F1 still trying to capture hearts of Chinese fans

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With this year’s running of the Chinese Grand Prix, Formula One has now been in the most populous nation on Earth for ten years. But it appears that most of the potential for the sport in China remains untapped despite a decade of racing.

Chinese viewership for the World Championship dropped in 2012, causing F1 kingpin Bernie Ecclestone (pictured, left) to call in regional broadcasters to show the series in the country instead of a national network. In addition, F1’s sponsor portfolio only has a limited number of Chinese companies, and attendance for the Grand Prix in Shanghai has been spotty at times over the years.

Although Chinese-born Ma Qing Hua currently sits as a reserve driver for Caterham, there isn’t a top Chinese driver in the series and that can’t be helping matters in regards to sparking local interest in the sport. After all, everybody loves the hometown hero (or home-country hero, in this case).

Then there’s the fact that the Chinese fan base is still relatively green when it comes to F1 and motorsports in general — not to mention relatively cash-strapped.

“At the end, it’s all about culture of motorsport in China,” said Shanghai-based F1 journalist Frankie Mao to the Associated Press. “We have fans, but they’re young and can’t afford the high expenses of luxury goods and F1 is luxury. China does have rich people. They love sport cars, but they don’t understand what motorsport really is.”

Things may be getting better, as the AP reports that 90 percent of tickets for this weekend’s Grand Prix have been sold. But in the eyes of McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, he feels that the sport hasn’t done enough to engage the Chinese and may have to re-think its outreach altogether.

“If you take a new product into a new market, ordinarily you have a marketing plan and you advertise,” Whitmarsh said to the AP. “We’ve put ourselves outside Shanghai and we expect them to come and find us. We need to work a little harder.

“We as a sport are a little bit arrogant. We’re F1. We arrive and people will want to come to see us. But China doesn’t need us.”

MRTI: Lucas Oil Raceway Recap

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Friday marked Carb Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, but there was also plenty of activity over in Brownsburg, Indiana at Lucas Oil Raceway.

Friday night’s Carb Night Classic featured the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda in their first oval events of the year: the Freedom 75 (USF2000) and the Freedom 90 (Pro Mazda).

Both races saw the points leaders in their respective series dominate, further asserting their championship prowess, and taking their first oval victories in the process.

Recaps of both races are below.

Pro Mazda: Thompson Holds Off Cunha for First Oval Win

The Freedom 90 saw Parker Thompson appear to be almost on cruise control for much of the race, as the Exclusive Autosport driver immediately jumped into the lead off the initial start and he began rocketing away from the field.

Behind him, a pair of Juncos Racing cars emerged in second and third, with Carlos Cunha ahead of Robert Megennis in that battle.

However, Thompson’s initial lead was wiped out following a Lap 46 crash involving David Malukas and Harrison Scott. The pair had been engaged in an intense battle for fourth, but came together in Turn 4, sending Scott spinning into the outside wall while Malukas eventually came to a stop alongside the front straightaway wall.

Thompson again pulled away when racing resumed on Lap 55, while Cunha immediately gave chase, passing the lapped car of Lodovico Laurini as he tried to keep Thompson in his sights.

Lapped traffic continued to play a key role in the closing stages, with Thompson getting briefly held up behind Nikita Lastochkin and Oliver Askew, allowing Cunha to close onto his gearbox in the final laps.

However, Thompson kept Cunha at bay to take the win, his third of the Pro Mazda season. Megennis drove a solid race to finish third, while Rinus VeeKay put three Juncos cars in the top five by finishing fourth. Team Pelfrey’s Sting Ray Robb finished fifth.

Thompson’s win sees him extend his points lead over VeeKay to 36, with Cunha only two points further back in third.

USF2000: Kirkwood Rolls to Victory in Oval Debut

Kyle Kirkwood was untouchable at Lucas Oil Raceway. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

If his first career oval proved a challenge for Cape Motorsports’ Kyle Kirkwood, he certainly did not show it. Starting on the pole, Kirkwood rocketed away into the lead and was never challenged.

Behind him, however, his closest title rival faltered. Alex Baron, who charged from eighth to third on Lap 1, crashed out while working his way around the lapped car of Russ McDonough. Baron was visibly upset and frustrated while walking along the pit lane after climbing out of the No. 29 Swan-RJB Motorsports Tatuus USF-17.

Racing only briefly returned to green on Lap 40 before Zach Holden rode up and over the back of Julian van der Watt, with both cars coming to a stop on the back straightaway.

A restart on Lap 50 again saw Kirkwood pull away, while Kaylen Frederick worked his way up to second around Rasmus Lindh and Lucas Kohl.

The race came to a close only eight laps later – the cautions brought a 30-minute time limit into play, preventing them from completing the originally planned 75-lap race.

In the end, no one got close to Kirkwood, who took a win on his oval debut, his third win of the 2018 season. Frederick came home second for his first podium of the year, and his first with Pabst Racing Services, while Rasmus Lindh rounded out the podium in third. Kohl and Jose Sierra completed the top five in fourth and fifth.

Kirkwood’s win combined with Baron’s crash to give Kirkwood a championship lead of 44 points. Sierra remains third, one point ahead of Igor Fraga.

Both series are back in action for double-headers at Road America on June 23-24.

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