Motocross: What to watch for today at Thunder Valley

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If anyone is going to emerge as a first-time winner today, they’ll not only have to battle the dominant Red Bull KTM and Star Yamaha teams, they’ll also have to contend with some challenging conditions.

The Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship is at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado for the third round of the 12-stop series. This race brings a unique element to the championship race – at an elevation of more than 6,000 feet above sea level, bikes are robbed of horsepower, and riders get winded much easier. In order to overcome these elements, riders must be in peak physical condition, and they must have a team behind them capable of making the necessary adjustments to coax as much power out of their bikes as possible.

Riders will be tested as soon as the gate drops in each race. The very first thing they’ll have to deal with is an uphill straightaway where power will be especially important. Starts are one of the most important elements motocross – if you don’t get a good one, working your way up to a podium position is a longshot.

Add this to the fact that the Red Bull KTM duo of Ryan Dungey and Ken Roczen has dominated the 450 Class, while the Yamalube/Star Racing/Yamaha sophomores Jeremy Martin and Cooper Webb have been running away from the field in the 250 Class, and it’s going to be a tall order for any other rider to capture their first win of the season.

For a look at the uphill start and all the other features riders will encounter today, check out an animated preview of the track layout below:

Live coverage from Thunder Valley begins at 12:30pm E.T. with the second practice session, available on ProMotocross.com and NBC Sports Live Extra. Coverage resumes with the online-only pre-show at 2:15pm E.T., followed by all four motos streaming live online from 3-7pm E.T. NBCSN will also carry live coverage of the second motos in both classes at 5pm E.T. Click here to access the Live Extra stream.

Here’s a few storylines to keep an eye on as you watch today’s races.

450 Class

Justin Barcia (4-5 at Hangtown): Currently sixth in the 450MX points standings, the Honda Muscle Milk rider is out for today’s race with foot and ankle injuries.

James Stewart (5-3 at Hangtown), Trey Canard (3-4 at Hangtown), Brett Metcalfe (6-9 at Hangtown): If anyone is going to top Roczen or Dungey this week, these three have the best chances to do it. Stewart’s results have steadily improved with each moto, Canard has been consistently fast, and Metcalfe led a few laps a week ago at Hangtown.

Weston Peick (8-6 at Hangtown): It feels like it’s only a matter of time before Peick records a top-five overall finish. In his first season riding on a factory team, Peick has done well but needs better starts in order to elevate himself into that next tier. His best position after Lap 1 of any moto this year is tenth.

Josh Grant (9-39 at Hangtown): After winning the first moto of the season, Hangtown wasn’t the encore Grant was looking for. He was hampered by a bad start in Moto 1 last weekend, then had bike issues and twisted his ankle in Moto 2. Thunder Valley may help provide a better idea of what to expect going forward.

250 Class

Jessy Nelson (7-5 at Hangtown): Martin and Webb are the biggest surprises in the 250 Class, but Nelson has been quite a revelation too, quietly working his way up to fourth in 250MX points after a career-best fifth-overall finish at Hangtown. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that he’s done it without getting good starts – something that he’s proven capable of in the past. If he puts it all together, he could go down as one of the most improved riders not on a blue bike.

Blake Baggett (6-34 at Hangtown): After two rounds, Baggett sits 52 points back of Martin in the championship race. There’s still a long season ahead, but the 2012 champion already has a lot of ground to make up. To put it in perspective, Martin could DNF both motos at Thunder Valley, Baggett could sweep both motos, and the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki rider would still find himself two points back of Martin.

Jackson Richardson (21-9 at Hangtown): Richardson is a full-fledged privateer from Australia who always seems to turn in solid results when he races in the U.S, and his most recent success was a ninth-place finish in Moto 2 last weekend. Thunder Valley could mark his last Lucas Oil Pro Motocross race of the season before he goes back to Australia though. Can he get one more impressive result under his belt before heading home?

F1 Preview: 2017 United States Grand Prix

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The Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas may only have hosted the United States Grand Prix since 2012, yet it has quickly made itself a big part of Formula 1’s recent championship stories.

Results at COTA have played a crucial part in all but one of the F1 championship races – the exception being 2013 when the drivers’ title had long been settled – with the track also being the site of Lewis Hamilton’s third title win two years ago.

Hamilton arrives in the Lone Star State on the verge of taking a fourth world title, and could reclaim the crown this Sunday should results fall his way.

For a driver with such an affinity for the United States as Hamilton, clinching the title in Austin would be very significant.

This race is also a significant one for F1’s owner, Liberty Media, as its first on home soil since completing its $8 billion takeover of the sport back in January.

The United States has long been a target growth market for F1 after a patchy history. Significant progress has been made in the last five years, but seeing how Liberty plays the US GP will be of interest to those with an eye on F1’s future.

Here are the key talking points ahead of this weekend’s United States Grand Prix.

2017 United States Grand Prix – Talking Points

Will COTA be king-maker again for Hamilton?

There is a similar sense of inevitability heading to COTA this weekend as in 2015. It is not a case of if Lewis Hamilton will win the drivers’ championship, but when.

Ferrari’s remarkable capitulation in the last six weeks has seen Sebastian Vettel go from championship leader to heavy outsider, trailing Hamilton by 59 points with just 100 left to play for this season.

A 16-point swing will see Hamilton clinch a fourth title at COTA – full permutations here – meaning that next weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix is perhaps the more likely site for his coronation.

That said, on Ferrari’s recent form, losing another 16 points would hardly come as a surprise.

Silver linings for Ferrari despite recent losses

The failures that have seen Ferrari throw away a shot at both championships in 2017 will surely lead to heads rolling come the end of the season, having been the Italian marque’s best chance of silverware since 2008.

For now though, the team must do all it can to put the brakes on its collapse and bounce back at COTA, with its race pace form in Malaysia suggesting it may not be as far off Mercedes as once feared this weekend.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen have both said there is no track for Ferrari to fear in the closing races this season, meaning that while the titles may already be out of reach, a fighting end to the season would at least save some face.

Alas, with Mercedes very likely to wrap up the constructors’ championship this weekend, for Ferrari to have gone from pre-season favorite with the fastest car to losing the title with three races to spare is a serious failure that will take some recovering from.

Red Bull’s flying finish to continue in Austin?

Red Bull’s late-season form is traditionally pretty good, but the team has been particularly strong in recent races as it looks to build momentum before a renewed title bid in 2014.

Max Verstappen’s dominant victory in Malaysia proved the team can win races on merit and take the fight to both Mercedes and Ferrari, while Daniel Ricciardo has also been on the podium in the last two races.

For a team that was marooned in P3 for much of the season, the updates for the RB13 car have put Red Bull into the thick of the fight at the front – sadly, there is not title race for it to influence.

Nevertheless, Verstappen and Ricciardo will be pushing hard to keep the team’s good late-season form going at COTA. Four years after the team’s last win in the USA, can Red Bull hit the top step again?

Hartley gears up for shock F1 debut

2017 has been full of odd storylines in F1, but Brendon Hartley’s shock debut with Toro Rosso this weekend has to be right up there.

Seven years after being dropped from Red Bull’s junior program, Hartley will line up in the colors of the energy drink giant’s B-team in F1 after Pierre Gasly was forced to stick to his clashing Super Formula commitments in Japan.

Toro Rosso will race with a totally different line-up to two weeks ago at Suzuka, with previously-benched Daniil Kvyat also returning in place of Carlos Sainz Jr., who moves up to Renault.

Heroics cannot be expected of Hartley, who has raced with great success in the FIA World Endurance Championship with Porsche since 2014, but it will be fascinating to see how he gets on back in single-seaters.

The Land of Liberty

Liberty Media’s takeover of F1 back in January was a significant moment for the sport’s future, with a great focus being placed on the United States given the company’s American roots and the importance of the market.

F1 CEO and chairman Chase Carey has made his ambition to make each race a Superbowl-esque event clear for some time, with plans to improve the spectacle around races still in the works.

The US GP has traditionally done very well with its off-track spectacles, with last year’s Taylor Swift concert playing a huge role in breathing new life into the race after a washout in 2015. This year, Justin Timberlake and Stevie Wonder will both be performing at COTA’s amphitheater.

Another big name confirmed to be attending is Usain Bolt, who will act as the official starter for the race, while iconic boxing announcer Michael Buffer will be on-hand for the pre-race driver introductions, a new step for F1.

This weekend will also see the F1 paddock turn pink in aid of Breast Cancer Awareness month and Susan G. Komen, with more information available by clicking here.

2017 United States Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Circuit of The Americas
Corners: 20
Lap Record: Sebastian Vettel 1:39.347 (2012)
Tire Compounds: Ultra-Soft/Super-Soft/Soft
2016 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2016 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:34.999
2016 Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 1:39.877
DRS Zones: T2o to T1, T11 to T12

2017 United States Grand Prix – TV/Stream Times