Jacques Villeneuve

Didn’t you use to be Jacques Villeneuve?

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A familiar face showed up Friday at Sonoma Raceway. Sure, he’s lost a bit of hair — not to mention it’s starting to get speckled with grey — but there’s no mistaking a guy who was once one of the best race car drivers in the world.

Remember Jacques Villeneuve? He won the last CART series championship in 1995 before the big split between CART and the upstart Indy Racing League the following year.

From there, Villeneuve went on to a fairly successful Formula One career, winning 11 of 163 starts, with 13 poles and 23 podium appearances. He didn’t miss a beat after leaving CART, finishing second in his first F1 season in 1996 and then winning the championship in 1997.

But since his last year in F1 in 2006 — he only made two-thirds of the 18 races on the schedule — the Montreal native and son of the late Canadian racing legend Gilles Villeneuve has been bopping around as a part-time NASCAR driver, primarily in the Nationwide Series (NNS).

Not so this weekend, though. Even though the NNS races Saturday at Road America, Villeneuve will attempt to qualify the James Finch-owned No. 51 Chevrolet for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway. It will be the first time he’s ever competed on the 1.99-mile road course.

“We wanted to put a driver in our car who would give us the best chance to win at Sonoma,” Finch told ESPN.com. “When the opportunity came up to have someone like Jacques in our car, we were very happy to make that happen. It’s a long way out there [to California] to not be competitive. He gives us the chance to not only do really well but to actually win the race. We led laps there last year and almost did win it (Kurt Busch drove the car in last year’s race and finished third). We plan on getting the trophy this time.”

While Villeneuve hasn’t raced a Sprint Cup car since 2010 (finished 29th in the Brickyard 400), Villeneuve could pose a big threat to the Sprint Cup regulars on Sunday if he makes it through Saturday’s qualifying.

You see, road courses are Villeneuve’s bread and butter. No matter what series or sanctioning body, he’s almost always in his element when he gets to turn left — and right. He also has been known for not being shy when it comes to trading paint and banging fenders.

For example: In nine career NNS races, Villeneuve hasn’t won, but he’s come darn close to it, with three top-five and two other top-10 finishes, including finishes of sixth (Road America) and Montreal (third) last season.

Villeneuve was hailed as a great addition to the Sprint Cup world when it was announced he would join several other world-class drivers as full-time competitors in the series in 2008, including Scotsman Dario Franchitti and Canadian Patrick Carpentier, while Australian Marcos Ambrose competed full-time in the Nationwide Series. Juan Pablo Montoya had joined the series full-time a season earlier, essentially blazing the trail for the imports.

Unfortunately, Villeneuve’s career ended before it even had a chance to start, as promised funding for a full-time ride with Bill Davis evaporated along with his ride before the season even started. Franchitti and Carpentier didn’t last the season, either. Only Ambrose has emerged as the lone survivor of the foreign onslaught, in addition to the trailblazing Montoya.

It’s too bad, because Villeneuve likely could have done well if he had sponsorship and the right team.

Still, it’s good to see him back in his first Cup race in three seasons. Even though he’s now 42, Villeneuve still has a lot of racing left in him. Who knows, maybe this could be a sign of things to come — and maybe a second chance that he so deserves.

Nürburgring: Hosting German GP must be ‘economically justifiable’

NUERBURG, GERMANY - JULY 07:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Infiniti Red Bull Racing and Mark Webber of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing lead the field early in the German Grand Prix at the Nuerburgring on July 7, 2013 in Nuerburg, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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The Nürburgring remains keen to play host to Formula 1 again in the future, but says that holding the German Grand Prix must be “economically justifiable”.

The German Grand Prix returns this weekend at Hockenheim after a one-year absence from the calendar when talks to hold the race at the Nürburgring in 2015 broke down.

The two tracks have alternated hosting the race since 2008, the deal ensuring that neither made a loss for two consecutive years.

F1 last visited the Nürburgring in 2013 when Sebastian Vettel claimed his first German Grand Prix win for Red Bull.

F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone said last December that he doubted the Nürburgring would host the race in 2017 due to the track’s financial uncertainty.

Although the Nürburgring does want to welcome F1 again in the future, it will only do so relying a deal is financially viable.

“Our position remains unchanged and we would like to organize the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring again,” a spokesperson from the track told NBC Sports.

“However, the business environment has to be economically justifiable.

“We will not afford Formula One at all costs.”

The Nürburgring played host to the FIA World Endurance Championship last weekend, welcoming a bumper crowd of 58,000 on race day.

An announcement was made mid-race confirming the date for the 2017 6 Hours of Nürburgring as July 16.

However, Montreal is due to host its first Formula E race the same weekend, with a number of the series’ drivers also racing in the WEC.

“The date has been requested by FIA WEC, we have confirmed this date and we agreed to the request of FIA WEC to release the date on Sunday,” the spokesperson said.

“From our point of view this date is 100 per cent fixed.”

CJ Wilson Racing, Chicago Blackhawks charities partner at Road America

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Photo: CJ Wilson Racing
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CJ Wilson Racing and the Chicago Blackhawks charities have come together for a partnership going into the next round of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge season at Road America.

A release from CJWR explaining said partnership is below:

The CJ Wilson Automotive Group and CJ Wilson Racing today announced a partnership with the Chicago Blackhawks, who will become the primary sponsor of the race team’s #35 Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport for the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge event at Road America. The car will compete in the colors of the Chicago Blackhawks Charities.

Livery design by Andy Blackmore Design
Livery design by Andy Blackmore Design

The partnership will officially launch at the United Center on Wednesday, August 3, from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m in advance of Saturday’s race. Fans will have the opportunity to get up close to the car, meet the drivers and Blackhawks Ambassador Denis Savard, and have their picture taken. Attendees can make a voluntary donation to Chicago Blackhawks Charities and one family from Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation will be invited to the race itself as the special guests of CJ Wilson Racing.

CJ-Wilson-BMW-KTM-blackhawks-2EditAutomotive Group and race team President, CJ Wilson, is excited about this unique partnership. “This is the first real opportunity for our team to partner with one of the ‘big four’ professional sports and create some crossover with professional racing.”

The two-time MLB All-Star went on to explain that “from a competitive standpoint we look forward to every race. We have taken a significant step up, moving from the ST level to GS and we are continuing to take further steps away from the track to expand our reach and our influence. Having the car available to Blackhawks fans at the United Center is really neat and is one of the elements of this partnership that has really excited us. Being able to show off these amazing machines in a non-traditional setting really shows people the commitment we have as an organization and hopefully gives them a better understanding of just how accessible our sport is.”

“It is great to be able to include the race team into our long-standing community-based charitable work and our ongoing efforts to give back to local Chicagoland initiatives,” added Eric Vates, Vice President of CJ Wilson Mazda. “It is exciting for the CJ Wilson Automotive Group to have the opportunity to incorporate our race team with one of our premier partners, the Chicago Blackhawks,” added Vates.

Fans can meet the drivers and Blackhawks Ambassador Denis Savard and get up close to the CJ Wilson Racing Chicago Blackhawks Charities Porsche at the United Center on Wednesday August 3, from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. in Lot C (located on Warren Blvd. between Damen Ave. and Wood St.). The seventh round of the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge will take place at Road America, Wisconsin on Saturday, August 6, at 11:35 a.m.

Pirelli confirms Brazilian and Abu Dhabi GP tire selections

xxxx during the Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 15, 2015 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
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The last two Grands Prix of the season will feature the widest range of dry weather compound tires, Pirelli has announced on Tuesday.

Its three hardest compounds – the soft, medium and hard tires – will be utilized for the Brazilian Grand Prix on November 13.

Two weeks later in Abu Dhabi for the season finale, however, Pirelli will go to the three softest – the ultrasoft, supersoft and soft tires.

These two races will follow on from the North American double in Austin and Mexico City, where Pirelli will go down the middle with the supersoft, soft and medium compounds.

The soft/medium/hard selections were used at Barcelona and Silverstone and will be used at Sepang and Suzuka.

Meanwhile the other ultrasoft/supersoft/soft races are Monaco, Montreal, Austria and the upcoming Singapore GP.

Pirelli’s season-long breakdown is linked here.

Red Bull GRC: Second New River race officially cancelled

Deegan's rattled Ford. Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull GRC
Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull GRC
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The second of two planned races at Red Bull Global Rallycross’ trip to MCAS New River was scrubbed on site due to heavy rain, lightning and unsafe track conditions.

And while the possibility existed Red Bull GRC could have gone with some sort of makeup round, in the end, the decision was made to cancel the race outright.

Here’s the official statement from Red Bull GRC:

“After the suspension of 2016 Championship Round 7 at Marine Corps Air Station New River due to severe weather, Red Bull Global Rallycross officials have announced the cancellation of the round in its entirety. Round 7 cannot be resumed due to the inability to replicate the race circumstances and facility at which it was originally contested. No points will be awarded for Round 7 and no make-up event will be scheduled.”

The series resumes this weekend at Washington, D.C. for the original Round 8, which will air LIVE, Saturday, July 30, at 2 p.m. ET on NBC.

Scott Speed won the lone race at New River as it turned out, and has now vaulted himself closer to Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross teammate Tanner Foust in the championship.