F1 Grand Prix of USA

‘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.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Graham Rahal

Graham Rahal
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MotorSportsTalk continues its driver-by-driver review of the field in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series.

Next up is fourth-placed Graham Rahal, who had a career year.

Graham Rahal, No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

  • 2014: 19th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 4th, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 4 Top-10s, 28 Laps Led, 14.4 Avg. Start, 15.0 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 4th Place, 2 Wins, Best Start 5th, 6 Podiums, 8 Top-5, 10 Top-10s, 76 Laps Led, 11.0 Avg Start, 8.5 Avg. Finish

Formula 1 fans will remember the miraculous, shock rise of Brawn GP, which didn’t even exist as a team until mere weeks before the 2009 Australian Grand Prix having risen from the demise of the former Honda factory team, and then promptly proceeded to stomp the field en route to winning both the Driver’s and Constructor’s World Championships that season.

It’s the best racing comparison in recent years – or perhaps any year – for what was done at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in 2015, courtesy of a career year from Graham Rahal, an instant chemistry renewal with the people father Bobby put in place, and the fact Bobby himself stepped back this year to allow his team’s key players to shine through.

Because quite simply, after finishes of 18th and 19th the last two seasons, no one in their right mind had Rahal winning races and contending for a championship this season.

It’s hard to say specifically which point was most important, because all played dividends. Bobby Rahal moved off the pit box, and actually missed a fair number of races this year, which allowed Graham and team manager Ricardo Nault to gel with Nault on the radio and pretty much running the team on the whole. Then there were the three key crewmember additions: Eddie Jones moving over to be lead engineer on the No. 15 car was clutch, as was Rahal getting the opportunity to reunite with Martin Pare and work for the first time with Mike Talbott. The addition of damper ace Stuart Kenworthy was not covered much this year, but undoubtedly a big help. Sponsor Steak ‘n Shake’s arrival also brought a wealth of attention.

And then there were the drives in the races themselves. Perhaps strangely, Rahal had a tough qualifying average – only 11th – but it was the best for a Honda driver this year. The strategy calls from RLL were damn near perfect all year and Rahal seized every opportunity at his disposal, be it his wins at Fontana and Mid-Ohio, his recovery at Iowa, and his numerous other podiums throughout the year. His charge to second at Barber stands out as one of the drives of the year.

Call Fontana lucky if you will, and he was fortunate to avoid a penalty for leaving with the fuel buckeye, but even so he still could have come back given where the race was at that point. And being on the receiving end of two ill-advised taps from Tristan Vautier and Sebastien Bourdais at Pocono and Sonoma, respectively, cost him huge results and huge points – the net effect of three races.

The single-car title charge was one of the stories of the year, even beyond Scott Dixon’s championship comeback and Juan Pablo Montoya’s consistent-until-Sonoma season. Rahal re-established his credentials on track if people had forgotten what he was capable of; additionally, he reaffirmed his status as one of racing’s best people with his work in the Justin Wilson memorial auction after that tragedy. It was truly a ’15 to remember for the driver of the No. 15 car.

Nick Tandy is on a ridiculous roll of form of late

Tandy (second from left) is on a roll. Photo: Getty Images
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With the international sports car season nearing its conclusion after a few more FIA World Endurance Championship and other international GT championship events, the question begins to be asked who might be the driver of the year.

There’s a British driver who’s pretty much firmly got that title wrapped at the moment – Nick Tandy – even though the nature of his season means he is unlikely to capture any championship on his own!

Tandy has competed in the full FIA World Endurance Championship season, splitting his time between the LMP2 class Oreca 05 Nissan from KCMG and a third Porsche 919 Hybrid in LMP1, which he drove at Spa and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Though Nico Hulkenberg got many non-insider accolades for his drive at Le Mans, it was truly Tandy’s overnight stint, coupled with regular fellow factory Porsche pilot Earl Bamber, that won the race for the No. 19 Porsche.

That win for Tandy has kicked off a ridiculous run of form, culminating with his shock – but thoroughly well-deserved – overall win Saturday night at Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda, co-driving the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR with Patrick Pilet (Richard Lietz, the designated third driver, did not drive).

Tandy won three consecutive GT Le Mans class races at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Road America and Virginia International Raceway.

A week after VIR, Tandy was back at KCMG for the first time since Silverstone in April and co-drove to victory in the LMP2 class at the Nürburgring.

After a relatively “rough” month of September where Tandy and Pilet needed a late splash of fuel to make the finish and lost a shot at a fourth straight GTLM class win, they rebounded this weekend at Petit Le Mans.

“The fact that we were a lot of time the fastest cars on track, so by racing against each other, naturally we had to race against the prototypes. So when they were in our way we had to race against us,” Tandy explained post-race at Petit Le Mans of his drive against, and past, the prototypes.

“When the race was coming to a close, I was aware that the 31 car was in the lead, but I knew if we had another rain shower I knew we would checker the race, so that was why I was pushing so hard to get ahead of the GTLM cars, and once I had done that and we had a really good pace and were comfortable we were catching the 31.

“It was a case of just pulling ahead of the rest, but we ended up winning overall, so it was fantastic. [opening] “The opening stint opened our eyes to the fact that we could actually be fighting for the overall victory, the fact we came from the back of the field to I think we were running second on pure pace.

“To be honest, the first 2 hours were the best conditions we had. We had consistent rain, but very little running water. Clearly towards the end, it dried out a little more and our pace compared to the other classes and the BMW and Corvettes came back. It was a race of two halves really.”