Sebastian Vettel

2013 Japanese Grand Prix Preview

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Japan may be nicknamed “the land of the rising sun” yet it marks the beginning of the end of the 2013 Formula One season and potentially the end of the championship race itself. Sebastian Vettel can become world champion for the fourth time at Suzuka on Sunday if results go his way. Having won this race on three occasions since 2009 and openly admitting that it is his ‘favorite’ circuit, it is difficult to see the German driver not claiming a fifth consecutive win. However, Fernando Alonso can force Red Bull to postpone their celebrations until the Indian Grand Prix at the end of the month by finishing in the top eight on Sunday.

Japanese Grand Prix Talking Points

History suggests that it could happen…

Alonso has failed to finish outside of the top eight just once this season when he retired on lap two of the Malaysian Grand Prix in March. Therefore, it’s difficult to see him giving Vettel the chance to win the title at Suzuka, but history suggests otherwise: in 2012, Vettel won the race as Alonso retired at the first corner. It’s unlikely the German driver will seal the deal this weekend, yet it’s not totally inconceivable.

Mercedes look to show true colors

Mercedes’ proposed resurgence in the past few races has fallen flat on its face, with both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg suffering from car troubles in Korea. However, their pace was certainly encouraging, and the team will be hoping to return to the podium at Suzuka this weekend as the battle for second place in the constructors’ championship hots up.

RoGro to continue his good form?

Since his embarrassing crash at Monaco, Romain Grosjean has been on a scintillating run of form that has secured his place at Lotus for 2014. And who can blame them for retaining him? In Korea, he had second place all to himself until the first safety car period allowed teammate Kimi Raikkonen to pass. Nevertheless, it was a mature and impressive performance from the Frenchman who will be looking for a repeat performance in Japan.

How incredible can the Hulk be?

Nico Hulkenberg’s performance in Korea last time out proved to the F1 world just what an incredible talent he is, holding off three world champions across the course of the race and eventually finishing in an amazing fourth place. Although a repeat of Kamui Kobayashi’s podium finish for Sauber in last year’s Japanese Grand Prix may be a step too far, Hulkenberg can edge closer to the seat at Lotus with another strong performance at Suzuka.

Massa and Sutil need to redeem themselves

Felipe Massa and Adrian Sutil hit the headlines during the Korean Grand Prix last weekend for all of the wrong reasons. Both drivers spun at turn three with the Force India’s move ending Mark Webber’s race and bringing out the rogue jeep. Therefore, a solid performance is required in Japan to prove that they are worthy of seats on next year’s grid. Rewind twelve months, and finishing second here saved Massa’s Ferrari career. This time, it’s too late for Felipe at Maranello, but there are still five races in which he can prove to the F1 world that he still has what it takes.

Track: Suzuka Circuit
Laps: 53
Corners: 18
Lap Record: Kimi Raikkonen 1:31.540 (2005)
Tire Compounds: Medium (option); Hard (prime)
2012 Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
2012 Pole Position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 1:30.839
2012 Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 1:35.774
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T18 to T1)

Friday – Free Practice 1: 21:00pm ET (Thursday)
Friday – Free Practice 2: 01:00am ET (LIVE on NBCSN)
Saturday – Free Practice 3: 22:00pm ET (Friday)
Saturday – Qualifying: 01:00am ET (LIVE on NBCSN)
Sunday – Race: 02:00am ET (LIVE on NBCSN)

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