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Explosive engine failure puts Dale Jr. in early Chase hole (VIDEO)

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s hopes of becoming a Sprint Cup champion took a major hit out of the gate last night at Chicagoland Speedway, where things turned bad for him and then got much worse.

Earnhardt was plugging along in 12th when the caution came out on Lap 167 for debris. He subsequently came down to pit road under yellow, but congestion on pit road created a stack-up in which Earnhardt run into the back of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne.

The damage left behind effectively ruined the competitiveness of Earnhardt’s car, and he was logging laps in mid-pack when on Lap 225, the engine blew in dramatic fashion.

Earnhardt was able to get out of the car once it came to a stop, but, like Joey Logano (who also had his own engine failure), he’ll now have to continue on in the Chase with no margin for error if he wants to truly contend for the title.

“I don’t know what was going on on pit road there, but we knocked the front end off of it on pit road,” Earnhardt said about his night. “Those guys all stopped on pit road in front of us. We were trying to get that fixed. We still had a chance to get that fixed and get the downforce back in the front. We cut the grill all up and the downforce was gone and we lost a lap there.

“We were going to get that patched up and maybe be able to make something out of it, but something broke there in the motor. It’s tough. It’s going to be really hard to win a championship this far behind.”

Earnhardt now finds himself dead last in the 13-driver Chase field at 53 points behind leader and Chicagoland winner Matt Kenseth.

Romain Grosjean pleased with initial Haas simulator feedback

KANNAPOLIS, NC - SEPTEMBER 29:  Romain Grosjean of France speaks during a press conference as Haas F1 Team announces Grosjean as their driver for the upcoming 2016 Formula 1 season on September 29, 2015 in Kannapolis, North Carolina.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Stewart-Haas Racing via Getty Images)
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Romain Grosjean felt pleased with his first simulator run in the new Haas Formula 1 car ahead of its on-track debut in Barcelona on February 22.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas will take his F1 operation onto the grid this season after two years of preparation, with Grosjean joining ex-Ferrari reserve Esteban Gutierrez at the team for its maiden campaign.

Ahead of the car’s first on-track run at the beginning of pre-season testing in Spain later this month, Grosjean has completed some laps in it using a simulator, and reported that the initial feedback was positive.

“The impressions were quite good, even if in the beginning it was necessary to resolve a lot of small technical problems such as turbo lag, the energy recovered under braking, etc,” Grosjean told L’Equipe.

“The morning was spent doing this. But once everything was settled we had the opportunity to run extensively in the afternoon.

“I think the car’s baseline appears to be good. We now know the simulator corresponds to the windtunnel, but the differences with what we find in reality are sometimes huge – at Lotus for example, the car changed dramatically between track and simulator.”

Haas will lift the covers off its first F1 car on Monday 22 February ahead of the initial on-track running later that day.

Valentino Rossi may extend Yamaha MotoGP contract until 2018

VALENCIA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 07:  Valentino Rossi of Italy and Movistar Yamaha MotoGP rounds the bend during the qualifying practice during the MotoGP of Valencia - Qualifying at Ricardo Tormo Circuit on November 7, 2015 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
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Valentino Rossi may extend his contract with Yamaha in MotoGP until the end of 2018 depending on how he fares in the opening stint of the coming season.

Rossi has won a motorcycle world championship on nine occasions, and came within just four points of a 10th title in 2015 when he narrowly lost out to teammate Jorge Lorenzo at the final race of the year.

Rossi, 36, heads into the final year of his Yamaha contract in 2016, and confirmed to Sky Sports Italia that he would be seeking an extension until the end of 2018 depending on how the beginning of this season goes.

“At the end of 2016 my contract will expire, so I will have to decide whether to continue for another two seasons or not,” Rossi said.

“If I continue, it will be for two seasons as all the contracts are for two years.

“It will be like 2014 when I said I will look at it after the first few races. You have to look at the first five or six races then start thinking.”

Rossi had considered walking away from MotoGP at the end of 2014 after a quiet return to Yamaha the previous year, only for his early-season form to convince him to sign a two-year extension.

Esteban Ocon secures Mercedes DTM seat for 2016

2015 GP3 Series Round 9
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Sunday 29 November 2015.
Esteban Ocon (FRA, ART Grand Prix) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP3 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _G7C8733
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2015 GP3 Series champion Esteban Ocon will race in the DTM championship this year with Mercedes in tandem with a reserve role in Formula 1 at Renault.

Ocon joined Mercedes’ junior program in the spring of 2015 before becoming a fully-fledged member at the end of the year just days before his GP3 title success.

The Frenchman was known to be considering a move into either DTM or GP2 for 2016, but will now replace F1-bound Pascal Wehrlein at Mercedes’ factory team for the new DTM campaign.

“It’s an incredible feeling to be part of such a professional and strong racing series,” Ocon said.

“I’m very pleased to be driving for Mercedes-Benz. It’s the best team in the DTM and I’m very grateful for this fantastic opportunity.

“Mercedes is the most successful manufacturer in DTM history. You can only achieve that with real passion and hard work, and those are characteristics that we share. After driving in free practice during the final race weekend of the 2015 season at Hockenheim, I can’t wait to start a DTM race.

“I obviously have a lot to learn, but my goal – and that of everyone in the team – is to fight for wins as soon as possible.”

Trident completes 2016 GP2 line-up with Armand

2015 GP2 Series Test 3.
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Friday 4 December 2015.
Philo Armand (INA, Status Grand Prix).
Photo: Zak Mauger/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _L0U4261
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Trident has completed its line-up for the 2016 GP2 Series season by signing Indonesian driver Philo Paz Armand.

Armand has previously raced in a number of European Formula Renault 2.0 championships, and most recently took part in half of last year’s Formula Renault 3.5 rounds, scoring one point.

Armand will now step up to GP2 for the 2016 season, racing alongside 2015 GP3 runner-up Luca Ghiotto at Trident.

“We are very excited to start this collaboration with Philo and we are confident he will express all his talent thanks to the team’s help,” Trident team manager Giacomo Ricci said.

The grid for GP2’s support series, GP3, is also beginning to come together for the new season following the announcements of Tatiana Calderon and Honda junior Nirei Fukuzumi.

Calderon moves into GP3 from FIA F3 and will race for Carlin, while Fukuzumi joins ART Grand Prix, continuing the French squad’s association with Honda.