A WORK IN PROGRESS
The inaugural Korean Grand Prix takes Formula 1 into another strange new world,
as the sport continues its evolution beyond Eurocentricity, for better and for worse
Formula 1's first Korean Grand Prix proved neither the disaster many had feared nor a stunning breakthrough but, ultimately, it reinforced confidence in F1's ongoing shift from traditional to new and exotic locations.
Despite doubts in the build-up to the Korean race about whether or not it would happen, and bad weather forcing the start of the event to be delayed, F1 figures said they had been pleasantly surprised about how things turned out.
“I think the rain was a shame for the crowd, although it created quite an event in many ways,” said Mercedes GP team principal Ross Brawn. “But I think it has been a tremendous success. There were great crowds and it is a great circuit, which needs a bit of fine-tuning, but it is a good venue for us.”
The unfinished nature of the track, which prompted intervention by the Republic of Korea Army to finish up construction in the days before the race weekend, prompted race officials to apologize for the problems that teams experienced over the weekend. They promised to help improve the infrastructure for next year, which will include better hotels for the teams, some of whom were obliged to stay in “love hotels” intended for young couples, with mirrored ceilings and other odd accoutrements. Tweaks are also likely to be made to the circuit – especially the pit lane entry and exit – but in general, the drivers were impressed by Hermann Tilke's latest design.
“It's a fantastic circuit, and it is rare that we have a new circuit that all the drivers like,” noted Lewis Hamilton “It was great to see so many fans here, and to see the grandstands packed.”
F1 commercial manager Bernie Ecclestone acknowledged that the future of historic F1 tracks like Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps remain uncertain as the new venues like Korea, and planned new events in Austin, India and Russia, come on stream in the next few years.
“If it wasn't supported by the government, it probably would go because they wouldn't be able to afford it,” he said of Spa. “We're a World Championship and so, by definition, we need to be in different parts of the world.”
A COLD, WET SLAP OF REALITY
IndyCar teams and drivers struggle with the economy as Tony Kanaan joins the list of “no sponsor, no ride”
Before the high drama of the IZOD IndyCar Series' championship showdown had faded, the economic realities facing the series were forced back onto the front burner. Andretti Autosport was obliged to cut loose Tony Kanaan – a mainstay of its team since its debut in the Indy Racing League in 2003 – after 7-Eleven opted not to renew as primary sponsor of his No. 11 entry, although it will remain an associate on Danica Patrick's car.
“It is difficult to believe that Andretti Autosport and Tony Kanaan will no longer be competing together, but that is now a reality with the signing of this agreement,” said Andretti in releasing the Brazilian from his multi-year contract.
The team also faced the challenge of replacing IZOD as the primary sponsor of Ryan Hunter-Reay's car but, despite this, Andretti signed RH-R to a two-year contract extension in late October, ensuring that his breakout season, which included a dominating victory at Long Beach, would not be another false start to his IndyCar career.
Graham Rahal, by contrast, was following a different path back into a full-time IndyCar ride after a season in which he appeared for no fewer than four different teams. The 21-year-old Rahal announced at the Homestead finale that he had secured sponsorship from Service Central, which backed him with Sarah Fisher Racing this year, for a full-season program – but that he was shopping around for the right team to partner with.
Early suggestions that Rahal would be in a third Chip Ganassi Racing entry next year were initially discounted by that team's owner, but continued to build.
Meanwhile, Dan Wheldon and Justin Wilson continued to search for deals with De Ferran Dragon, Dreyer & Reinbold, KV Racing and Panther Racing, while the future of Newman/Haas remained unclear. And Paul Tracy remained adamant that he was targeting a full-time return next year after he, too, was forced to car-hop in 2010. “Checks haven't changed hands yet, but I do have verbal commitments from three companies,” Tracy said. Sign of the times...
INDYCAR'S LEGACY REACH
A bonus carrot aims to attract the winner of USAC's new National Championship award into Indy Lights
Addressing the lack of American racers in the IZOD IndyCar Series has been near the top of Randy Bernard's to-do list since he arrived as CEO and, in October, he confirmed a concrete step in that direction. Starting next year, a bonus award will be available to the winner of the newly created USAC National Championship, which goes to the driver scoring the most points among the sanctioning body's three national series – Silver Crown, Sprints and Midgets. The prize, believed to be worth $300,000, will be applied to a ride in the oval-track races of the Firestone Indy Lights series next season.
“I have listened to countless fans say we need more American drivers and I don't disagree, but I think it's more important to say we want the best American drivers in the world,” Bernard declared. “I'm a firm believer in our official ladder system, the ‘Road to Indy.' The experience the Road to Indy provides is essential for drivers to compete in the IZOD IndyCar Series.”
Bryan Clauson, who is battling Levi Jones for USAC's national crown, enthusiastically endorsed the idea.
“I know Levi and I both want to run Indianapolis and it's a great opportunity – an opportunity I didn't think I might ever have,” said Indy native son Clauson, 21. “I figured the only chance I probably had to make it to Indy was in NASCAR at the Brickyard 400.”
WILL THE DELTA FORCE STRIKE BACK?
Rejected 2012 IndyCar bidder not going quietly
When Ben Bowlby's radical DeltaWing design was passed over for the 2012 IndyCar formula in favor of a Dallara chassis to be skinned in independent aero kits, it appeared to be the end of the line for the concept. However, DeltaWing principals Bowlby and Dan Partel are continuing to push the design, which they say promises superior performance to the current IndyCar Dallara-Honda with half the power.
Bowlby, who has expressed interest in the new 1.6-liter “global engine” being planned for rallying and touring car racing, told AUTOSPORT that the task now was “to find a sanctioning body that wants to look at a clean-sheet-of-paper philosophy, achieving today's performance with tomorrow's fuel efficiency.”
Representatives of DeltaWing were on hand at Petit Le Mans in October to discuss their ideas with auto manufacturer reps. Bowlby said a working prototype could be ready in a matter of months if given the go-ahead.
SMOKE STRIKES BLACK GOLD
Mobil 1 switches from Penske to Stewart-Haas for 2011, putting Tony Stewart's dream team another step ahead
Stewart-Haas Racing won the race to replace Penske Racing as the beneficiary of Mobil 1's title sponsorship in NASCAR. Co-owner-driver Tony Stewart says the signing of Mobil 1 as a co-primary sponsor of his No. 14 Sprint Cup entry has fulfilled the team's objectives in acquiring the bulk of funding necessary for SHR's two-car team.
“We're in good shape on the 14 car now,” said Stewart. “This has fulfilled what we're looking for to fill the void for Old Spice next year. It allows us to now put that project behind us.”
The team had been in the hunt for new sponsors for 2011 as the deal with Old Spice, which shares top billing with Office Depot and Burger King on Stewart's car, expires at the end of the season. Teammate Ryan Newman's car will also carry associate sponsorship from Mobil 1.
Mobil 1 switches to Stewart's team following many years with Penske. The brand currently features on the No. 77 car of Sam Hornish Jr., whose future with Penske remains uncertain as a result of the shakeout, as Shell will become the primary sponsor of Kurt Busch's car while Brad Keselowski will drive Penske's Miller Lite car. Shell is also expected to feature on Penske's IndyCar entries in some fashion.
Stewart's deal with ExxonMobil also includes his teams in USAC midgets and World of Outlaws, as well as the Eldora Speedway in Ohio, which he owns.
AUDIS RARE AGAIN IN 2011
Prospects for an American Le Mans Series-run R15 TDI dim as the manufacturer struggles with running costs
Audi's turbo-diesel prototypes, which raced only once in the American Le Mans Series this year, appear once again likely to be rare visitors next season as the German manufacturer's efforts to partner with a stateside team appear to have foundered. Audi Sport boss Dr. Wolfgang Ulrich admitted that plans to partner with an ALMS team to field a pair of R15 TDIs are now unlikely to proceed.
“We worked on a way to have the R15 running in the ALMS, but it looks like it will not happen,” he said. Ulrich hinted that the costs were prohibitive: “The business case did not work.”
Teams known to have been under consideration for an Audi program include Highcroft Racing, whose contract with HPD (nee Acura) expired at the end of 2010, and Level 5 Motorsports, which this year ran in the LMP Challenge class.
This development figures to speed the ALMS's evolution from factory efforts in favor of fully privateer efforts. Customers will have several new prototype chassis options next season, with Riley Technologies building an LMP2 chassis at its Charlotte base, as well as the all-new Lola. Lotus is also preparing an LMP2 coupe for Le Mans, which may debut in Le Mans Series races late in 2011.
Audi – and Peugeot – is likely to return for Sebring and Petit Le Mans, which also count as rounds of the ACO's Intercontinental Le Mans Cup.