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2013 Belgian Grand Prix Preview

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Formula One returns after its summer break to the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium. A favorite among fans and drivers, Spa is renowned for its great changes in elevation and high-speed corners, the most famous of which – Eau Rouge – has a special place in the heart of all F1 personnel. As the drivers get back in the saddle and prepare to attack the second half of the 2013 season, an explosive and exhilarating Belgian Grand Prix could be in the offing.

Belgian Grand Prix Talking Points

Mercedes plan assault on Red Bull

With Sebastian Vettel enjoying a 38-point lead over Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull leading Mercedes by 69 points, you could be forgiven for writing off both championships with barely half of the season gone. Judging by their recent form, Mercedes are the only team well-placed to challenge the defending champions; starting off with a win in Spa would certainly put the Silver Arrows in good stead for the rest of the season.

Ferrari and Lotus try to keep a grip on their coat-tails

For Ferrari, this season is becoming increasingly about damage limitation. No wins since May and more references to the troublesome wind tunnel suggest that finishing in the top three would be a good result come Interlagos for the Italian team. Lotus’ outlook is far brighter following two strong results in Germany and Hungary, and Spa is a big race for the team as the “King of Spa” Kimi Raikkonen chases a fifth win in Belgium – with or without ‘the device’.

Who will come back with renewed vigor?

The summer break gives drivers a chance to relax and take a break from the stresses of the sport, making it a key point of the season. Last season, Felipe Massa returned from his holidays a completely different driver, laying down a remarkably consistent run of results in the final stretch of the season. Therefore, for the drivers hoping to move up the grid in the coming few weeks, Spa is an important race to get the second half of the season off to a good start.

This season versus next season

Another big question surrounds the development paths that teams will choose to take. As Brawn proved in 2009, planning ahead of a change in the regulations can pay great dividends. Therefore, the teams have to decide whether they want to plan ahead and sacrifice the second half of the year, or secure some good results in 2013 and trail at first in 2014. Despite their lead, Red Bull have to think about getting the championships sewn up to avoid losing out at the beginning of next season.

Kimi, Ricciardo and Red Bull – a decision close?

This week has seen the news break that Kimi Raikkonen may no longer be in the running for the Red Bull seat after a breakdown in negotiations. Therefore, with the door now open for Daniel Ricciardo, an announcement may be close. However, with so many teams still to confirm their line-up for next season, the world champions may yet bide their time further.

Track: Spa-Francorchamps
Laps: 44
Corners: 19
Lap Record: Sebastian Vettel 1:47.263 (2009)
Tire Compounds: Medium (Option); Hard (Prime)
2012 Winner: Jenson Button (McLaren)
2012 Pole Position: Jenson Button 1:47.573
2012 Fastest Lap: Bruno Senna 1:52.822
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T19 to T1); T4 to T5

Friday – Free Practice 1: 04:00am ET
Friday – Free Practice 2: 08:00am ET (LIVE on NBCSN)
Saturday – Free Practice 3: 05:00am ET
Saturday – Qualifying: 08:00am ET (LIVE on NBC Sports Live Extra)
Sunday – Race: 08:00am ET (LIVE on NBCSN)

Stoneman edges Jones in closest finish ever at IMS in Freedom 100 (VIDEO)

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INDIANAPOLIS – No words other than “wow” to summarize the immediate aftermath of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires’ Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

At a race that had two incredible photo finishes in 2013 and 2014, another one occurred Friday with Dean Stoneman edging Ed Jones by just 0.0024 of a second.

“As you can see on the screen now it was bloody close,” Stoneman said from Victory Lane after driving the No. 27 Stellrecht Dallara IL-15 Mazda for Andretti Autosport.

It’s the closest finish in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history with Stoneman having led the field to the green on the last lap, but lost the lead at Turn 1 when Jones around the outside, before Stoneman got past him through Turn 3 and stayed ahead.

The Andretti Autosport driver then edged the Carlin driver at the line, fist in the air for his second win at IMS in three weeks, after also winning on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

“It’s great. I was in a hospital bed five years ago dreaming to be racing here and winning now,” Stoneman added.

“First [win] ever here for this race,” said Michael Andretti, car owner. “We’re so excited. We’ve been trying so many years to win this and Dean finally brought it to us.”

“It’s so frustrating to lose the race like that,” said second-place finisher Jones. “We were back and forth throughout the race and all the time I was waiting behind Dean for those last few laps. He held up everyone really slowly on that restart and caught quite a few incidents.”

“I got the lead in turn one and I thought I had the good run and I was pulling away but he had the draft down the back straight and I made the decision to stay on the inside,” Jones added, “He got the momentum on the outside and he just beat me to the line. It was so close and the team did a fantastic job of giving me the car to win the race.”

“That minor mistake just cost me everything.”

Previous closest finishes were 0.0026 of 2013 when Peter Dempsey won, and 0.005 of a second when Gabby Chaves won.

In third place, Dalton Kellett scored a career-best result in the No. 28 K-LINE car for Andretti Autosport, with Shelby Blackstock and Scott Hargrove completing the top five finishers.

F1 still Maldonado’s ‘Plan A’ as he chases race comeback

SINGAPORE - SEPTEMBER 18:  Pastor Maldonado of Venezuela and Lotus drives during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 18, 2015 in Singapore.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Pastor Maldonado remains hopeful of returning to a Formula 1 race seat in the future, but is open to other series if his “Plan A” fails to come to fruition.

Maldonado lost his drive with Renault over the winter when his backing from Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA fell through.

Since then, the one-time grand prix winner has completed some private testing for tire supplier Pirelli, but is keen to make a racing return next season if possible.

“We will try again and try to be back in a good team, to give me the chance to be competitive,” Maldonado told Reuters in Monaco.

“Plan A is Formula 1. Then of course if it doesn’t come, we need to look around.”

Despite the financial and social problems facing Venezuela right now, Maldonado hopes that PDVSA can find the funding to resume his F1 career.

“PDVSA is a big company, supporting a lot of sport programmes in Venezuela,” Maldonado said.

“They still seem to maintain all the programmes. Hopefully it will be no problem to have them back.

“I am the only Venezuelan who is racing at this level. I have been supported since many, many years. The relationships are very good. Hopefully we can be together for more years.

“Of course the oil price is still a bit low, and when the oil is down, the country is down. For sure it’s painful at the moment.”

Kanaan leads final Indy 500 practice from Carb Day (VIDEO)

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INDIANAPOLIS – Tony Kanaan led the way in final Carb Day practice, in the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, by some two mph of 226.280 mph.

Carlos Munoz was second in the No. 26 United Fiber & Data Honda for Andretti Autosport (224.772) with Scott Dixon third and Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay completing the top five.

Polesitter James Hinchcliffe was 12th, Josef Newgarden 17th.

Pippa Mann’s Dale Coyne Racing team will need to scramble for repairs of her No. 63 Susan G. Komen car after an accident in Turn 4.

Kanaan told NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis: “I do that at end of every session (talk up the guys). These guys have worked so hard for so long. We worked really well in that session. I was just encouraging them to keep going, then enjoy their families for one day. We have one thing to do: we can do this.”

Polesitter Hinchcliffe told NBCSN’s Marty Snider: “You know what, honestly it’s the best it’s been. We had to undo some things. Things got better and part. The ARROW car is the best it’s been.”

Hinchcliffe also got a surprise when his brother Christopher arrived in the pits.

“He surprised me in 2011. Mom wasn’t as good as hiding it back then. It was awesome to see him it’s been a while.”

Graham Rahal told NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt, after ending 14th: “I’m extremely happy with our race car. We have struggled with vibrations over a run. But this is the best race car I’ve ever had going into this. We ran pretty old tires the whole session. For our tire life, I’m pleased. We’ve got a good chance of winning this thing.”

Marco Andretti told Beekhuis: “Before this session we wrote a big sign that said don’t panic. We’re throwing a lot at it. The car felt good in the end but we had to chase the difference in conditions today. We need to make the right decision in the race.”

Lastly NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell of Andretti Autosport, who ended ninth, told Snider: “Our car is really good. Andretti Honda is performing well and get pit stop practice in. These guys had me jump in at the deep end.”

Speeds are below:

CarbDaySpeeds

Rosberg ready for close fight with Red Bull in Monaco

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg is anticipating a close fight with Red Bull in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix after Daniel Ricciardo dominated practice on Thursday.

Ricciardo finished six-tenths of a second clear of the field on the ultra-soft tire in FP2, making the most of the upgraded Renault power unit in his RB12 car.

Mercedes’ Rosberg arrived in Monaco as the championship leader and chasing a fourth straight win around the streets where he grew up.

“It’s great to be back on the streets of my home town here in Monaco, and also to see all the fans so close to us as we’re on track,” Rosberg said on Thursday after finishing third in FP2.

“It was a tricky start in to the weekend for us, though. The sessions were a bit messy, with quite a few Virtual Safety Car periods – but I was able to learn a lot on the longer runs we managed to do which was a positive. A big applause for all of the circuit marshals, who did a great job as always to clear the cars quickly.”

Rosberg was not surprised by Red Bull’s practice pace, believing it will create a close fight for pole position on Saturday before Sunday’s race.

“As expected, Red Bull look very strong here,” Rosberg said.

“We have some more homework to do during tonight and tomorrow to find some time – but I can’t wait for Saturday and the qualifying battle.

“It should be very close and very exciting, which is great for the sport.”