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Alexander Rossi, Al Unser Jr., 23 others named to Road Racing Drivers Club

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The Road Racing Drivers Club has voted 25 new members to its 2016 class.

Numerous former stars are included, with 17 regular members from open-wheel and sports car racing, as well as five associate members and three honorary members.

The newest members takes the RRDC’s overall roster over 500 members, to 510.

“We are honored to welcome a group of outstanding racing champions and high achievers in the auto-racing arena,” RRDC president and Verizon IndyCar Series team co-owner Bobby Rahal said in a release.

“It’s clear that they are not only accomplished representatives of the sport, they have conducted themselves honorably off the track, a quality the RRDC members take into consideration when voting in new members.

“We also appreciate that each new member has enthusiastically accepted membership in the RRDC. We look forward to working with them as the RRDC continues to pursue its goals of recognizing and mentoring aspiring race-car drivers through a variety of programs.”

Here are the new members of the RRDC:

Regular members:

JONATHAN BENNETT: Two-time IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge Driver Champion, 2014-15.

MATTHEW BRABHAM: 2012 USF2000 Champion; 2013 Pro Mazda Champion.

GABBY CHAVES: 2009 Formula BMW Americas Champion; 2013 Indy Lights Champion; 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year.

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI: Three-time IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Champion (with Joao Barbosa), 2014-16; three-time Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup Champion, 2014-16 (with Joao Barbosa).

JOHN FITZPATRICK: 1966 British Saloon Car Champion; the 1972 and ’74 European GT Champion; Porsche Cup titlist in 1972, ’74 and ’80; plus 1980 IMSA GT Champion.

GEORGE FIZELL: 1984 SCCA President’s Cup winner; four-time SCCA National Championships in Formula Vee.

SAGE KARAM: 2010 USF2000 National Champion; 2013 Indy Lights Champion; 35-time World Karting Assn. and IRL Stars of Karting National champion.

JOEL MILLER: 2006 ICA North American Champion; 2013 Rookie of the Year in Rolex Grand-Am Championship; driver coach.

SPENCER PIGOT: 2015 Indy Lights champion; 2014 Pro Mazda Champion; 2010 Skip Barber Racing Series National Champion.

JEFF PURNER: 1985 Skip Barber Racing Series Champion; 1990 IMSA Firestone Firehawk GS Champion; 1993 Trans-Am Rookie of the Year.

ALEXANDER ROSSI: 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion and Indy Rookie of the Year; competed in five F1 races in 2015 before switching to IndyCar.

AMY RUMAN: 2015 and 2016 Trans-Am Champion; first female Trans-Am Champion in 50-year history of the Series.

JORDAN TAYLOR: 2013 DP-class Champion in Rolex Grand-Am Championship (with Max Angelelli).

RICKY TAYLOR: 2006 Skip Barber Karting Shootout Scholarship winner; competes with brother Jordan in  IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

AL UNSER JR.: 1981 Super Vee Champion; 1982 SCCA Can-Am Champion; two-time Indy 500 winner, 1992 and ’94; two-time IndyCar Champion, 1990 and ’94.

ALEX WURZ: Retired pro driver; two-time 24 Hours of LeMans winner; F1 consultant, driver coach, president of GPDA.

JEFF ZWART: 1990 SCCA U.S. Pro Rally Open Class Champion; 2004 Baja 1000 Challenge Class Champion; Pikes Peak International Class Championships, 1994-98, 2002, 2010; directs high-performance TV commercials around the world.

Associate Members:

CRAIG BENNETT: 1987 SCCA National GT-1 Division Champion and Rookie of the Year; currently VP of RM Motorsports (high-end race-car/road-car restorations)

JOHN DOONAN: Director of Motorsports for Mazda North American Operations since 2011; licensed race-car driver since 1995, competing in SCCA, IMSA, IndyCar, etc.

DOUG FEHAN: Program Manager for Corvette Racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and 24 Hours of LeMans; raced a Chevelle stock car in USAC in late ’60s.

DON KITCH JR.: Veteran of more than 25 years and 200 pro and amateur racing starts; founded, with wife Donna, the ProFormance Racing School, where he is chief instructor; helped develop the Team Seattle “Heart of Racing” program at Alex Job Racing.

ED PINK: The drag-racing Hemi engines he’s built over 60-plus years have won races from Midgets to IndyCars; earned Lifetime Achievement Award from Petersen Automotive Museum; also built IMSA, LeMans and NASCAR engines.

Honorary members:

WALT CZARNECKI: Executive Vice President of Penske Corporation; Vice Chairman of the Board of Team Penske. 40-year-plus tenure with Penske.

CHRIS POOK: Creator of annual Grand Prix of Long Beach, in its 43rd year; has also created temporary racing venues in Las Vegas, Dallas, Meadowlands, N.J., Denver, Del Mar, Calif., and St. Petersburg, Fla. Served on the F1 Commission of FIA.

ANDREW SCRIVEN: Draftsman on 1984 Tiga Race Cars; produced the 1985 design for the GT285 IMSA Lights/C2 Car; currently is Chief Designer for Aerospace, Military and Racing projects for Crawford Composites, LLC.

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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.