing and also helping others (he even pitched in to ride for Savoie in a couple of races in 2013 while the latter recovered from minor surgery).

Season reviews already posted:

— Antron Brown (12/12)

— Ron Capps (12/13)

— Jason Line (12/14)

Jerry Savoie (12/15)

Doug Kalitta (12/16)

Tommy Johnson Jr. (12/17)

Greg Anderson (12/18)

Eddie Krawiec (12/19)

Steve Torrence (12/20)

— Matt Hagan (12/21)

— Shane Gray (12/22)

— Andrew Hines (12/23)

— J.R. Todd (12/24)

— John Force (12/25)

— Bo Butner (12/26)

— Angelle Sampey (12/27)

Follow @JerryBonkowski

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.