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Busy Phoenix test sees more than 5,000 laps banked

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In total, the Verizon IndyCar Series’ open test at Phoenix International Raceway consisted of four sessions: two during the day and two during the evening, each lasting three hours. There were 23 car/driver combinations that turned laps (of note: 21 cars were entered, but Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi each took laps in the other’s car).

Because of the number of sessions and cars participating, the lap count was expected to be relatively high. Several drivers completed more than 100 laps in at least one session, with a handful even doing so in multiple sessions.

Among the notable drivers to break the 100-lap barrier was Graham Rahal, driving a lone entry for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. “I don’t know why, but our guys like to pound laps, so that’s all right. We’ll just keep driving when they tell me to,” he quipped after the Friday evening session, in which he turned 114 laps.

For Rahal, the track time as a single-car entry over the weekend was paramount in maximizing the team’s efforts. “One of my concerns is always just stalling out,” he explained. “As a single car, you see the amount of laps we’re pounding here, and we have to. I mean, we’re trying things on tires we probably shouldn’t be running on, but we have to try to do things because as a single car you’re only getting knowledge from one source.”

Another driver who enjoyed a heavy workload was Josef Newgarden on his first major outing in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Newgarden accounted for 99 laps on Friday night and 114 laps on Saturday night. For Newgarden, it presented a great opportunity to spend more time with his new team. “The Verizon 2 car team is all new to me, so they’re not new to each other, so there’s great continuity there, but I’m new to the group,” he detailed. “So they’re trying to understand me and I’m trying to understand them.”

Dale Coyne Racing driver Sebastien Bourdais also cracked the 100-lap mark during a session, putting 103 laps of work in on Saturday night. For Bourdais, it was an opportunity to get reacquainted with Craig Hampson, with whom he won four consecutive championships in the Champ Car World Series between 2004 and 2007, and run through a myriad of changes to the chassis. “The guys did a great job. I don’t recall that I’ve ever gone through so many changes, big changes on the car over a two-day test, and we got out of this with a very happy car,” said the Frenchman.

However, the prize for the most laps turned goes to defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud, who totaled 303 laps across both days, including a whopping 124 on Friday night. For Pagenaud, it helped knock the rust off. A stalwart at the Rolex 24 in past years, Pagenaud elected to forego a driving opportunity at the 2017 edition of the endurance classic, especially after a busy off-season. “It’s been a busy winter with the championship and all the appearances everywhere in the world,” said Pagenaud, who did a tour of France, among other appearances, following his championship run. “It was good for me to get some time off, stay with my family. That’s something I really needed.”

For Pagenaud, the Phoenix test marked his first significant driving duty since the Petit Le Mans in early October. “This year I just didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do for my program and for being pretty focused with Penske at attacking another title,” he said of his decision to forego the Rolex 24, though he did attend as a spectator.

The 21 drivers who participated at the Phoenix test completed 5,134 laps across all four sessions. The next open test takes place at Barber Motorsports Park on March 21, just over a week after the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

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.