Sponsor news and notes from the Brickyard…

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Panther Racing has been runner-up at the Indianapolis 500 in four of the last five years, but the two-time IZOD IndyCar Series champions are hoping that a “super” change to its No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet will help them finally break through at the Brickyard.

As the National Guard teams up with Warner Bros.’ upcoming Superman flick Man of Steel to create the “Soldier of Steel” recruiting campaign, J.R. Hildebrand’s machine has swapped its traditional ACU camo for a dark blue hue. In addition, the famous “S” shield has been placed on the nose and the likeness of actor Henry Cavill in full Superman costume adorns the side pods.

“There’s a pretty seamless connection between these [National Guard] soldiers and Superman; they’re both just ordinary citizens serving their community,” said Hildebrand in a release. “So for us being able to compete in an iconic event like the Indianapolis 500 in Superman colors is just another way to highlight all the unbelievable things the National Guard does for this country.

“For us, the soldiers have always been the real superheroes.”

Insurance company GEICO is on board with Tony Kanaan and KV Racing Technology for this month’s “500.” It marks the sixth consecutive year that the company will be backing a KVRT machine.

“KVRT and GEICO have worked closely together over the past six years and we’re excited to have them back again this year,” team co-owner Jimmy Vasser said in a statement. “This gives us the opportunity to maintain a relationship that is extremely important to us as a team.”

So far, Hydroxycut and Itaipava beer have served as main sponsors on Kanaan’s No. 11 Chevrolet this season. However, at the most recent IZOD IndyCar Series race in Brazil, Vasser told writer Marshall Pruett that he was looking for more sponsors to back the former series champion during the summer portion of the schedule.

F1 Mexican Grand Prix on NBC, NBCSN, App this week

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Lewis Hamilton is poised to wrap his fourth Formula 1 World Championship early at this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix, as NBC Sports covers the 18th of 20 rounds this season from the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

Expanded TV coverage comes this weekend on NBC, NBCSN and the NBC Sports App.

All sessions will air live. Both Friday practice sessions are live on NBCSN at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. ET. Saturday third practice airs live via the NBC Sports App at 11 a.m. ET with a practice replay show at 12:30 p.m. before live qualifying at 2 p.m. ET, those two on NBCSN.

On Sunday, race day, F1 Countdown starts at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC leading to lights out and the race at 3 p.m. ET. Post-race coverage continues on NBC for one hour, from 5 to 6 p.m. ET.

Mercedes AMG Petronas has won both Mexican Grands Prix since the race was reinstated in 2015 after a 23-year hiatus. Nico Rosberg won in 2015 a race after Hamilton had clinched that year’s title, while Hamilton won last year in a 1-2 with Rosberg continuing to close on his first title.

Controversy reined about third place in Mexico last year with all of Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and ultimately Daniel Ricciardo ending in third, Ricciardo getting the podium after post-race penalties were assessed to the other two. Valtteri Bottas is the other active podium finisher in Mexico, having come third in 2015 with Williams.

Vettel enters Mexico 66 points behind Hamilton and can only keep the title alive to Brazil if he gets the gap under 50 points; any top-five finish for Hamilton will ensure the Englishman equals Vettel on four titles. So if Vettel doesn’t finish first or second, he can’t score enough points (either 25 or 18) to get that gap under 50 markers.

Last year’s race featured a bit of a “Noah’s Ark” finishing order with just the top five teams in the championship scoring points at this race, almost in descending order of just two-by-two. It was two Mercedes, then two Red Bulls, then two Ferraris, then Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India before the two Williams, and finally hometown hero Sergio Perez in the second Force India.

Perez is the lone home favorite this race with Esteban Gutierrez not on the grid this season.

Here’s the F1 schedule, with stream links and TV network if applicable:

  • Practice 1: Friday, Oct. 27, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 2: Friday, Oct. 27, 3 p.m.-4:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 3: Saturday, Oct. 28, 11 a.m.-12 p.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Practice 3 (Replay): Saturday, Oct. 28, 12:30 p.m.-2 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Qualifying: Saturday, Oct. 28, 2 p.m.-3:45 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Pre-Race: Sunday, Oct. 29, 2:30 p.m.-3 p.m. ET (NBC)
  • Race: Sunday, Oct. 29, 3 p.m.-5 p.m. ET (NBC)
  • Post-Race: Sunday, Oct. 29, 5 p.m.-6 p.m. ET (NBC)
  • Race (Replay): Sunday, Oct. 29, 8:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

The next race is the Brazilian Grand Prix, on November 12.