Photo: IndyCar

Q&A: Luis Michael Dorrbecker prepares for SPM test at Sebring

Leave a comment

Although only one rookie, Ed Jones, is set to graduate into the Verizon IndyCar Series for 2017, another may make his debut at some point this year. Luis Michael Dorrbecker, a 24-year-old Mexican who also has German heritage, will make his IndyCar test debut with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports on March 1 at Sebring International Raceway’s short course.

Dorrbecker won the 2016 Auto GP open-wheel championship with 10 race victories. He’s also raced in F3 and Formula Renault 2000 internationally and prior to that, had a brief stint in Skip Barber race competition in the U.S. in 2010. He won once in six starts.

He made his first visit to an official IndyCar event at this past weekend’s Prix View test at Phoenix International Raceway. NBC Sports caught up with Dorrbecker to gauge his reaction to the oval test and go over his preparation for his IndyCar test debut at Sebring.

MotorSportsTalk: So you’ve never been to an oval before. What are your instant reactions?

Luis Michael Dorrbecker: “It feels amazing. I watched every corner. You get the feeling these cars have a lot of grip. These cars seem very fun to watch. I’m so excited to get in at Sebring, and maybe be able to race on an oval.”

MST: What’s your first reaction to meeting Sam Schmidt and the rest of the SPM organization? 

LMD: “I was actually talking to people that came with me. You don’t feel like an outsider. You feel at home from the word go. It’s a very pleasant experience. Anyone that’s met Sam knows he’s a very unique person with the way he approaches his racing and racing team. He has people with the same philosophy. It makes that ambiance in the team very family-like. It’ll be a real pleasure to work with.”

MST: Have you done any Sebring simulation or other key prep work? 

LMD: “No. We fly back to Indianapolis so I can do the seat fitting and everything. I’ll get some time in the sim. I’ve raced there in Skip Barber! So I remember how the track was. But it’ll be different in these cars. From the data I’ve seen, it’s more like a street course than a road course. The team has a couple cars available and all of them should be the same!”

MST: In recent years, Mexico’s racing involvement has had a bit of a resurgence. What has that been like for you to witness? 

LMD: “In Mexico, we’re very passionate about our sports. We’re national people with a lot of national pride. Other people kind of embrace it. We have a history of loving racing and in the last few years, we didn’t really have anyone to root for.

“When I was a kid, my generation grew up watching Adrian Fernandez in CART, Champ Car and IndyCar. I remember back then they’d fill the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez with 120,000 for the Champ Car races! The whole motorsports world in Mexico needs an IndyCar driver again. It’s been since 2004 I think (Note: Fernandez and Michel Jourdain Jr. raced their last full seasons in 2004; Mario Dominguez ran most of 2008 while Jourdain’s 2012 Indianapolis 500 start is the last time a Mexican driver started an IndyCar race – Ed.).

“So it’s been a long time coming. I hope to be the first one back. Once IndyCar has another Mexican driver, it’ll only be a matter of months to sort something to bring the series back to Mexico.”

MST: Provided the test goes well, are you targeting the month of May or a later program of several races?

LMD: “We obviously have the month of May (in Indianapolis) as the biggest race in the season. Commercially, it’s very big to get sponsorship.

“But we’d hope to do more than one race at the end of the season. It depends how the test goes. Our goal is for 2018 to race the whole championship.”

Street race in Vietnam could lead Formula One’s Asia expansion

Formula One logo
Leave a comment

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.