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If you’ll be in Charlotte for Sprint All-Star Race or Coke 600, hang out with some of NASCAR’s biggest stars

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One of the best parts of having the Sprint All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600 on back-to-back weekends in the Charlotte area are the numerous opportunities for interaction between NASCAR drivers and their fans.

If you’re going to be in the area during that time, you owe it to yourself to check out some of the appearances, many of which are free to attend.

Courtesy of our good friends at Jayski.com, here’s a partial list of which drivers will be doing what and where they’ll be doing it (all times Eastern):

May 15, 3 to 6 pm: Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson, LiftMaster Community Day at Chip Ganassi Racing, 8500 Westmoreland Drive, Concord, N.C.

May 16, 2 pm: Marvin Panch at Scott’s Collectibles, 934 Cloverleaf Plaza, Kannapolis, N.C.

May 16, 4 pm: Autograph session, featuring Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, David Ragan, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr. and Brian Vickers. Located at Sprint Experience at Charlotte Motor Speedway (CMS). Fans must acquire a wristband by participating in an activity at The Sprint Experience between noon and 3:00 PM on May 16. Wristbands will be limited to 100 per driver pairing.

May 17, Sprint Experience at CMS: Renowned NASCAR artist Sam Bass (1 pm), Jamie McMurray (3:45), David Ragan (4:15), Kyle Busch (4:45).

May 17, 3:40 pm: Ryan Newman at RCR merchandise hauler at CMS.

May 17, time TBA: Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kevin Harvick to appear at Hunt Brothers Pizza Party at CMS. To attend, fans must purchase a Hunt Brothers Pizza Party Pass. For more information, see charlottemotorspeedway.com/huntbrothers/.

May 18, all day: Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker, Rex White, Ned Jarrett, Marvin Panch, Neil Castles, Geoff Bodine to appear at Memory Lane Museum, 769 River Hwy Mooresville NC. Admission (includes access to museum) $10.00 for adults, $6.00 for kids 6-12 years old.

May 19, time TBA: Alex Bowman, Ryan Truex, Matt Crafton, Darrell Wallace, Jr., Tyler Young, Ryan Preece, Corey Lajoie, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Daniel Suarez and Mackena Bell will appear at GoPro Motorplex, 130 Motorplex Drive, Mooresville, N.C., as part of the First Annual Veteran Kart Challenge to Benefit Service Disabled Veterans. For more info, visit gopromotorplex.com

May 20, time TBA: Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Michael McDowell, Justin Allgaier, Ryan Truex, Ross Chastain, Ryan Blaney, Darrell Wallace, Jr., Drew Herring, Timmy Hill, Scott Speed, Landon Cassill, Blake Koch, Kevin Swindell, Dylan Kwasniewski, Johanna Long, Joey Coulter, Shane Stewart will appear at GoPro Motorplex, 130 Motorplex Drive, Mooresville, N.C. The Little 600 is a FREE fan event with a $10 parking fee. The event night will also feature the Lady 600, a 10-lap rental kart race among some of the most well-known females in the racing industry, including NASCAR driver’s wives and girlfriends. For more info, visit gopromotorplex.com

May 21, 11 am to 3 pm, Michael Waltrip Racing Fan Fest, featuring Michael Waltrip, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer. Live SiriusXM radio broadcast from site. Autograph schedule: Burton 11:00 to noon, Bowyer noon to 1:00, Waltrip 1:00 to 2:00. MWR is at 20310 Chartwell Center Drive off exit 28 on I-77 in Cornelius, N.C.

May 21, 6 pm: Ty Dillon, Austin Dillon, and Richard Childress at Bass Pro Shops, 8181 Concord Mills Blvd., Concord, N.C.

May 21, time TBA: J.J. Yeley, Jimmy Elledge and Tyler Reddick at Millbridge Speedway 6670 Mooresville Road Salisbury, N.C. More info: minioutlawseries.com

May 22, 10 am: Richard Petty Motorsports Fan Appreciation Day, 7065 Zephyr Place NW, Concord, N.C. Slated to appear: Richard Petty, Dale Inman, Marcos Ambrose, Aric Almirola, Dakoda Armstrong and Corey LaJoie. Note: wristbands for autographs to be handed out at 8 a.m.

May 22, 8 am to 5 pm: Roush Fenway Racing Fan Appreciation Day, 4600 Roush Place, Concord, N.C. Appearing: Trevor Bayne, Ryan Reed, Chris Buescher, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, and Jack Roush. Autograph session tickets first-come, first-served basis, beginning at 8:00 AM with distribution lines opening at 5:00 AM. Autograph session schedule: 10 am – Roush, Bayne, Buescher and Reed.  11 am – Biffle and Stenhouse. Noon – Edwards.

May 22, 10 a.m.: Kasey Kahne Racing Fan Appreciation Day, 265 Cayuga Drive, Mooresville, N.C. Kahne will be signing autographs with his team’s open wheel drivers, Daryn Pittman, Brad Sweet and Cody Darrah. Autographs begin at 10 am, followed by a Q&A. Must obtain wristband at store between May 19-21, from 9:30 am to 5 pm. More info: kaseykahneracing.com.

May 22, 1 pm: Brendan Gaughan, Scott’s Collectibles, 934 Cloverleaf Plaza, Kannapolis, N.C.

May 22, 1 pm: Patrick Staropoli and Tyler Young at the Creative Loafing display on Speed Street in downtown Charlotte for an autograph session. More info: 600festival.com.

May 22, 7 pm: Donnie Allison, Justin Allison, Ross Chastain, Jeremy Clements, Jamie Dick, Brennan Newberry, Taylor Stricklin, Robert Yates, Grant Enfinger at the Creative Loafing display on Speed Street in downtown Charlotte for an autograph session. More info: 600festival.com.

May 23, Noon: Michael Annett at Team Chevy display on Speed Street in downtown Charlotte. More info: 600festival.com.

May 23, all day: J.R. Motorsports Fan Days. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Regan Smith and Chase Elliott will sign autographs from 1 to 2 pm. Kelley Earnhardt Miller, Karsyn Elledge and JRM Late Model drivers Josh Berry and William Byron will sign autographs from 11:45 to 12:45 PM. Fans must have a wristband to receive an autograph. There will be no photos taken with drivers. To enter for your chance to win a wristband, visit JRMRacing.com. JRM is at 349 Cayuga Drive, Mooresville, N.C.

May 23, all day: Hendrick Motorsports Fan Appreciation Day. Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Chad Knaus, Kenny Francis, Alan Gustafason, Steve Letarte, and Rick Hendrick to appear in fan Q&A sessions throughout the day. No autographs will take place during the event. Sessions are as follows: 3:05-3:30 — Francis (No. 5 crew chief), Gustafson (No. 24 crew chief). 3:35-4:00 — Knaus (No. 48 crew chief), Letarte (No. 88 crew chief). 4:05-4:30 – Gordon. 4:35-5:00 – Kahne. 5:05-5:30 – Earnhardt. 5:35-6:00 Johnson. 6:05-6:30 — Rick Hendrick. More info: hendrickmotorsports.com.

May 23, 6:45 pm: Austin Dillon, Joey Logano, Coca-Cola stage on Speed Street in downtown Charlotte. More info: 600festival.com.

May 23, 7 pm: Ross Chastain, Jamie Dick, Ernie Irvan, Jared Irvan, Blake Koch, Brennan Newberry, Jimmy Weller at Creative Loafing display on Speed Street in downtown Charlotte. More info: 600festival.com.

May 24, 6:45 pm: Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle at Coca-Cola stage on Speed Street in downtown Charlotte. More info: 600festival.com.

May 25, time TBA: Ryan Newman at Sprint Experience at CMS.

May 25, time TBA: Danica Patrick, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart at Coca-Cola pre-race party at CMS. To attend, fans must purchase a Coke Party Pass. More info: charlottemotorspeedway.com/cokepartypass/.

May 25, time TBA: Carl Edwards, Eric Almirola, Jimmy Fennig at Ford Racing Hospitality at CMS. To attend, fans must purchase Ford Racing VIP Hospitality Pass. More info: charlottemotorspeedway.com/fordracing/.

For more appearances or changes, click here to visit Jayski.com’s Driver Appearances page.

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Congratulations to IndyCar driver JR Hildebrand on marriage to Kristin Paine

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While he’s still in the market for a full-time IndyCar ride in 2017, JR Hildebrand is officially off the market when it comes to the single life.

The Sausalito, California native, who now lives in Colorado, tied the knot on Oct. 16 with long-time girlfriend Kristin Paine in Boulder.

We wish the new Mr. & Mrs. Hildebrand all the best.

In the meantime, now back from their honeymoon, JR posted a few photos from before and after the wedding (photos are via @JRHildebrand on Twitter):

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Perez: “This year’s Mexican GP will be even better than last year’s”

xxxx during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 31, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico.
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Sergio Perez is not expecting a sophomore slump for the second edition of the Mexican Grand Prix back on the calendar since 1992, in its second year at the refurbished, renovated and relaunched Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

If anything, the Sahara Force India driver expects the race to build on what it did last year, when it came back to a Formula 1 calendar after a 23-year hiatus.

“I have no doubt this year’s event will be even better than last year – expectations are huge following the success of 2015,” he said in the team’s pre-race advance.

“For me, the biggest surprise was the passion of the fans: all the affection I received, all the messages and all the incredible moments I experienced are what really made an impression on me. I am so happy to go back there.”

This is very much a home race for Perez, who finished eighth in it last year, but who could be poised to end better this go-around.

He is from Guadalajara and not Mexico City proper, but still holds an affinity for his home country’s capital city.

“Mexico City may be quite far from my city of Guadalajara, but I go there very often for professional reasons,” he said. “It’s a city I love and there’s so much going on: the best restaurants, so many sights and so many things to do. It is a huge city and sometimes traffic makes going from one side of town to the other feel like an adventure!

“It is, not surprisingly, one of my favorite moments in the season and last year’s was special not just for me, but for my team and for anyone who came to the race.”

Perez currently sits seventh in the Driver’s Championship with 84 points, having moved ahead of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas as “best of the rest” behind the top six drivers from Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari at last week’s United States Grand Prix from Circuit of The Americas.

Gutierrez: “It’s a very special week for my whole career”

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 30:  Esteban Gutierrez announced as driver for Haas F1 Team on October 30, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Andrew Hone/Getty Images for Haas)
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Mexican driver Esteban Gutierrez will have his first chance to race on home soil in Formula 1, when the Haas F1 Team driver competes in this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix from the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

Gutierrez, then a Ferrari reserve driver, was announced in Mexico City last year as Haas’ second driver for 2016, alongside Romain Grosjean. But while he was at the track, he hasn’t been in a car here and that will change this weekend.

With the new version of the Haas VF-16 front wing expected to return to his chassis this weekend, Gutierrez is looking for a big weekend on home soil.

“It’s a very special week for my whole career,” he said in the team’s advance release. “It’s probably one of the best two weeks of my career because it represents so much to racing, to motorsports in Mexico in general, and to me. It’s a kind of connection where I can share my passion for racing and what I do with all Mexicans. I feel grateful for their support.”

Gutierrez reflected on what last year in Mexico was like for him.

“Last year was great. I could live the event from a different perspective, but now it will be even better when I will be racing there. I’m very excited to enjoy that.

“The atmosphere was amazing. I enjoyed it so much. Obviously, I would have liked to have been racing, but that was my position and the reality is that I wanted to enjoy in that perspective. It was a very special weekend and I felt very proud to see all the fans having a huge interaction. It turned out to be one of the best events of the season.”

With the new front wing expected and the circuit’s long straights expected to suit the Haas, which doesn’t have a ton of downforce, it could play to his and the team’s benefit this weekend.

“Romain ran the new front wing all weekend. Esteban did 20 laps on Friday and then we discovered a problem with the front wing. We had to go back to the old version because we had no spare because that was damaged in Japan when Esteban had the contact with Carlos Sainz. These wings are very complicated to make and they take a long time, but we should have the new version of the wing again for Esteban in Mexico,” team principal Guenther Steiner said.

Gutierrez added, “It will be important to do the best we can with our car. It’s a track we believe can suit the style of our car, and we’re hoping that will be the case. It’s going to be important to have as much track time as possible to adapt to the circuit.”

Several finishes of 11th have left Gutierrez on the fringes of scoring a point this season, but not yet having cracked the top-10 in any race this season.

Q&A: PFC ready for return as IndyCar’s brake partner

A look at PFC Brakes. Photo: Tony DiZinno
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Announced back at the Watkins Glen weekend in September, Performance Friction Corporation, or PFC, was announced as INDYCAR’s new brake partner for 2017 and beyond, replacing Brembo.

Darrick Dong, Director of Motorsports, Performance Friction Brakes, explained some – but not all – of the “bells and whistles” PFC has coming down the line for INDYCAR, and how they were chosen to be the new partner to begin with.

MotorSportsTalk: For those that may not be familiar with PFC, its reach and its background, can you summarize all that PFC has been involved in?

Darrick Dong: “Don Burgoon was the owner of the company that passed away on Sept. 12, 2015 in a road car accident in Italy. He really was a true visionary about this particular technology we’re using carbon for IndyCar – and it’s unique. It’s made from a single strand and what this does for us is it’s not a laminate that’s needled together or a constructed matrix like the current supplier is. Also, most of the carbon that’s being sold into racing is actually demilitarized carbon. That’s one of the reasons why they can talk about it, whereas we cannot talk about a lot of the details from a technical standpoint because it’s actually a current used material. It’s proprietary.

“So the key to a single strand carbon matrix is it has a very uniform crystalline structure where the temperature goes through the PFC carbon almost as quickly as it’s introduced. Whereas, with the other materials out there, there’s always thermal banding and there’s a lot of differentials in the temperature profiles of those materials. Because, truth be told, they’re 12 plus year-old technologies.

“As you know, the IndyCar community have been fighting some torque variation, erratic wear and erratic behavior, just inconsistencies. So, we did that blind test and essentially there were three suppliers that supplied car sets to three or four different drivers at Mid-Ohio. All the drivers chose us over the other guys.

“We’ve been continuing testing with the series with the two car sets we gave them at Mid-Ohio. We tested at Road America, Watkins Glen and Sears Point (Sonoma). It’s the same two-car sets that we’ve done that. I think we’re up to 11 or 12 drivers now that have actually had chances to put miles on the stuff.

“For all the miles we’ve put on it with all the different drivers, it didn’t pull or do anything unexpected. It may not have as much bite as some would have liked, but then I don’t know any driver that didn’t ask for more bite. But we were working primarily on the premise that they wanted something that was consistent and had better control. These cars are capable of pulling over a 5g stop now and have over 6,000 pounds of downforce when they’re in full aero. So you’re going from high downforce to mechanical grip in really less than two seconds.”

MST: How different is INDYCAR now versus the last time PFC was involved? Certainly the cornering speeds are significantly higher…

DD: “It’s been awhile since I’ve been playing with the IndyCar guys. We have been a primary source for CART, Champ Car and the IRL series when they were on iron brakes. In fact, in those days when it was open, when they could choose anybody from 1986 through 2011, we had won all the championships and I think we won all the races on our products – with the exception of one or two – through all those years. So it’s not like they didn’t know who we were.

Zach Veach locks it up at Mid-Ohio. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Zach Veach locks it up at Mid-Ohio. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

“When they came up with the DW12, we were the last of the two guys standing on supplier for that car, but the (ICONIC) group decided to go with Brembo. So for the last six years, I still have been keeping my ear to the ground and because we’re the supplier to the (Mazda) Road to Indy, I’ve got all the USF2000 cars, the Pro Mazda cars, Indy Lights and the new Tatuus USF-17, so it’s not like we don’t have a footprint in the garage area.

“It can truly been said that the Road to Indy has been a road to us, for us in getting the confidence of the series! They were pretty gun-shy, as you can imagine, with the problems they had with the current supplier and apparently the same problems in IndyCar has gone to other markets, other series and championships. So, this is rapidly turning into a unique opportunity for us and we’ll be able to bring some new technologies and some new ways of thinking on how a braking system can work on an IndyCar.”

MST: What do you expect the support system/operations side to look like at the track?

DD: “That’s a great question. The series wants us to deal directly with the teams; that’s what we’ll do. Depending on how the logistics work out, in fact, I’ve been talking to Haas Auto here about renting a couple cabinets for them – because there’s always going to be somebody that needs something. Either way, we’re going to have it. What’s nice is most of the team managers and engineers they know who PFC is, so we’ve been part of the canvas now for quite some time.”

Kanaan at Gateway. Photo: IndyCar
Kanaan at Gateway. Photo: IndyCar

MST: Has the driver feedback you’ve received thus far – Tony Kanaan being a good example of a driver since he’s been around and did the test – been a step in the right direction?

DD: “Particularly with TK, he’s very sensitive to this torque variation. One of the things they were able to do, a lot of drivers with the current brake configuration, they have to use the largest master cylinder made to help reduce the locking. With our product, they’re able to drop a size down, which gives them a lot more feel for the threshold of grip between the tire and braking capacity. The difference is, that particular change, because they’ve done it twice now, it stays with the car. The drivers prefer that because now the way the brake pedal is, they have to jump on it as hard they can and then trail off immediately to keep the thing from locking.”

MST: How much more difficult is it to engineer now than when there were higher braking rates?

DD: “One of the things that’s unique about the PFC Carbon is it’s not as sensitive to temperature as most carbon is. So, its sweet spot is about from 100C (100 degrees Celsius) to about 650C. It’ll easily go up to 800C or greater. It never fades. The only difference is you’ll have higher oxidation or greater wear. But at 100C, it acts very much like an iron brake, so it has more cold bite characteristics, which is one of the reasons the why series liked that characteristic, particularly after they did a dyno simulation between all the different brands, and they realized ours had a smoother, cold, predictable bite.

“So with these high downforce cars, you usually use the brakes primarily to balance the cars. You need to have more drivability, not less, so it’s not like an on-off switch like they’ve got now. Everybody who said it’s modulation, that the cold bite – particularly at an oval – is something that will be a benefit to these guys.”

MST: The longer-term viewpoint is looking ahead to 2018 and the new aero then. Will you be part of that development process?

DD: “Yeah, in 2018, we’ll have calipers on the cars. So we’re not only producing the brake pads, the carbon discs and the brake bells and attachment system for the current caliper. And then in 2018, we’ll be supplying the teams with new hardware and calipers. Also, we hope to have the design approvals for the series on or before the Indy 500 in 2017. So after the Indy 500, we can concentrate on making sure we get the hardware right for them.”

PFC Logo. Photo: Tony DiZinno
PFC Logo. Photo: Tony DiZinno

MST: Will you get extra test days?

DD: “I don’t know how that’s going to work, that’s still down the road. Obviously, one thing that’s been about PFC is we’re one of the few companies that manufacture 100 percent of the hot-end components for the car, including friction components. Because of the complexity, there’s not too many companies that recognize what the braking event really is. We have to understand the tire and the interface between the tire, ground and brake torque better than most.

“So most of these other guys, brake pad suppliers, they typically will design the architecture for the caliper, they go buy a disc from somebody else and then they have three or four pad guys build a brake pad for them. With us, we work from the friction out. So, it’s a whole different philosophy and makes us in a unique position because we understand the grip model or try to understand the grip model as best as anybody out there.

“Our relationship with the teams have been very, very close. They’ve freely talked to us because they know we’re always working on improvements. That traction circle, particularly with the amount of downforce, goes from here to here in a very short period of time. It’s a very small, narrow window.”

MST: You had a funny line when you and I chatted at Watkins Glen, that it’s taken eight years to become an overnight success…

DD: “For us, our motivation is and always has been that open-wheel racing is in our DNA. It’s one of the truest forms of being able to apply all the little nuances that we work on in terms of getting not only the performance and the consistency. We bring quite a bit to the table because even the attachment system for the Indy car will be very unique. I can’t talk about all the little bells and whistles that we’re going to be throwing at this thing, but I can tell you that when the teams have the opportunity to implement the new program, it’ll be a significant moving of the bar.

“For instance, although not too many people know this, PFC is the only North American supplier to Porsche Motorsports. So, going through that Porsche-perfect quality assurance protocols, it’s a big deal. And we’re putting the same philosophies of what we have incorporated over the years into the IndyCar thing, so the only thing they have to worry about is how to make the car better, not chase the brake ghosts.”