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Motorsports round-up: App troubles, and Villeneuve reunites with Ferrari

Lotus driver Kimi Räikkönen steers his car during the third practice session at the Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix in Sepang on Saturday, March 24, 2012.

Achmad Ibrahim/AP

What is it with smartphone apps and racing series anyway?

While the rest of the sporting world seems to be bending over backward to offer fans enhanced content, racing just seems to see it as a way to squeeze more money out of its followers.

For example, the official Formula One 2012 Timing App looks great. It offers several fabulous upgrades in functionality from last year, such as live track position data for all 24 cars and real-time race control messages, so fans can follow the action even more closely than before. It is the former Soft Pauer live timing app, which seems to have earned official F1 status for 2012.

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Previously, the old F1 app's flagship technology was a live timing stream that allowed fans to get the data when away from their computers during races. There were no other bells and whistles, but having the timing alone made it a must download for any serious F1 fan.

So, getting more gizmos added to the basic timing function must be great, right?

Unfortunately, the free live timing stream that was so valuable on the 2011 app is only available in this year's version if you pay a $28.99 fee. Yup, that's right: if fans want to follow grands prix on their smartphone with something they can get for free on the sport's official website – and please don't tell F1 commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone that live timing is free on – they must pay the annual app price. And yes, fans will have to fork over another fee in 2013 to renew the app.

It's no wonder that out of the 60 people who took the time to rate the app on iTunes, 57 gave it one out of five starts – and that's only because a rating of zero stars is not allowed.

Asking fans to pay for some trick features, such as a live track map, is fine, since some will happily opt to pay for more. But it would be nice to let fans continue receiving information that was previously free or is available for nothing on the sport's website.

F1 is not alone here. The MotoGP Series launched its app for the 2012 season last week, just as this year's campaign was about to get under way. Its 2012 app also has several neat functions, including live timing, video coverage of races and on-demand playback.

But most of the useful features are only available after paying a $24.99 annual fee. Again, the live timing is available free on the MotoGP website, so why ask those with smartphones to pay for it?

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Things get even stranger when IndyCar and NASCAR are brought into the equation. They have apps that are only available to select users. Live is only available for Google TV users; the IndyCar app is available only to Verizon Wireless customers.

Now, with a racing market share that borders on the ridiculous, having NASCAR pinpoint where it wants its product is understandable, since it doesn't struggle for viewers or fans.

But IndyCar is supposed to be building its fan base after swallowing the old Champ Car Series a few years ago and trying desperately to undo the damage of a 13-year open wheel split in North America. The logic of an app strategy that eliminates roughly 68 million of the 100 million U.S. smartphone users seems a tad misguided.

Then there are the millions of potential users outside the U.S. who are completely shut out because they can't be Verizon subscribers – like Canadians, who have two IndyCar races and two drivers in the series, and Brazilians, who have a race and three drivers.

Villeneuve and Ferrari reunited

Ferrari has announced that 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve will drive the 1979 312 T4 his father Gilles piloted to three wins and second place overall in the world championship that season.

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Jacques will get behind the wheel at Ferrari's Fiorano circuit near its Maranello headquarters on May 8, the 30th anniversary of his father's death in a qualifying crash at the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder. Gilles started 67 races between 1977 and his death in 1982, making all but one of his starts with Ferrari.

It won't be the first time Jacques has borrowed one of his dad's former rides. At the 2004 Goodwood Festival of Speed in England, he drove the Ferrari 312 T3 that Gilles drove to his maiden Formula One victory at the 1978 Canadian Grand Prix.

After stepping from the 1978 Ferrari, Villeneuve thought to himself that the idea of driving that car in a Formula One race was "crazy."

The Lotus saga continues

When Team Lotus and Lotus Renault began a fight over the iconic name and offered two versions of the former team's livery in Formula One last year, many felt the situation threatened to sully the Lotus legacy.

Team Lotus raced in the green and yellow colours the team made famous in the 1960s, while Renault used the black and gold livery made famous by the John Player Special Lotus of the 1970s.

After Team Lotus announced it would become Caterham Racing for 2012, many hoped the great F1 name battle that put one of the sport's most iconic brands in the middle of an embarrassing tug of war was finally over.

Well, think again. The Renault team, which now races as Lotus, announced last week that it had severed its sponsorship relationship with the car maker. Despite the split, the team will continue to race as Lotus under the black and gold colours.

To make things more confusing, it seems that Group Lotus pulled its sponsorship after its parent company, Malaysia-based Proton, poured a $55-million loan into the team, which could see it take over the outfit should the cash not be paid back.

F1 fans and Lotus aficionados hoping that the legendary brand's integrity would be secure once the name war ended might need to keep their fingers crossed a bit longer.

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Twitter: @jpappone

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