Photo: Parker Chase Racing

PWC: Parker Chase, Ginetta look to build on rookie campaign

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A pair of teenagers took the 2016 GTS class of Pirelli World Challenge by storm. Nate Stacy won and contended for the class championship at age 16 in the venerable Ford Mustang Boss 302. Meanwhile 15-year-old Parker Chase took one of the new GT4-spec cars, the Ginetta GT4, to a number of podium finishes of his own en route to rookie-of-the-year honors.

Expect the two to continue their progression and development this year. Stacy switches to Flying Lizard Motorsports and will be in a Porsche Cayman GT4, while Chase, only a high school sophomore who was recently named to Ginetta’s Young Driver Development Program, appears set to continue with the manufacturer for another year. Ginetta and Chase’s 2016 team, Performance Motorsports Group, are yet to reveal their formal PWC program but Chase said the goal is to continue as planned in 2017.

Stacy had Touring Car experience in both PWC’s TC and TCB classes prior to stepping up to GTS this past season, while Chase was a largely unheralded name to the series and the sports car world.

But after success at the season-opening round not far from Chase’s hometown of New Braunfels, Texas at Circuit of The Americas in Austin (the track is 50 miles north of New Braunfels), a decision was made that would see Chase and the rest of Stuart Robinson’s Performance Motorsports Group team push the No. 19 Alta Towers/Enertech Resources Ginetta G55 GT4 into a full-season effort.

“It was kind of a one-off race at the beginning,” Chase told NBC Sports at the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show in Indianapolis. “We did COTA, and finished pretty well there in third and fifth. From there went to go to St. Pete. That sealed the deal.

“As we’re here at end of the season, I know much more. I’ve developed better race craft. Stepping up from Spec Miata, it was big to just have learned the basics of the cars and progress from there.”

Chase’s Ginetta, several KTM X-BOWs from the ANSA Motorsports and Mantella Autosport teams, and the SIN R1 GT4s from Racers Edge Motorsports led the charge among the lighter, more nimble GT4-spec cars up against the heavier but more powerful legacy GTS cars, Stacy’s Mustang and the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.Rs among them.

Chase (left) and Stacy (center) were the two young stars of GTS in 2016. Photo: PWC
Chase (left) and Stacy (center) were the two young stars of GTS in 2016. Photo: PWC

That made the racing last year very intriguing. At Sonoma in particular, when Stacy held off a hard-charging Chase for his first career win, watching the variation in where cars excelled was fascinating, and that taught Chase quite a lot about how to race such wildly disparate animals.

“It was kind of a struggle,” Chase admitted. “They couldn’t carry much mid-corner speed. In my car and others, you had to carry more, because that’s the way to be fast. Being stuck behind kills the momentum, but then they have so much torque out of the corners that you lose time.”

Despite the learning curve, Chase developed in multiple areas. He looked up to several-time PWC champion Lawson Aschenbach as a mentor, with Aschenbach without question the most experienced driver in class. He relied on Robinson’s advice, having helped him in karting prior to stepping up to GTS. And with fellow New Braunfels native Harry Gottsacker in a second Ginetta, Chase had a second set of data to draw of as the year went on.

“Early in the season in his first few races I helped him a lot. Then by Utah, Sonoma and Laguna (Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca), we were right on same pace,” Chase explained. “We took a bit from each other and I think working together is much better than being a one-car team.

“With Stuart, I worked with him a bit in karting. I worked with him more in Spec Miata. He started this program and helped me get my licenses. This one really helped to get me into GTS at 15.”

Chase also spread his wings driving different machinery in 2016. Besides the GTS car, he also raced a partial season of GRC Lites and scored a podium at MCAS New River, and raced in the Ginetta G57 LMP3 prototype at December’s 25 Hours of Thunderhill with Colin Braun, Ryan Carpenter, Bryan and Colton Herta and Joel Miller. A potential win went begging with right-rear wheel issues striking the car in the final hours.

“Taking it all in really helps me,” he said. “The Thunderhill weekend in the G57 gave me a chance to use way more power and downforce. I’m hoping the GTS might feel like a piece of cake afterwards! We’ll do some testing and see how I improve.”

The PWC GTS season begins at St. Petersburg the weekend of March 10-12. The exact weekend schedule should be released in February, with Chase and perhaps the rest of the PWC paddock looking for more track time beyond the limited running this year on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of the race weekend. Chase will turn 16 in February.

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.