Getty Images

Red Bull GRC: Loenbro Motorsports launches own Supercar program

Leave a comment

The Chip Ganassi Rallycross program will now be known as Loenbro Motorsports, owing to Loenbro’s increased commitment to Red Bull Global Rallycross and a drawdown for Ganassi to instead focus on its core programs elsewhere in racing, NBC Sports has learned.

Loenbro Motorsports announced plans to field its own multi-car effort in GRC’s Supercars class this year on Tuesday, with Steve Arpin continuing and a second driver to be confirmed at a later date in a pair of Fords.

A Ganassi team spokesperson confirmed Ganassi is no longer involved with this effort, which will still be based in Charlotte but at a different shop.

The 2017 Red Bull GRC season will be Loenbro’s third in an ownership position and fifth year overall within the series. The last two years, Loenbro was co-owner of Loenbro Chip Ganassi Racing and has now fused into the new Loenbro Motorsports banner.

“We’re excited to build upon the incredibly successful foundation that we’ve laid in Red Bull GRC,” Paul Leach, who owns the team with his brother, Jon Leach, said in a release. “We made big gains from the creation of this team in 2015 into the 2016 season, and we’re laser-focused on continuing to improve this year.”

Arpin, who won his first Red Bull GRC final at Daytona last year and finished fourth in points behind teammate Brian Deegan, has had Loenbro support for years. The Montana-based company has locations in seven Western plains states, and is an energy services company specializing in Pipeline, Industrial Construction, Insulation, Inspection, Fabrication & Oilfield Services.

He explained how he and Loenbro’s relationship has come together and how they will now move forward under this banner.

“They’ve saw the inner workings of motorsports, both good and bad,” Arpin told NBC Sports. “They saw an opportunity; they saw the potential of Red Bull Global Rallycross as well as a chance to come in and change the mindset.

“We partnered with Ganassi our first two years. As we got to 2017, we still have a great relationship. They’ll focus on their core business of NASCAR in Charlotte, and IndyCar/IMSA from their Indianapolis shop.”

Arpin said the program will continue with the same core personnel, led by lead engineer Carl Goodman. With Deegan and Arpin finishing third and fourth in points last year, the independent team was best of the rest among the privateers, behind the factory-backed Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team that went 1-2 last year.

“It’s a different shop. But the reality of it is that it’s the same exact program, where we retained our key people. Everyone came with it,” Arpin said.

“It’s the same truck/trailer and same cars; it’s just a different shop, 10 minutes up the road, and is Loenbro Motorsports instead of Loenbro Chip Ganassi Racing.

“For us, it’s an open dialogue with Ganassi. We’ll still have the potential to get together with the team in the future.”

Arpin is hopeful the Loenbro Motorsports team will get two tests in before the season opener at Memphis in late April, but if they only get one, they’ll try to have one be “extremely productive.”

Considering the strides he and the team made in 2016 from 2015, they’re optimistic of more growth and progression this year.

“We had a lot of down time between ’15 and ’16, and we weren’t able to do a lot of things yet,” Arpin explained. “With Loenbro making such an early commitment this year, we can get the bull by the horns and say ‘Let’s go do this.’ When we finished 2016, we were laser focused on the next steps and progression. Now it’s asking what we can do better at, with all the right people and the early commitment. It’s gonna be a lot of fun to get testing.”

Arpin’s relationship with Loenbro is more than just being a driver; he’s also developed a business relationship with them.

“I love it. I see it as a long-term career opportunity,” he said. “I’m intrigued by what happens behind the scenes and what makes professional race teams. So much happens to get there.

“There’s two rushes for me. First and foremost getting behind the wheel. Then it’s getting together the planning side of it, working with partners, and figuring out unique, creative ways to deliver more to the partners. That’s it’s own type of rush.”

The two-car Loenbro confirmation joins other multi-car efforts announced from Andretti and Subaru. Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE is yet to reveal its 2017 program yet, while Bryan Herta Rallysport is expected to announce its replacement for Patrik Sandell on Wednesday.

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.