‘This is our Super Bowl’ when it comes to US Grand Prix coverage

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Words like “greatness,” “storylines,” and “electricity” were used to describe the first United States Grand Prix at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas in 2012. That’s the goal again this weekend for NBC Sports at the 2013 USGP.

The viewing details first: free practice two will air live on NBCSN at 2 p.m. ET on Friday, with qualifying at 1 p.m. ET on CNBC on Saturday, and a one-hour pre-race on NBC at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday leading up to lights out immediately after at 2 p.m. ET. All sessions will also be live streamed via NBC Sports Live Extra.

Austin will mark the third of four Grands Prix aired on NBC this season, after Monaco and Canada earlier this year. More than 1.5 million viewers watched Monaco earlier this year, making it the most-watched Formula One race in the U.S. in six years.

And for this, the second USGP in Austin, the goal is to highlight how incredible Sebastian Vettel has been this year, and how much buzz there is in Texas, and the U.S. as a whole, for Formula One.

“Last year’s F1 race at Austin was the first I’d been to,” NBC Sports Group motorsports producer Rich O’Connor said on today’s media teleconference. “When I walked away from it, it was incredible to me what a great race it was and great event the weekend was. I’ve been to Super Bowls, Olympics, Final Fours and Kentucky Derbies, and the continuous weekend-long electricity and activity at the track was just incredible. For the entire weekend, you know you’d been to a great event.

“In planning for this event, we knew what we wanted to do was make this as a big event as a big race,” he added. “We’ll be doing – especially on Sunday in our one hour pre-race show – conveying certain aspects of what Austin’s doing through the weekend.”

Ron Howard, director of the critically acclaimed Universal Studios picture “Rush,” has voiced the open for the Sunday show. NBC’s “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno drove some hot laps at the track in October, which have been filmed and will be showcased. Lead broadcaster Leigh Diffey has an extended sit-down interview set with Vettel, and racing’s foremost essayist and former driver Sam Posey will have an essay on Vettel’s rein of dominance and where he stacks not just among the F1 greats, but the sports greats as a whole at age 26.

“This is our Super Bowl,” Diffey said. “In athletic terms, we’re gearing up for the biggest game of our year. There’s quite a bit of anticipation to bring the best show we can.”

As ever, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett join Diffey in the broadcast booth for analysis. Will Buxton, NBC’s F1 insider, will join the trio on the ground in Austin for reports from pit lane and the paddock.

Hobbs first called a USGP in 1976, and welcomed the opportunity to call this year’s on site in Austin. Matchett, a former Benetton mechanic when Michael Schumacher won his first two of a record seven World Championships, is in awe of Vettel’s performance this year.

“When I joined NBC, I was very proud to be asked, and I’ve been knocked over by the incredible effort that’s gone into all the Formula One shows,” Hobbs said. “The studio layout, the group of people, has been absolutely outstanding. It’s among the best over the last 30 years.”

“It’s going to be a great event for several reasons,” Matchett added. “Everyone’s in awe of what (Vettel) is doing. To be able to go and see this kid in action, in 5-10 years from now you’ll look back and say ‘Wow.’ This is likely to be the one race U.S. fans can attend. It’s a phenomenal event. I know everyone at NBC can’t wait, and to meet the enthusiasts, to meet the people in the paddock will be great.”

Buxton – who will also host the second annual “Buxton’s Big Time Bash” Thursday night – has already arrived in Austin and spoke of the fever already there.

“It’s amazing. The city is still embracing F1 this year, banners and flags all over the place,” Buxton said. “This is one of their only opportunities to experience it in the flesh. This is where we can take people off the couch and put them in the paddock. I can’t wait to see all the fans.”

We’ll have extensive Austin coverage here on MotorSportsTalk over the next several days and on the ground in Austin, as well.

Josef Newgarden wins pole for Grand Prix of Alabama

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With time running off the clock, Josef Newgarden lapped Barber Motorsports Park with a speed of 122.773 mph to win his third career pole and first on this track in the Grand Prix of Alabama.

Newgarden was .0128 seconds faster than teammate Scott Dixon in second.

Newgarden has two previous wins at Barber. He won last year’s edition of this race after starting seventh and in 2015 from fifth.

“I didn’t know if that was going to be enough,” Newgarden said after winning the pole.

“Team Chevy has done a good job,” Newgarden said. “They’ve really given us good power this weekend – good driveability. We’re going to need some fuel mileage tomorrow, which I think we’ll have. But it’s going to get mixed up with the rain.”

Dixon’s lap of 122.750 mph was not quite enough.

“I’m sure you could pick out a number of different things on a lap when it’s that close,” Power said about what made the slight difference between him and Newgarden. “A little mistake out of 9; a little lift here or there.”

Sebastien Bourdais (122.605 mph) qualified third, with Ryan Hunter-Reay (122.159) and James Hinchliffe (121.859) rounding out the top five.

Scott Dixon was the last driver in the top six.

Fast 12

Newgarden topped this chart with a speed of 123.475 mph.

He brought Power, James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Sebastien Bourdais along with him to the Fast 6.

Marco Andretti (122.480), Alexander Rossi (122.216), Simon Pagenaud (122.050), Robert Wickens (122.042), Zach Veach (121.784) and Ed Jones (120.984) failed to advance.

Round 1, Group 1

Newgarden posted the fastest single lap in round one, group one of qualification for the Grand Prix of Alabama with a speed of 122.550 mph.

Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Wickens, and Andretti also advance to the fast 12.

Taking the final slot was Jones with a speed of 119.835 mph after an off-course excursion in final practice.

This was Andretti’s first advancement to the fast 12 for the first time since 2014.

Round 1, Group 2

Power had the fastest lap of 121.570 mph.

Bourdais, Veach (who is battling food poisoning-like symptoms), Rossi, and Pagenaud grabbed positions 2-4.

Scott Dixon had an uncharacteristically slow lap of 121.006, but managed to advance to the fast 12 when the session was red-flagged for an incident involving Tony Kanaan.

With three minutes remaining, Kanaan spun into the tire barriers while leaving pit road. Since he brought out the red flag, he lost his qualification time of 119.996 mph.

Takuma Sato had slipped off-course midway through the session and posted only the Ninth-fastest speed of 120.789 mph.