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Jeff Gordon joins exclusive club with Rolex 24 victory

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) Jeff Gordon’s latest racing accomplishment won’t take up much room in his expansive trophy case.

But it’s sure to get a prime spot.

The retired NASCAR star joined an exclusive club Sunday by becoming the fourth driver to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Daytona 500. Racing legends A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti, as well as NASCAR regular Jamie McMurray are the only others to accomplish the feat.

“Not bad company,” said Gordon, who has three Daytona 500 victories (1997, ’99, 2005). “It was the thrill of a lifetime. I’m just so honored to be sitting here and to be part of this experience.”

Gordon was the fourth driver for Wayne Taylor Racing in the endurance race, and although he didn’t play a significant role in getting the No. 10 Cadillac to victory lane, he was a welcomed addition and quite possibly earned himself an open invitation to return again.

“I’m so happy that we could do this for Jeff,” team owner Wayne Taylor said. “And let me tell you something, he deserved winning this race. He might not have driven a lot, but when he did drive, do you know how easy it is to screw this race up? Do you know how difficult it is to stay on the same lap as the leaders, and he did that. I am really happy that I’ve been able to contribute something to his career.”

Gordon is a four-time NASCAR champion, a three-time Daytona 500 winner and a 93-time winner in NASCAR’s top series. Throw in exhibition, all-star and qualifying races, and Gordon is one of the most accomplished drivers on the planet.

Now, he has a Rolex chronograph to put alongside all those shiny trophies.

“Can you believe it? I got him for free,” Taylor said. “I made him pay for the paint on the car. Of course, he sold it to his sponsor.”

Indeed, Gordon drove for free and kept a promise he made to Taylor in 2007. Gordon raced in the Rolex with Taylor’s team a decade ago, and even though he was “pathetic” in the rain and during driver changes, the team finished third. Gordon felt like he was unable to fully commit, so he told Taylor he would return after he retires.

Gordon retired from full-time racing after the 2015 season and now is a TV commentator for Fox Sports. When Taylor asked Gordon about racing the Rolex last year, the NASCAR star jumped on the opportunity. He tested the car. He practiced driver changes. He got seat time in the rain. He did everything he could to be better this time around, and he was.

“Seeing the way Jeff’s worked with my kids and Max, it’s been something more special than anything I did in my racing career,” said Taylor, who won the Rolex in 2005. “To have a guy that’s as humble and nice as him on board with us. The sad part for me is what happens after this? Is he going to go away and never talk to me again? He’s like a girlfriend. What am I going to do now? It’s been a special weekend.”

Gordon was just one of several story lines to come out of the team’s latest victory.

Teammate Ricky Taylor made a bold move late to take the lead and essentially win the race after four consecutive oh-so-close finishes. Teammate Max Angelelli retired after the race, going out on top. And Wayne Taylor got to see his two sons win one of the biggest events of their careers.

“I’m kind of like Max, I think retire and go out on top is a pretty good thing,” Gordon said. “In all seriousness, I love driving this car and I love working with this group. They have an amazing team and they put a lot of hard work, sweat, blood, tears and preparation into getting here. I felt pretty early on there was something special about it, and it was great to see how it turned out, especially that great move that Ricky made at the end. Every time I get laps in the car, I get more comfortable. So I want to get more laps.”

How about at Le Mans, the most prestigious endurance race out there?

“I have a busy schedule, a lot going on with my Fox commitments and my commitments to Hendrick (Motorsports),” Gordon said. “I’m going to stay in close contact with Wayne and Ricky and Jordan and Max and see what potential opportunity may be out there. I’ve got a great relationship with Cadillac and GM, but I have no plans at this point.”

More AP auto racing: http://www.racing.ap.org

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.