Sage Karam leads Gabby Chaves at Pocono (IndyCar photo)

Track the “X-factor” for Indy Lights title rivals Karam, Chaves

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Firestone Indy Lights Series title protagonists Sage Karam and Gabby Chaves are series rookies, but comfortable battling each other. The two fought for the Pro Mazda, then-called Star Mazda title, a year ago before both graduated to Lights with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Now, the teammates head to a rare unknown for them – a 2.0-mile oval at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. – a type of oval completely different to the short ovals and flat 2.5-milers they’ve run this year.

“I think the biggest thing for me and Gabby right now is the track is the X‑factor,” said Karam, who leads Chaves by 16 points (425-409) entering the weekend. “If he’s nervous, if I’m nervous, it’s because we don’t know about the track. The only thing we’ve ever seen is data and on‑board video.”

Added Chaves, “When you go to a track that you’ve been to, you know what you’re expecting, and you can kind of play your cards based on that. But here none of us have been there, so we don’t know what to expect.  We don’t have very much practice time.  I believe we got one practice and then we go straight into qualifying.  So it’s going to be difficult, obviously, but I have so much confidence in my team.”

Karam has three wins and Chaves one in this 2013 season. It’s been difficult for the title contenders – these two plus presumptive preseason favorites Jack Hawksworth and Carlos Munoz – to be appreciated for their efforts while the series has faced scrutiny over low car counts and been sold to Andersen Promotions during the year.

They’ll each have to put in a strong effort over the 50-lap, 100-mile race. The last race with Firestones will likely see a more substantial dropoff in performance compared to a road or street course race. Karam explained how he thinks he’ll manage it.

“The tire degradation does play a key role in this, so it’s going to be on Friday, figure out how we’re going to plan out our race, if we’re going to go out hard and hope the tires hang on or if we’re going to go out kind of slower and then be faster at the end,” he said. “I guess it all depends really where we’re starting and how our pace is in practice when we’re running race runs.”

Chaves feels the two are evenly matched in terms of experience level for this type of circuit. While he needs to win and have Karam finish lower than fourth to take the title as his best-case, title-winning scenario, he holds his head high heading into the weekend.

“In Indy and Pocono we’re very evenly matched, so I’m expecting a bit more of that into Fontana, and for sure it’s going to be a great showdown until the last lap,” he said.

The Firestone Indy Lights season finale airs at 7 p.m. ET, Saturday, on NBCSN.

WATCH LIVE: ABC Supply 500 at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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The Verizon IndyCar Series’ run of different types of tracks continues with today’s ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway, as the final superspeedway race of the year to kick off the final four-race stretch of the 2017 season comes after a July where the series raced once apiece on a short oval, a street course and permanent road course.

You can watch the 200-lap, 500-mile race from Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa. live on NBCSN (stream link here); the series is back live on NBCSN for the duration of the season after the last two races were live on CNBC, with an NBCSN same day encore.

Kevin Lee is on the call from Pocono along with analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy, with Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt, Anders Krohn and Robin Miller in the pits.

IndyCar coverage will run from 2 through 6 p.m. ET.

After qualifying, here’s some of the questions to consider in Pocono:

  • How will the championship picture shake out after today’s race?
  • Might a new or surprise winner enter the mix?
  • Can Honda get back to winning and stop Team Penske and Chevrolet’s three-race win streak?
  • How might temperature, wind and downforce levels change the game?

My colleague Kyle Lavigne is on site in Pocono this weekend and may have some additional thoughts going into today’s race.


Tanak wins Rally Germany, Ogier retakes WRC points lead

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Ott Tänak flew to his second victory of the FIA World Rally Championship season in Germany on Sunday as Sebastien Ogier moved back into the lead of the drivers’ standings with three rounds to go.

Tänak led from Friday through to the final power stage to give M-Sport Ford team victory, marking his first tarmac win alongside co-driver Martin Järveoja.

“It’s a great feeling. The start to the rally went perfectly, after that it was just about controlling our lead,” Tänak said.

“Winning our first tarmac event feels cool. With 25 points here I don’t see any reason why we can’t fight for the championship. We will keep fighting; we need to keep winning if we’re going to win the championship.”

Tänak sits 33 points back from Ogier, whose bid for a fifth straight title was boosted with a run to third in Germany as chief championship rival Thierry Neuville retired with suspension damage on Saturday.

Neuville is now 17 points off the lead, with the WRC now embarking on a six-week break before returning in Spain on October 6.

Rosberg opens up on post-F1 life, tech investment interests

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Anyone who follows Nico Rosberg on social media will know that he has been keeping very busy since retiring just five days after winning his maiden Formula 1 championship at the end of last year.

As well as announcing he is to become a father for a second time, Rosberg has been travelling plenty, notably spending a lot of time in the United States and, in particular, Silicon Valley last month.

Rosberg is considering study options at Stanford University, but has opened up more about his interests in technology and plans to invest in an interview with The Times.

“I recently got back from a trip to Silicon Valley. It was on my bucket list and it was really inspirational to see what happens there; I thought the mentality was fascinating,” Rosberg said.

“In our society, we look down on people who fail, whereas over there it’s normal to fail — it’s courageous. If you’re not scared of failing, you can get through to innovation.

“Over here, it’s very money, money, money, but over there people want to reach out to others, make their lives better and look after our planet, too.

“I’ve always been passionate about technology, and investment is of interest to me at this stage. Mobility is what I’m most interested in, because there’s been a huge disruption in that area and it’s going to change the health and future of our planet.

“It’s a fascinating time. I visited Uber and they’re working on their “network in the sky” already. They say that in the space of six years I’m going to be sitting here and my app will tell me which rooftop my drone is going to be on and at what time. That’s just around the corner, it’s pretty insane.

“So I’m starting to get active in that direction. I’m a conservative person, so I need to be careful. I do prefer to go for companies that already have a bit of a track record, but we’ll see.”

The interview cites Rosberg’s net worth as being £23 million ($29.6m), with the German admitting he earned “a lot” during his final year in F1 with Mercedes in 2016.

Nevertheless, Rosberg claimed he is “not a big spender”, instead opting for a number of property investment opportunities, his best being some space in London that has become a convenience store.

One of the big factors in Rosberg’s decision to retire from F1 was becoming a father, and he admitted that it also changed his approach to dealing with financial matters.

“Having [Alaia] really opened my eyes to future planning, because I want her to have all the opportunities I had in my life,” Rosberg said.

Ryan Hunter-Reay cleared to drive at Pocono

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Ryan Hunter-Reay has been cleared to drive in today’s ABC Supply 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) following his accident in qualifying for the race.

The driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda was re-evaluated Sunday morning by INDYCAR Medical Director Dr. Geoffrey Billows after being transported, then released, from a nearby hospital in Pocono on Saturday.

Here’s INDYCAR’s full statement:

Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay was re-evaluated by INDYCAR Medical Director Dr. Geoffrey Billows this morning after sustaining injuries to his left knee and hip Saturday following a crash in ABC Supply 500 qualifying. Hunter-Reay has been cleared to drive.

Hunter-Reay will start from the rear of the field and press on in a great comeback after the accident. Last year he drove from the rear of the field – twice – to ultimately finish third. He won this race in 2015, his most recent Verizon IndyCar Series victory.

He posted a couple tweets last night thanking everyone for the support and the Holmatro Safety Team and Pocono’s staff for quick work to help him after sustaining hip and knee injuries from a heavy 138G impact.