Scott Dixon

Dixon emerging as new title rival for Castroneves (VIDEO)

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With the Honda Indy Toronto in the books, Helio Castroneves continues to lead the IZOD IndyCar Series championship. But his rear view mirrors are starting to fill up with the “Target red” of Scott Dixon.

And that’s the main focus for “The Iceman,” who now sits just 29 points behind Castroneves after completing a weekend sweep at Exhibition Place this afternoon. When NBC Sports Network’s Kevin Lee mentioned the $100,000 bonus he’d won for taking both races in the doubleheader, Dixon instead talked about the bigger picture.

“One hundred grand is good, but I’d rather take the points,” said Dixon after his third consecutive triumph in an eight-day span. “The points are what we’re here for…We’ll narrow it down and try to go for [the championship].”

Dixon has the momentum, and it bears noting that the next IndyCar race is at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Aug. 4, 3 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network), where he is the two-time defending race champion and a four-time winner in his career.

And that could mean trouble for Castroneves, who had a relatively strong weekend in Toronto with a sixth-place finish on Saturday and a runner-up finish today. Even so, he couldn’t help but marvel at Dixon’s brilliance.

“[Dixon] was in another league,” Castroneves said to NBCSN. “I was pushing as hard as I could and I had a very good car, don’t get me wrong. But…Whatever he’s having for breakfast, I want it. Man, that was something.”

Castroneves had one final chance to get past Dixon on the last restart of the day with two laps to go but was unable to pull it off.

“I only had one “push to pass” [overtake] and I was trying to be smart with using the push-to-pass to keep up with Scott,” he said. “I was going for it, but in the end, it was really hard and Scott was smart. He’s not a rookie. We gotta work but we’re very happy with a good second-place.”

Meanwhile, the Toronto troubles continued for Ryan Hunter-Reay, who fell to third in the championship after contact with Will Power on that particular restart sent him into the wall near Turn 1. As a result of his 19th place finish, RHR is now 69 points behind Castroneves in the title race.

Three events ago, he had been just nine points behind him.

“Will was coming out from the bottom and I had a good run around the outside and I was right next to him,” Hunter-Reay told NBCSN. “He was sliding across and when I talked to him in the [medical car] that took us back, he said he got loose on the bottom and he just drove right up into us.

“There’s two lanes going through there and everybody kind of respects that. I don’t think he drove into me on purpose, but it took us out of the race.”

Inside the deep data dive at Red Bull Racing (VIDEO)

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NBCSN’s Steve Matchett caught up with Red Bull Racing’s Paul Monaghan, Chief Engineer of Car Engineering, and Bill Moseley, Director of Marketing Communications at AT&T, for a deeper drive on data and sensors and how it’s all transmitted from Red Bull Racing at the track back to the team headquarters in Milton Keynes in England.

In the above video shot last week at Circuit of The Americas for the United States Grand Prix, Matchett finds out about the sensors on a car, how the sensors transfer data to the team and the impact of their findings.

You can watch this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix on NBC at 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday; a full list of times for the weekend is linked here.

Vettel surprises Mercedes by leading second Mexican GP practice

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 28:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 28, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Sebastian Vettel sprung a surprise on Mercedes in the second Formula 1 practice session ahead of the Mexican Grand Prix by topping the timesheets for Ferrari on Friday afternoon.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton led the way in opening practice, and was expected to run at the front once again with teammate Nico Rosberg when teams switched to qualifying simulations in FP2 at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

However, it was Vettel who laid down the pace on the super-soft tire for Ferrari, setting a benchmark lap of 1:19.790 for Hamilton and Rosberg to follow mid-way through the session.

Neither Mercedes driver could get ahead, despite both attempting two flying laps on their super-softs, with Hamilton (below, talking to NBCSN’s Townsend Bell) getting within just 0.004 seconds.

Rosberg slotted into third place, almost half a second further back after struggling during his qualifying run.

Kimi Raikkonen followed in fourth place for Ferrari ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg, the latter finishing an impressive sixth despite setting his fastest time on the slower soft tire.

Max Verstappen was seventh in the second Red Bull, bouncing back from his troublesome morning session, with Valtteri Bottas in eighth. The Spanish pair of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Fernando Alonso rounded out the top 10 places in FP2.

Mexican drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez ended 15th and 22nd, respectively. Perez caught up with NBCSN’s Townsend Bell on Thursday and that video is below.

The session was notable for the difficulty that drivers had making their super-soft tires last. Few drivers were able to keep on pace for more than a handful of laps before taking big chunks out of the tire, suggesting that the soft and medium compounds will be favored for the race.

Qualifying for the Mexican Grand Prix is live on NBCSN from 2pm ET on Saturday.

Flying Lizard double news: Porsches in PWC, Toyo Audi at Thunderhill

Photo: Porsche AG
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It’s been a busy week for Flying Lizard Motorsports, with a pair of program announcements. One venerable chassis and two new ones have been announced for the Sonoma, Calif.-based team.

Earlier this week, Flying Lizard confirmed the return of its Toyo Tires partnership in the Toyo-shod and liveried No. 45 Audi R8 LMS ultra at NASA’s 25 Hours of Thunderhill.

Program manager Darren Law and team veteran Johannes van Overbeek are back, with past Lizard drivers Dion von Moltke and Mike Hedlund set to replace Guy Cosmo and Tomonobu Fujii as the other two drivers.

The Toyo Lizard Audi dominated last year’s race, winning overall by some 35 laps.

“We look forward to the challenges of this year’s 25-Hours, and are returning to prove once again that Toyo Proxes Slicks are the tires to have for drivers looking to dominate in any form of road racing,” said Marc Sanzenbacher, senior manager, motorsports, Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp.

“The race conditions at this event are notoriously unpredictable and we welcome the various technical challenges it presents our engineers. We have some new cool weather and intermediate rain tire options to evaluate for this event and we look forward to gathering important development data while pursuing another overall victory.”


Meanwhile on Friday, Flying Lizard has also confirmed a two-car GTS class entry in Pirelli World Challenge with longtime manufacturer Porsche.

As part of that class and series’ new GT4-spec wave in the category – it will be all GT4-spec in 2018 with a final one-year run for existing previous non-GT4 machinery – Flying Lizard will run two of the new Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR entries. Those cars debuted at the season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this year with GMG Racing.

Flying Lizard’s continued relationship with Porsche Motorsport North America (PMNA) will strengthen the effort, becoming a part of the North American Young Driver Development program.

“This just feels right to see Flying Lizard Motorsports back again with a Porsche program,” said Program Manager Darren Law. “We have had so many successful and memorable races with Porsche. Much of my driving career has been with Flying Lizard Motorsports, so I am happy that we will have the opportunity to join forces with Porsche for the upcoming season.”

INDYCAR set to sanction Mazda MX-5 Cup from 2017

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INDYCAR, not IMSA and not SCCA, will sanction the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires from 2017.

This sees the SCCA take a step back operationally from running this series, while INDYCAR – which has occasionally had sports car components on race weekends – will get into the business of sanctioning a sports car series for the first time.

Mazda Motorsports and Andersen Promotions announced today that the parties have reached an agreement for INDYCAR to sanction the Mazda MX-5 Cup series beginning with the 2017 season. The Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires is the signature spec series for the Mazda Road to 24 (#MRT24), the sports car counterpart to the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires (#MRTI).

In both programs, series champions earn a Mazda Motorsports scholarship to advance their racing careers. The MX-5 Cup season champion earns a $200,000 scholarship. New for 2017, the MX-5 Cup Rookie-of-the-Year will earn a $50,000 scholarship. In total, MX-5 Cup pays more than half-a-million dollars in prize money and scholarships.

“This sanctioning agreement with INDYCAR for the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires is based upon our long and productive relationship with Dan Andersen, Andersen Promotions and INDYCAR,” said John Doonan, director of motorsports at Mazda North American Operations.

“We have worked closely with them to grow the Mazda Road to Indy into the finest open-wheel ladder in the world. Now, we are striving to grow this series, which is the first step of our sports car ladder known as the Mazda Road to 24. In only one year, we have sold more than 120 of the newest generation of MX-5 Cup cars and have seen starting fields of up to 40 cars.

“By teaming with INDYCAR, we believe the series will thrive. Mazda strives to provide value to our customers, and to present our race teams with this race schedule today is a big step forward. They will have the opportunity to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, plus other iconic circuits in the U.S. and Canada.”

In 2017 the MX-5 Cup will consist of a 12-race schedule held on a total of six event weekends, plus the second annual Global MX-5 Cup Invitational, a non-points-paying event for Mazda racers from around the world. Four of those event weekends will be held during Verizon IndyCar Series events – Barber Motorsports Park (April 20-23), Road America (June 23-25), Toronto (July 14-16) and Watkins Glen International (September 1-3). The series will also compete on the road course of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the SVRA event (June 15-17) and twice at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (Sept. 22-24 and the Global Invitational, Oct. 13-15).

“The Mazda MX-5 Cup race car is such a terrific package and the MX-5 Cup championship already has shown what great racing this car and its drivers can provide,” said Dan Andersen, CEO of Andersen Promotions, which will oversee operational aspects of the series.

“Andersen Promotions is very excited to expand its Mazda involvement and move into the Mazda Road to 24 sports car ladder to complement what the Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel ladder has already accomplished. We are all about developing drivers for careers in racing, and we expect to bring our experience to MX-5 Cup and enhance the training that drivers receive to better enable them to climb the sports car ladder. INDYCAR is the best sanctioning body and has such exciting events on its calendar, and I can’t wait to add MX-5 Cup to some of these weekends and wave the Mazda flag even more.”

The MX-5 Cup series is considered the best value in sports car racing. The cars are sold as a ready-to-race, turnkey package for $58,900. Because of the parity of the cars, the racing is always close, hard-fought and great fun for fans. The series is entering its twelfth season of action.

“When Mazda approached us regarding MX-5 Cup, we felt it would be a great opportunity for INDYCAR to expand upon what we’re already doing with our involvement in the Mazda Road to Indy,” said Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations. “This agreement also allows us to enhance our overall platform with Mazda Motorsports and Andersen Promotions, who have been great partners of INDYCAR.”