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Dakar 2017: Rainouts prompt revised route, longest day yet on Day 7

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The 38th Dakar Rally is officially past the halfway point with Monday’s Stage 7 now in the books.

The Rally, originally scheduled for 8,782 kilometers (5,456.88 miles), concludes with Stage 12 on Saturday.

But Monday’s stage was different than what was originally planned, as weather forced the route to be changed due to rain in Bolivia. In so doing, the overall length of the race was also extended by 179 kilometers to 8,972 kilometers (5,574 miles).

Calling it an “unprecedented” change, rally organizers combined elements of what was originally scheduled for Stage 6 and 7 after Stage 5 was cut in half due to rain and Stage 6 was completely cancelled, also because of rain.

Per a statement from the ASO, organizers of the Rally, “Following the cancellation of Stage 6 on the eve of the rest day (Sunday), persistent bad weather conditions forced the race directors to change the course of Stage 7 from La Paz to Uyuni. A new course was designed and a new road book was drafted during the rest day.”

Stage 7 was originally planned for a 622-kilometer route from La Paz to the Uyuni Salt Flats.

But with the changes, the new route was lengthened to the longest section of the Rally, 801 kilometers, taking borrowing from parts of a 400 kilometer link scheduled for Stage 6, parts of the originally planned 240-kilometer route for Stage 7 and a special 161 kilometer bridge link between the two segments.

Here’s how Stage 7 played out:

The Peugeots of Stephane Peterhansel and Sebastien Loeb took the top two spots in the Cars class, with Giniel De Villiers taking third.

The ending was the same as halfway, with Peterhansel, Loeb and De Villiers 1-2-3.

Peterhansel and fellow French co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret remain in the overall lead in Cars.

As for motorcycles, American Ricky Brabec captured the stage after overall race leader Sam Sunderland inexplicably stopped 38 kilometers into the route. There has been no word yet on what prompted Sunderland to come to a halt.

Even though Sunderland stopped, he resumed on the day and ended third, and remains the overall class leader.

Click here to check out my colleague Tony DiZinno’s story on Brabec’s Stage 7 win.

In the quads, Sergey Karyakin took the top spot in the overall Rally with a top performance in Stage 7, followed by Axel Dutrie and Ignacio Casale.

And in Trucks, it was a three-way sweep by Russian drivers Dmitry Sotnikov, Rusian Akhmadeev and Igor Leonov.

However, Gerard De Rooy remains the overall leader.

Here’s a few other tidbits via social media as we prepare for Stage 8 on Tuesday, which leaves Bolivia and heads into Argentina – the route going from Uyuni to Salta:

And then there was even a special visitor for Stage 7: world windsurfing champion Robby Naish.

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.