Charlotte Motor Speedway to host traditional star-spangled salute to U.S. troops prior to Coca-Cola 600

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In what has been a more than three-decade Memorial Day weekend tradition, Charlotte Motor Speedway will once again honor America’s fighting men and women in one of its biggest gala pre-race ceremonies ever prior to the 55th running of the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday, May 25.

The Salute to the Troops has become one of the most anticipated and emotional tributes in motorsports, including a pizza party for several thousand troops and their families, special presentations and events and a unique helicopter flyover.

This year’s events include honoring winners of the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor for an act of valor that a soldier can receive.

This year’s honorees are: U.S. Army veterans Col. Joe Marm, Command Sgt. Major Robert Patterson and Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morrison, who were all awarded the Medal of Honor for Actions during the Vietnam War, along with Staff Sgt. Ty Carter of the U.S. Army (former U.S. Marine Corps), who earned his Medal of Honor in the war in Afghanistan.

“Over the years, Charlotte Motor Speedway has set the standard when it comes to showing our support of the armed forces, and this year will be no different,” CMS president/general manager Marcus Smith said in a track media release. “We want to give all the men and women who have served in the past and who continue to fight for our freedom today a great big bear hug and let them know how much their service means to our country.”

Among this year’s other events:

* More than 30 busloads of troops and their families will be brought to the race. The buses will make a ceremonial parade lap around the 1.5-mile superspeedway before parking along the frontstretch, where troops will exit the buses and be cheered by more than 100,000 fans en route to the solders taking their seats in the grandstands for the race.

* Pit road will include a unique display of past and present military vehicles during pre-race festivities, including 15 vintage military vehicles on loan from the Veterans Service Corp. of South Carolina, as well as modern-day Humvees, troop carriers, a maintenance wrecker and a Navy SEAL Raptor from the North Carolina National Guard.

* Seven vintage airplanes will provide an aerial salute in the skies over the racetrack. For vintage plane fans, the fleet will include a SNJ 5, a C-45, a T-28 Alpha, a T-28 Bravo and a C-46, among others.

* In perhaps the most unique presentation of the command for drivers to start their engines, astronaut and NASA commander Steve Swanson will not only serve as grand marshal from outer space, but will also give the command to start engines from onboard the International Space Station.

* In the traditional flyover at the end of the National Anthem, this year’s race will feature four different types of military helicopters. Task Force Corsair, part of the 82nd Airborne Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade stationed at Ft. Bragg, N.C., will conduct a flyover featuring AH-64 Apache, UH-60 Black Hawk, CH-47 Chinook and OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters.

* One of the most patriotic and emotion-stirring traditions, the rollout of the football field-sized (300-by-150 feet) American flag on the frontstretch will be unfurled by 120 volunteers during the National Anthem.

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Graham Rahal survives Road America to finish eighth

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Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing faced a roller coaster of a race during the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America on Sunday.

He was a rocket off the initial start, jumping from sixth on the grid up to fourth exiting turn 1, but was almost immediately ordered to surrender a position for blocking. He quickly slipped back to sixth, and then began plummeting down the order as he battled an oversteer condition that saw his car chew through its rear tires more quickly than others.

Forced to abandon the planned three-stop strategy, he and the No. 15 Gehl Honda team switched to a four-stop plan that saw him drop well outside the top ten at times.

However, they kept plugging away and rebounded nicely in the second half of the race to eventually finish in eighth. While he would have liked to finish higher up the order, Rahal knows that he and the team got everything they could out of it.

“The car was a handful today. I knew about five laps in that I didn’t have the pace for a three-stop strategy,” Rahal revealed post-race. “We tried as best we could to work with what we had during the race and overcome it. I would have obviously liked to have finished better, but eighth is about as good as we could do today. We struggled with a very loose race car all weekend and just couldn’t put a dent in the problem. We worked awfully hard but just missed it this weekend.”

The eighth-place finish keeps Rahal in the championship hunt. Rahal now sits seventh in the standings, 11 points behind fifth-place Josef Newgarden and 72 behind championship leader Scott Dixon.

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Ed Jones continues steady run with seventh at Road America

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Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones has made waves in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season with a string of solid performances that belie his rookie status.

And Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix at Road America was no different.

The 22-year-old battled an oversteering car most of the weekend at Road America, and had to navigate a little carnage late in the race as Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay both fell through the field with front wing problems.

However, Jones weathered all storms to finish an impressive seventh, his fifth finish inside the top 10 this year, and his best finish since his third place at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade MotorOil.

“It was a really tough race,” Jones said of the effort. “We had a loose car yesterday. It was loose, but fast, for qualifying, and today again the car was really loose. I was hanging on the whole race, but the team had some good pit stops and we were able to move up.

“Obviously, the strategy was pretty similar to everyone else. Everyone was aggressive out there. It was hard racing but we came out with a seventh place and we moved up a little bit in the points.”

The seventh-place run sees Jones maintain his position in the top ten in the championship. He currently sits tenth in the standings, three points ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton.

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Vilander replaces Bird at AF Corse for Nurburgring WEC round

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AF Corse has confirmed that Toni Vilander will race the No. 71 Ferrari 488 GTE in next month’s FIA World Endurance Championship round at the Nürburgring in place of Sam Bird, who is tied up with Formula E commitments in New York.

Vilander currently races full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Risi Competizione, and appeared at the 24 Hours of Le Mans two weeks ago.

The Finn won the WEC GT drivers’ title in 2014 and last raced full-time in the series in 2015, but will return at the Nürburgring in place of Bird, who confirmed on Monday that he would be prioritizing his Formula E commitments on the July 16 weekend.

Vilander is relishing the opportunity to race alongside Davide Rigon in the No. 71 Ferrari, and is eager to bounce back from an early retirement at Le Mans.

“I’m happy to be able to return to the FIA WEC with the 488 GTE of AF Corse team. This is my chance to cancel the disappointment of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as soon as possible,” Vilander said.

“Car number 71 is in the top places of the championship standings, and I will give all I have to achieve the best possible result at Nürburgring, to help Ferrari in the manufacturers’ championship and Davide Rigon in the drivers’ ranking.”

British GP expands to four-day schedule, F2/GP3 practice set for Thursday

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The British Grand Prix weekend will expand to a four-day schedule next month as Formula 2 and GP3 practice running gets shifted to Thursday.

On-track running for all Formula 1 events traditionally takes place across three days – Friday to Sunday, bar Monaco, where practice is on Thursday – with support events following a similar format.

Silverstone has confirmed its schedule of events for the British Grand Prix weekend, with F2 and GP3 practice slated for Thursday July 13.

F2 practice will run from 15:30 to 16:15 local time at Silverstone on the Thursday, followed by GP3 running from 16:45 to 17:30.

Both support series will hit the track again on Friday for their respective qualifying sessions, taking place after F1’s second practice in the afternoon.

The remainder of the race weekend will go ahead as usual for F2 and GP3, having one race each on both Saturday and Sunday.

The F1 schedule for the weekend remains unchanged, with FP1 and FP2 on Friday, FP3 and qualifying on Saturday, and the race on Sunday.

Both Renault and Williams will take part in special show-runs during the grand prix weekend as part of their 40th anniversary celebrations.

You can see the full British Grand Prix schedule here.