(Photo: AP/Gerry Broome)

Kyle Busch wrecks after posting fastest lap in final Sprint Cup practice

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Kyle Busch was the fastest driver in Saturday’s final practice for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, turning a speed of 188.640 mph.

Unfortunately, Busch wrecked after his first two practice laps and will be forced to start Sunday’s race from the back of the 43-car field.

Busch, who qualified seventh Thursday, did manage to put 19 additional laps in his backup car, but none of those laps came close to his earlier fast lap.

Ironically, Busch wrecked Thursday in his Nationwide Series car, received permission to repair it back at Joe Gibbs Racing’s headquarters in nearby Huntersville, N.C., and then came out earlier Saturday to qualify No. 1 for that afternoon’s History 300.

Joey Logano was right behind Busch on the Sprint Cup speed charts, clocking in at 188.265 mph.

And Danica Patrick recorded yet another impressive run, ranking third-fastest at 187.846 mph.

Rounding out the top five were Greg Biffle (187.663) and 600 pole-sitter Jimmie Johnson (187.656).

Sixth- through 10th-fastest were Kevin Harvick (187.428), Carl Edwards 9187.422), Martin Truex Jr. (187.337), Clint Bowyer (187.071) and Ryan Newman (186.987).

Of note about the top 10 fastest: six have yet to win a race thus far in 2014 (Patrick, Biffle, Johnson, Truex, Bowyer and Newman).

Other highlights from Happy Hour:

* Current points leader Jeff Gordon did not practice due to back spasms that forced him run just 11 laps in the day’s earlier session. Gordon said he plans on racing Sunday, but will have Nationwide Series driver Regan Smith on standby, just in case.

* Also not taking part in the final practice session were Joe Nemechek and Reed Sorenson, apparently to preserve their equipment for NASCAR’s longest and most grueling race of the season.

* Kurt Busch, who will attempt to complete the “Double” on Sunday – racing in both the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 – saw a nice bump up in speed from the morning session at 186.245 mph.

* Blake Koch was the slowest of the 40 drivers that took to the track at 180.717 mph.

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Lauda claims half the F1 grid is chasing Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes seat

SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 09: Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP Mercedes GP non-executive chairman Niki Lauda and Mercedes GP Executive Director Toto Wolff celebrate after winning the race and the constructors championship for 2016 during the Formula One Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka Circuit on October 9, 2016 in Suzuka.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda says that “practically half of Formula 1” is chasing Nico Rosberg’s seat for the 2017 season after the World Champion’s sensational decision to retire on Friday.

Rosberg was crowned F1 drivers’ champion for the first time last weekend in Abu Dhabi, only to announce five days later that he would be retiring with immediate effect.

The decision stunned the F1 world, and gave the driver market for the 2017 season a late and unprecedented twist as speculation swirled over who would replace Rosberg at Mercedes.

Speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport in Italy, Lauda said that over half the F1 grid has enquired about Rosberg’s drive.

“Practically half of Formula 1 and maybe more,” Lauda said when asked about the interest in Mercedes’ free seat.

“I am constantly taking calls.”

Mercedes said following Rosberg’s announcement that it would take its time to decide on a replacement, with options including junior drivers Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon, or more established racers that would need their contracts to be bought out.

Lauda hinted that Wehrlein and Ocon were not first choices for Mercedes, though, saying: “Hiring a youngster is a risk and we don’t know how strong he would be.”

Lauda also revealed that he thought Rosberg was playing a joke on him when he first found out about the news, not long before the formal announcement.

“I took it badly. I was not expecting it,” Lauda said.

“At first I didn’t believe him. ‘Nico,’ I told him, ‘Are you pulling my leg? Is it a joke?’

“But he, seriously, said it was all true. Truly incredible.”

The Mercedes seat is one of just four free on the F1 grid for 2017. Manor is yet to sign any drivers for next year, while Sauber has one vacancy remaining.

FIA confirms remaining dates on 2017 WRC calendar, adds Poland

GAP, FRANCE - JANUARY 23:  Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia of France compete in their Volkswagen Motorsport Volkswagen Polo R WRC during Day Three of the WRC Monte Carlo on January 23, 2016 in Gap, France.  (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)
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The FIA has confirmed the full calendar for the 2017 World Rally Championship season following the latest meeting of the World Motor Sport Council in Vienna this week.

The WMSC had previously approved a 12-round calendar for the 2017 season, but only confirmed the dates for the opening six rounds of the year.

In a statement issued by the FIA on Wednesday, the dates were firmed up for the entire calendar, as well as adding a 13th round in Poland.

FIA World Rally Championship – 2017 Calendar

1. Monte Carlo – 20-22 January
2. Sweden – 10-12 February
3. Mexico – 10-12 March
4. France – April 7-9
5. Argentina – April 28-30
6. Portugal – 19-21 May
7. Italy – 9-11 June
8. Poland – 30 June – 2 July
9. Finland – 28-30 July
10. Germany – 19-20 August
11. Spain – 6-8 October
12. Great Britain – 27-29 October
13. Australia – 17-19 November

In its statement, the FIA also confirmed the following regarding WRC in 2017:

  • The start order for World Championship rallies from 2017 has been amended and is now based purely on performance:
    • Day 1: All cars start according to the actual Championship classification
    • Day 2: P1 drivers start in the reverse order of the actual rally classification after Day 1. Other drivers start in the order of the rally classification.
    • Day 3: P1 drivers start in the reverse order of the actual rally classification after Day 2. Other drivers start in the order of the rally classification.
    • P1 drivers re-starting in Rally 2 will start at the end of the P1 group.
    • The start order of the first rally of the Championship will be based on the Championship classification of the previous year.
  • A WRC Trophy has been created for drivers and co-drivers participating in pre-2017 specification WRC cars. The maximum number of qualifying rallies is seven and the driver and co-driver who have scored the highest total of points in six of the qualifying rallies will win the titles. If less than five competitors register, no titles will be awarded.
  • M-Sport has been awarded the contract to supply R2 cars for the FIA Junior WRC Championship for 2017 and 2018.
  • Michelin Competition and DMACK Tyres are the registered tire companies for the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship.

Following Volkswagen’s shock withdrawal from the WRC, defending champion Sebastien Ogier is currently without a seat, but is known to be in the running for drives with both Citroen and the Ford M-Sport team in 2017.

Porsche confirms Lotterer, Tandy, Bamber in LMP1 seats for 2017

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Porsche has confirmed its line-up for the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship season, welcoming Andre Lotterer, Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber into its LMP1 ranks at its Night of Champions event.

Following Mark Webber’s retirement from racing at the end of the 2016, and the decision to relocate world champions Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb, Porsche had three free seats for next year between its two LMP1 cars.

Audi’s decision to end its LMP1 program following the 2016 season left Lotterer without a drive, with the three-time Le Mans winner being picked up by Porsche.

The German marque has also promoted 2015 Le Mans winners Bamber and Tandy up into full-time LMP1 seats, the pair having raced in GTs for Porsche over the past 12 months after no third car was run last year at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

“Lotterer and Tandy will share driving duties in the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid with the reigning World Endurance Champion Neel Jani,” a statement from Porsche reads.

“Joining the two New Zealanders Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley in the cockpit of the #2 vehicle is Timo Bernhard from Germany.

“Thanks to continuing development, next year’s 919 represents another step in its technological evolution, featuring a completely new colour design, an optimised aerokit, and the complete overhaul of almost all components.

“The vehicle will be officially unveiled on 23 March at the WEC prologue, which is held for the first time in Monza, Italy.”

Porsche also confirmed its plans for its expanded GT program in 2017, when it will enter a pair of new 911 RSRs to the GTE Pro class of the WEC and aim for the championship.

“In addition to its LMP1 commitments, Porsche will also send a factory squad to the 2017 FIA WEC rounds to tackle the GT world championship titles for the best driver and the most successful manufacturer, which will be awarded for the first time,” the statement adds.

“This is a significant boost for our motorsport involvement and underlines that we have chosen the right platform with the WEC,” said Michael Steiner, Member of the Executive Board for Research and Development at Porsche AG.

“The Porsche Motorsport GT team will campaign a pair of new 911 RSR in the GTE-Pro class. The drivers confirmed so far for these seats are Michael Christensen, Frédéric Makowiecki and Richard Lietz.”

Porsche will also continue with its factory entry in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2017, once again fielding the new 911 RSR car.

“For the fourth season, Porsche will take on the competition with a factory entry in America’s most important sports car series, the IMSA Weathertech SportsCar Championship.

“As in the FIA WEC, Porsche Motorsport GT fields two brand-new 911 RSR. Sharing the cockpit of the #911 vehicle are Patrick Pilet and Dirk Werner. At the particularly long events such as the Daytona 24 Hours, the 12 Hours of Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit Le Mans, the duo will receive support from Frédéric Makowiecki.

“The regular drivers in the number 912 vehicle are Kévin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor, with Richard Lietz joining them for the four long-distance classics. The season-opening race is the 24 Hours of Daytona on 28 January.”

Montoya sympathizes with Verstappen over mixed response to driving style

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 30:  Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing talks with ex racer Juan Pablo Montoya on the drivers parade before the Formula One Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 30, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Juan Pablo Montoya believes that he faced a similar criticism during his time in Formula 1 to what Max Verstappen is currently receiving for his on-track driving style.

Montoya raced in F1 between 2001 and 2006, with his aggressive approach winning him both admirers and critics in the paddock.

Verstappen’s antics on-track have incurred the wrath of a number of drivers in 2016, and even resulted in the clarification of a rule regarding moving under braking.

However, his overtaking masterclass in Brazil has been talked up as one of the greatest drives in F1 history, with many praising the excitement that his approach brings to the grid.

Montoya sympathized with the Dutchman over such double standards when reflecting on his F1 career in a special feature for McLaren’s website.

“The way Verstappen’s been treated, I got treated like that a lot,” Montoya said.

“I would pass people. I left and then people realized two years later: ‘We’re missing that.’

“I got an award for overtaking move of the year, and I thought that’s my job, that’s what we’re all supposed to do!”

Montoya famously walked out of McLaren midway through the 2006 season before moving into NASCAR with Chip Ganassi Racing, and explained that the team’s reluctance to take up its option on him prompted the decision.

“The team had an option on me in December 2005, for 2007, and they didn’t take it. They said they wanted to wait a little bit more,” Montoya explained.

“We knew Fernando [Alonso] was coming, and we knew Kimi [Raikkonen] was going. You have an option on me, and you’re saying you want to take a little bit more time?

“I was more of the theory you either want me, or you don’t. If I’m not worth enough to be there, then I might as well do something else.

“In my mind from that point on it didn’t really matter. You’re already looking into the future, where are you going to go, what are you going to do?

“Ron [Dennis] still wanted to delay the decision about 2007, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay there as well. A lot of things came together, and the opportunity to race with Chip Ganassi in America came on board.

“I wanted to be in F1 for winning, I didn’t want to just fill the grid. There were no really good opportunities.”