Shell at the Monaco F1 Grand Prix

MotorSportsTalk’s predictions: Monaco GP

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Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. Mercedes and Rosberg’s one-lap pace this year is unquestioned. Is this the race where the team finally puts it together from a good grid position to actually bring it home if they don’t chew through the tires as normal? I think so, for the driver who finished second here a year ago.

Surprising finish: Pastor Maldonado. It’s Monaco, where Maldonado has shone in GP2 and his rookie season in F1. Given the traditionally high attrition rates and his ability to maximize his equipment at this circuit, this is as good a place as any for the Venezuelan to finally get on the scoreboard.

Most to prove: Jules Bianchi. Looking to the back of the grid here, but Bianchi has cooled off since his hot start to his F1 career and Caterham’s improvements have brought them forward. Won here in World Series by Renault a year ago, so he’s another who has had some success on the streets of Monte Carlo.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Mercedes’ one-lap prowess, along with a Monaco circuit that’s not as harsh on tires as other tracks, means that the former World Champion has a great shot at the win on Sunday.

Surprising finish: Adrian Sutil. Scoreless since the season opener, Sutil has had to deal with some very bad luck. But his car has shown good qualifying form, which is more than half the battle in Monte Carlo.

Most to prove: Pastor Maldonado. With his team still scoreless in 2013, the Venezuelan needs every bit of his Monaco knowledge (which includes wins there in Formula Renault 3.5 and GP2) to help him bring home some needed points.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. Relying Mercedes have finally solved their rear tire woes, it is hard to look past either Rosberg or Hamilton for the win. After a good showing in practice, Rosberg is currently the favorite to win on Sunday. At the track where qualifying is everything, expect the Silver Arrows to impress.

Surprising finish: Charles Pic. In this case, “surprising” is anything in the top fourteen. Caterham have pulled ahead of Marussia in the development race, and with Monaco’s habit for limiting the number of finishers, this will be the best chance either team has of scoring or getting ahead in the constructors’ championship. If it is anyone from the bottom four, it will be Pic.

Most to prove: Adrian Sutil. There is no denying that Sutil has had some bad luck of late, yet he still has just one score to his name. His good record in Monaco could prove highly valuable this weekend if he is to establish himself as the number one driver within Force India.

Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. All the talk is about Mercedes but I have a good old-fashioned hunch about the world champion. I’m tipping him to extend Red Bull’s run of Monaco Grand Prix victories to four in a row.

Surprising finish: Sergio Perez. Won at Monaco in GP2 but it hasn’t come together for him in F1 yet. Let’s see if he can get through qualifying here without a crash this time and give McLaren something to smile about.

Most to prove: Romain Grosjean. His season started to go off the rails at this race last year. His team mate’s been on the podium four times already and Grosjean needs to keep showing he can produce results like the one he had in Bahrain.

Conor Daly’s IndyCar gets painted

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Conor Daly
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Conor Daly will compete full-time in the Verizon IndyCar Series this year in a ride for Dale Coyne Racing.

Daly will make laps in the No. 18 Honda sponsored by Jonathan Byrd’s. The 24-year-old driver tweeted out a picture today of his race car getting painted for the season, which starts on March 13.

Daly has six IndyCar races under his belt so far.

USF2000 reintroduces National Class for 2016

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The National Class is officially back in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series for 2016.

Yes, when Eric Filgueiras and Spencer Racing announced they’d be in the National Class, that kind of gave it away that the class would be back without it being formally introduced.

Luckily though, the series has released the news today. A formal release is below:

Drivers seeking to make their way onto the Mazda Road to Indy now have an alternate, lower-cost route onto the first rung, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, with today’s confirmation that the National Class will be returning in 2016.

The Mazda Road to Indy is unique in the world of auto racing, offering a scholarship-funded path all the way from karting via USF2000, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.

Eligible to drivers at least 20 years of age before or during the 2016 season, the National Class will be open to all Sports Car Club of America-legal FC (Formula Continental) cars, from any chassis manufacturer, dating back to 2000. Any aerodynamic devices approved by the SCCA are permitted, although in the interests of safety all cars must be fitted with a nosebox crash structure, wheel tethers, Staubli devices, approved head surrounds and seats and yellow light system as required by all other current USF2000 cars.

Cars will be permitted to run either the same 2.0-liter Mazda MZR engine per the USF2000 Championship Class regulations or sealed 2.0-liter Ford Zetec motors as prepared by Elite Engines or Quicksilver RacEngines with National Class mapping. Any SCCA-legal 6″ and 8″ wheels may be used, although all cars must run on Cooper tires.

Entry fees will be discounted 50 percent below the Championship Class rate, and each race winner will earn a free entry for an upcoming event in the same season. The second-place finisher will claim a 50 percent reduction in the entry fee for an upcoming race. In addition, race winners equipped with the MZR engine will take home a $1,000 award from Mazda.

As an added benefit and based on a minimum average car count of five entries per race weekend, the 2016 National Class champion will receive an “entry ticket” to the Mazda Road to Indy $200K Scholarship Shootout in the fall of this year where champions of select junior level-open wheel and karting series from around the world will compete for a Mazda scholarship to enter the USF2000 Championship Class in 2017.

The point system will be the same used by the Masters Class (formerly Expert Class) in the Pro Mazda championship.

“We are excited to bring back the National Class and allow drivers to sample the Mazda Road to Indy,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “RC Enerson began his path on the ladder system in the National Class. It’s a great first step onto the platform for many drivers, and we are excited to offer this year’s champion an entry into the Shootout as well as a full-season entry package to USF2000 in 2017 in either the Championship or National Class.”

The Mazda Road to Indy will head to Barber Motorsport Park for Spring Training on March 5 (Indy Lights) and 6/7 (USF2000/Pro Mazda). The 2016 season will kick off on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 11-13 in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Report: Scott Tucker arrested by FBI in payday lending scheme

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JANUARY 30:  The #95 Level 5 Motorsports BMW Riley driven by Scott Tucker, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Richard Westbrook and Raphael Matos during The Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on January 30, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)
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For four years from 2010 to 2013, Scott Tucker and Level 5 Motorsports were American Le Mans Series regulars, first in the Prototype Challenge class and then the LMP2 class. They won, a lot, and were a regular championship-contending effort, plus those who worked for the team had nothing but positive things to say about the operation that was run.

That said, the funding of the team was always perpetually questioned, as Tucker was always allegedly involved within the payday lending business, and had reportedly abusive practices towards customers.

This has been something of a bubbling story for five years but per Reuters, on Wednesday, Tucker and one of his lawyers were arrested by the FBI for their alleged exploitation.

Per Reuters, an indictment filed in Manhattan federal court outlined millions that went to Tucker, who then used it for various luxury items. Allegedly, more than $67 million went to the Level 5 Motorsports race team.

Level 5’s last IMSA series start came under the unified TUDOR United SportsCar Championship umbrella in January 2014, when the team won the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the GT Daytona class. The team withdrew from the championship following that race.

Social Roundup: IndyCar tests at Sonoma, Fontana

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Simon Pagenaud
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There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?

The engines of the Verizon IndyCar Series have roared back to life this week, a month before the season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

After a test at Phoenix International Raceway two days ago, two more tests are occurring today in California, at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana and at Sonoma Raceway.

At Auto Cub Speedway is Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and James Hinchcliffe.

In Sonoma is the entirety of the Chip Ganassi Racing team and Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud from Team Penske.

Here’s a look at how the day is progressing at each test through social media. We’ll update throughout the day. If you’re attending either test, tweet us pictures at @MotorSportsTalk or @danielmcfadin of how you’re taking in the beginning of the 2016 season.

Sonoma Raceway

Auto Club Speedway