(Photo: Tony Gentile / Reuters)

Report: Speculation increases that Michael Schumacher will not make full recovery

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Fans hoping Michael Schumacher will make a complete recovery from a serious skiing accident more than two months ago will not like the latest speculation on the condition of the seven-time Formula One champion.

According to the Daily Mail in the U.K., several neurologists – although not associated with Schumacher’s particular case but experts in the type of injuries he suffered – are beginning to believe the 45-year-old former driver will never make a full recovery.

Schumacher fell into a pile of rocks, suffering serious head injuries, while skiing with his family in the French Alps near Grenoble on Dec. 29.

Schumacher’s agent, Sabine Kehm, and attending physicians at Grenoble University Hospital have said Schumacher is continually being slowly weaned from a medically induced coma (due to blood clots in the brain), a process that has now gone on for more than three weeks.

In an email Friday, Kehm repeated the same response she has given several times in the last few weeks: “Michael is still in the wake-up phase,” the Daily Mail reported. “This phase can be long.”

However, neurologists offering independent opinions believe the longer Schumacher fails to respond to treatment and brain stimulation, the longer the odds are that he will make a full recovery.

The situation has been compounded by extremely limited information being released by both the hospital and Schumacher’s family, much to the chagrin of his millions of fans worldwide.

“It does not bode well,” Dr. Tipu Aziz, a professor of neurosurgery at Oxford University who is not involved in Schumacher’s case, told the Daily Mail. “The fact that he hasn’t woken up implies that the injury has been extremely severe and that a full recovery is improbable.

“If you don’t start getting any positive signs, that becomes very worrisome.”

Aziz theorized that Schumacher’s doctors continue to do regular brain scans to see if there are any signs of activity.

Another neurologist interviewed by the Daily Mail, Dr. Anthony Strong, emeritus chair in neurosurgery at King’s College in London, tried to keep Schumacher’s fans somewhat encouraged, but also was cautionary in his assumption.

“About 90 percent of the recovery is made within nine to 12 months, so this is still early days,” Strong said. “The longer someone is in a coma, the worse their recovery tends to be.”

Dr. Colin Shieff, a neurosurgeon at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London and trustee for Headway, a British brain injury charity, said the combination of the time Schumacher has been hospitalized, as well as how long he’s been in an induced coma, likely gives treating physicians an increasingly better baseline to work off of.

“MRI scans can show any secondary deterioration in the brain structure,” Shieff told the Daily Mail.

Shieff cautioned that other parts of Schumacher’s brain that were not injured in the accident may be showing concerning signs because of the lack of activity in the overall brain over the past two-plus months.

According to the Daily Mail, “Shieff said that if Schumacher does eventually come out of the coma, he probably would face significant disabilities because of the length of time he has already spent comatose. While there have been rare instances of people emerging from comas months and years later with the ability to communicate, Shieff was doubtful that would be the case with Schumacher.”

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Conor Daly’s IndyCar gets painted

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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