‘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.

Justin Timberlake to play this year’s U.S. Grand Prix at COTA

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Taylor Swift playing last year’s U.S. Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin was always going to be a hard act to match, or perhaps top.

Yet COTA has pulled it off with confirmation Wednesday that Justin Timberlake will be playing on the Saturday before this year’s race, on October 21.

Timberlake will play at the conclusion of track activity on Saturday for a full show. Tickets go on sale this Friday at 10 a.m. CT, with more info via COTA’s website. Here’s the pertinent details:

  • The concert will take place at COTA’s Super Stage Festival Lawn, not Austin360 Amphitheater
  • Seating is general admission, first come first served
  • All holders of a Saturday ticket for USGP weekend, including the 3-day GA wristband, will have access to the show

Circuit of The Americas announced a crowd of more than 80,000 last year for T-Swift, for her first and only planned concert of the year.

Timberlake is on par from a stratospheric level as Swift is. And half the draw of the COTA weekend, it seems, is ensuring you can get concertgoers to the track as well.

This should make for a fun end-of-day on Saturday.

IMS Museum to reveal A.J. Foyt exhibit in April

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It’s been 40 years since A.J. Foyt won his fourth and final Indianapolis 500 as a driver in 1977. Perfect timing, then, for a special Foyt exhibit to grace the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which will premiere next month.

The release from the museum is below:

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of his record-setting fourth Indianapolis 500 win, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum is proud to present a once-in-a-lifetime exhibit honoring auto racing icon A.J. Foyt, opening April 14.

A.J. Foyt: A Legendary Exhibition, presented by ABC Supply is a limited-run celebration that traces the superstar’s rise from the dirt tracks of Texas to the pinnacle of auto racing history.

Nearly three dozen cars that Foyt drove in competition will be on display, including all four of his Indianapolis 500 winning machines, the 1961 Bowes Seal Fast Special, 1964 & 1967 Sheraton-Thompson Specials, and the 1977 Gilmore Coyote.

Photo: IMS Archives

“Everyone knows that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is my favorite track and that people wouldn’t know me if it weren’t for the Indy 500, but to have the Museum put on this exhibit there, well I feel truly honored,” said the legendary Foyt. “This exhibit will give people a chance to see my winning Indy cars but also some of the other race cars I drove and won in over the years.”

In addition to several of Foyt’s IndyCars, many incredible machines representing Foyt’s career in NASCAR, USAC and road racing will be on display, many for the first time, and visitors will also have the chance to see rare memorabilia from Foyt’s personal collection.

“Based on the stuff we shipped to Indy, I think the Museum has a lot of personal memorabilia and photos that their visitors will like seeing” Foyt said. “I haven’t seen some of the cars in many, many years so to be truthful, I’m looking forward to the exhibit too!”

“A.J. Foyt is perhaps the most iconic driver in the 108-year history of the Brickyard” said Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum Director & Curator Ellen Bireley. “We are proud to honor this incredible champion with an exhibit of memories and memorabilia that pays tribute to one of the most diverse and successful careers in auto racing history.”

A.J. Foyt: A Legendary Exhibition is presented by ABC Supply, with additional support from Chevrolet and Al-Fe Heat Treating. The exhibit runs until October 31.

Social roundup: Media day at Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

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The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is still more than a week away, but Media Day was in full swing on Tuesday with a number of attractions for fans and media in attendance.

That being said, it’s easier to get all the pre-advance work done before cars from six different series hit the track starting on Friday, April 7. The Long Beach IndyCar race airs on April 9 at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

The day began with Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden fielding interviews with the local L.A. affiliates for NBC, Fox, and ABC before being a attending a midday luncheon. He also did various interviews with other outlets.

There were also a number of opportunities for rides around the 1.968-mile street circuit. IndyCar drivers Zach Veach and Gabby Chaves were in charge of the Verizon IndyCar Series two-seater while Scott Pruett manned driving duties in a two-seat version of his Lexus RC F GT3. Rocky Moran Sr. and Jr. also held demo rides of their own around the circuit in a Camry; James Sofronas took folks for rides in a GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R.

Formula Drift was on hand as well, though their days were spent preparing for the event. Several cars made practice runs along Seaside Way and through turns 9, 10, and 11 of the circuit.

The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is slated for April 7-9, with first practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series rolling off at 1:00 p.m. local time on Friday April 7.

INDYCAR reveals next round of design for 2018 common aero kit

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After the initial renderings of the 2018 common aero kit were released in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, questions then turned to when INDYCAR would release the next round of what the future of the single kit would look like.

The date was something of a moving target, without a set time piece either just before or just after the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season began with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 12.

That being said, today marks the arrival of round two of what the new kit will look like, revealed first on IndyCar.com. The timing works well as it’s just after St. Petersburg but before Round 2, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, which runs April 9 at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN to kick off the NBC Sports Group’s coverage portion of the season.

In today’s release, INDYCAR is still yet to confirm the supplier of the new common aero kit. But the car’s development remains on track to be revealed in the flesh this summer before a mid-summer testing debut.

Rendering courtesy of INDYCAR

“While this remains a work in progress, we are encouraged with where the development of the 2018 car stands,” Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations, said in the release. “The look of the car is bold, the performance data from simulations is meeting targeted goals and safety enhancements built into the design will be substantial.”

Tino Belli, INDYCAR director of aerodynamic development, explained the design process with a focus on producing more downforce from the underside of the car rather than on top, addressing driver feedback.

“We’ve been working on the aerodynamics to suit the look, rather than the other way around,” Belli said in the release.

“We’re working on creating more of the downforce from the underwing,” Belli said. “The hole in the floor (of the undertray on this year’s car) will be sealed for the road courses and short ovals, but will still be open for the superspeedways.”

While aerodynamic targets and additional safety enhancements are set to include side impact structures in the sidepods and repositioned radiators, with turbocharger inlets moving to the inside of the radiator inlet ducts, no word was given today in terms of a windscreen or other cockpit protection enhancement device which has been rumored but not officially confirmed to be part of the 2018 kit. Belli said in the release that INDYCAR has achieved “97 percent” of its goals from developing the new car’s look and efficiency.

Of note, INDYCAR announced long-term contract extensions with four key partners, Dallara, Chevrolet, Honda and Firestone, at St. Petersburg, which was great news for the series but perhaps overshadowed in the kickoff to the new season. It further pushed the development of Frye’s much-mentioned “five-year plan” for the series.

Just because the base Dallara DW12 chassis remains as the tub does not necessarily mean it will be Dallara as the common kit supplier. Dallara’s Stefano De Ponti, director of the company’s U.S. operations, did say how much it has meant to the company to be celebrating its 20th year with INDYCAR during the St. Petersburg announcement.

“Dallara came here in 1997. That has marked the Dallara presence in North American motorsports. It was an important step,” De Ponti said at St. Petersburg.

“Obviously the plant, facility, engineering center we built in Indianapolis was, for the most part of it, obviously to support our program here as a partner with IndyCar.

“I personally wish, yes, that the extension will go beyond the set extension we have so far. We would like to be very, very clear, to be trustful and a supported partner of IndyCar as a manufacturer.

“Obviously, as an engineering company, we like competition, of course. We welcome everything that IndyCar decides to do with us for the future.

“At the end of the day, we want to be, and we are committed, to work with IndyCar for the benefit of the series. That would benefit all of us.”