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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?

Sirotkin enjoys strong first Renault F1 practice outing

Sergey Sirotkin (RUS) Renault Sport F1 Team RS16 Test Driver.
Russian Grand Prix, Friday 29th April 2016. Sochi Autodrom, Sochi, Russia.
© Renault Sport
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Sergey Sirotkin’s first Formula 1 practice run-out for Renault on Friday in Sochi proved to be a successful one as he finished eight-tenths of a second quicker than full-time driver Jolyon Palmer.

It was announced earlier this week that GP2 race winner Sirotkin had joined Renault in the role of test driver for the 2016 season, and would take part in FP1 for his home race in Russia in place of Kevin Magnussen.

Sirotkin posted a quickest lap time of 1:40.898 around the Sochi Autodrom in his first run in the Renault R.S.16 car to finish the session 13th overall, eight-tenths clear of Palmer.

The Russian’s time was made all the more impressive by the fact he had a problem with his seat position in the car throughout the session.

“My target for today was to give the team exactly what they wanted from the session,” Sirotkin said.

“I tried to remain very calm even though it is, of course, very exciting to get to drive a Formula 1 car. Obviously, it’s always beneficial when your lap time looks good but I felt comfortable delivering at today’s level even if it wasn’t as comfortable as it could have been with my seat.

“I am happy that I have started this long programme with Renault Sport Formula One Team in a positive manner.”

Renault trackside operations manager Alan Permane was happy with Sirotkin’s efforts, and felt that the team had made a fair start to the race weekend in Sochi.

“A productive first day for us. It was Sergey’s first time in the car and he did a very positive job for us,” Permane said.

“We weren’t able to get the seating position perfect for him yet despite this he delivered good pace and feedback.

“Jolyon had a straight-forward couple of sessions concentrating on aero development in the first session and a further front wing back-to-back comparison as well as tyre work in the afternoon.

“Kevin didn’t suffer from missing FP1 and was able to deliver everything required from FP2. We’ve still got some work to do, in particular with an oversteer balance.

“There are improvements possible, but it’s a reasonable start to the weekend.”

Luckless Bottas confident form will improve soon

during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
© Getty Images
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Valtteri Bottas is confident that he will bounce back from a luckless start to the 2016 Formula 1 season sooner rather than later.

Bottas entered 2016 hopeful of continuing Williams’ impressive recent form that saw the team finish third in the constructors’ championship for the past two years.

However, while teammate Felipe Massa has managed to battle up the order to sit sixth in the drivers’ championship with 22 points after three races, Bottas has finished no higher than eighth, picking up just seven points in the same period.

Bottas is confident that his luck will turn soon though, and believes that he is still driving well despite his disappointing start to the year.

“The first two races were really unlucky,” Bottas told the official F1 website. “I drove well but fortune wasn’t on my side. It is never a good feeling when you drive well but don’t get the results, but at least you know you’ve given your best.

“In Melbourne, I had the penalty for the gearbox and that ruined my race a bit. In Bahrain I had a collision with Lewis Hamilton and had damage on the car which affected the whole race. And in China again damage on the car before my last stint and cost me three tenths of a second per lap.

“So here we are! But believe me, luck will turn. I know myself: I am driving well, I know what I am capable of, so I will stay consistent and wait for my opportunity.”

Bottas was linked with a move to Ferrari for much of 2015, but talk of a move away from Williams has cooled in light of Max Verstappen’s impressive rookie season and Romain Grosjean’s move to Haas for 2016.

The Finn is not bothered about driver market speculation though, saying that it is normal for people in F1 to doubt ability in a tough patch of form.

“One day you’re hot, next day you’re not,” Bottas said.

“People do have very short memories here in terms of what happens, but I think there are also people who really do understand F1, who can look behind the scenes and understand why a driver hasn’t had the results they should.

“For me, yes it’s not been the best start to the season, but I know there will be enough chances to shine. I’m ready for that.”

Vettel hit with five-grid spot penalty for gearbox change

during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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Sebastian Vettel’s weekend in Sochi didn’t start off particularly strong anyway with both he and Scuderia Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen changing their internal combustion engines.

It got worse once Vettel stopped on course during this morning’s second free practice, which brought out a virtual safety car period.

Vettel’s reported electronics issues are now worse than they appeared.

The FIA has confirmed Vettel’s team will change the gearbox on his car, and as such, that will saddle the four-time World Champion with a five-spot grid penalty.

It was later diagnosed, per multiple reporters in Sochi, that Vettel’s damage was caused from his contact with teammate Kimi Raikkonen in Shanghai.

Best case would mean Vettel would start sixth for Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix if he captured the pole position, but if he was to qualify off the front row, it will more likely mean he’d start eighth or worse.

“Looks like we had an electric problem, but I am sure we can fix it,” Vettel said. “Still, it is a shame, because now we are lacking some laps, especially in the long runs on race trims, which would have allowed us to see how competitive we are.

“But Kimi did the homework for the team, so it is not too bad. Also, here in Russia we know roughly what to expect. I think we can still learn a lot from what other people did. In qualifying trim we still have some stuff to improve.

“I think the car was getting better though. The track was quite dirty in the morning and then during the day it came more towards us. I felt happier as the day continued, it’s true that for the race we are lacking a bit of information, but we will see tomorrow morning, when we have another practice session.”

Vettel was second in this morning’s FP2 before stopping on course out of the final turn, which caused an early end to his session.

FIA confirms 2017 to 2020 set of engine regulations

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: Daniil Kvyat of Russia driving the (26) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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The FIA has confirmed the regulations governing the 2017 to 2020 power units, following an agreement reached between the governing body, the four power unit manufacturers and the Commercial Rights Holder.

With the agreement reached by the World Motor Sport Council, these regulations will be included in the Technical and Sporting Regulations starting in 2017 and 2018.

Cost cutting is the primary objective of the new regs, although it’s one of four key areas outlined within the regulations. The others are supply, performance convergence and sound.

The cost cutting element first: in 2017, the power unit price for customer teams will be reduced by €1 million per season compared to 2016.

That’s the first step towards an even further reduction in 2018, with the annual supply cost to be reduced by a further €3 million.

The regulations seek to reduce the number of power units used per driver per season. Currently, the allowed number is four, with penalties coming into play if or when drivers exceed that number at a given point.

Supply is the next objective outline, with the regulations stating that the homologation will include an “obligation to supply” if a team were to face an absence of supply.

This hasn’t been an issue this year but could have propped up had Red Bull not got its own deal sorted. The key difference in phrasing is here is “obligation” and not “disagreement with supply.” The team has extended with its rebadged TAG Heuer (nee Renault) engines this year.

When we get to performance convergence, the token system for upgrades will be removed for 2017. Previously, each manufacturer had been allowed a certain number over the course of the year.

Finally on the sound component, the statement from the FIA reads: “Manufacturers are currently conducting a promising research programme into further improving the sound of the current power units, with the aim of implementation by 2018 at the latest.”

The 1.6L V6 turbos introduced in 2014 came under a fair bit of scrutiny for being quieter than the previous generation 2.4L V8s normally aspirated engines that ran through 2013. But there have been changes in pitch this year in particular and they’re on their way to being a more pleasing sound – all depends on the ear of course.

The 2017 regulations have been a hot topic this weekend in Sochi as the regulations were meant to be sorted in February, but delayed until the end of April. Figure there should be more to come with regards to the technical regulations in the coming days, if not hours.