Formula One faces tarnished image in the US

INDIANAPOLIS: Formula One racing suffered an image setback among US fans this week after 14 cars refused to compete in the US Grand Prix here.

INDIANAPOLIS: Formula One racing suffered an image setback among US fans this week after 14 cars refused to compete in the US Grand Prix here.

The Federation Internationale de l?Automobile, which oversees Formula One racing, is blaming the teams that withdrew from the race, asking them to appear at a June 29 hearing in Paris.

The federation did not return calls asking if it plans other action.

The cars, which belonged to seven racing teams, withdrew from the race on the advice of tire supplier Michelin. Michelin tires had failed during practice runs at the course the Friday before the race.

Chris Balfe, editor of www.pitpass.com, a British website that reports on Formula One racing, said: ?Formula One did not come out of this well at all. The fallout will continue for some time.?

Formula One trails NASCAR in US fan interest. ?It?s always been regarded as quite elitist and very much European there,? Balfe said. Events at the US Grand Prix will add to its image problems, he speculated.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the race took place, is addressing fan concerns through direct communications. It?s had seven staffers answering fan calls, e-mails, and letters since the race, said Ron Green, director of public relations.

It also put up two large signs at the track with the message ?We are disappointed too? so fans coming to the raceway to buy tickets for other events can see how the speedway feels.

Fans booed and threw objects on the track June 19 as only six cars competed.

One disgruntled fan has filed a class action lawsuit against the speedway, the federation, and against Formula One Management, a British company that oversees the business aspects of Formula One events.

Michelin North America fielded more than 700 consumer calls after the race.

?Our key message is that Michelin is committed to safety and we wouldn?t compromise safety,? said Lynn Mann, director of PR for Michelin North America.

Bridgestone, which supplied tires to the cars that did race, also handled a large volume of calls. It referred media calls to its London office, which handles Formula One communications for the company.

?Our tire technology was recognized and that could be a good thing for Bridgestone. I?m not necessarily sure whether what happened is good for Formula One,? said Rachel Ingham, Bridgestone?s Formula One press officer.

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