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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?

Jacques Villeneuve: F1 is ‘supposed to be too expensive, too crazy’

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1997 Formula 1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve feels that he cannot relate to the series in its current form, saying that it is supposed to be “too expensive” and “too crazy”.

Villeneuve raced in F1 between 1996 and 2006, and remains a keen observer as part of his role as a pundit on Italian television.

F1 has striven to enforce greater cost control and road relevance in recent years, but Villeneuve believes that this is the wrong direction, saying officials should instead focus on making the series spectacular.

“That’s when I start to feel old because I don’t relate to the technology of modern Formula 1,” Villeneuve said.

“Because to my mind, Formula 1 has always been about extremes. Pushing the boundaries and human boundaries.

“It’s supposed to be too fast, it’s supposed to be too expensive, it’s supposed to be crazy. And that’s not what we have.

“You see drivers get out of the car and they didn’t even break a sweat because they have too massage their car the whole race and drive within eight seconds of what they’ve done in qualifying. It’s wrong.”

Villeneuve also believes that those in charge of F1 should not listen to fans’ opinions, citing the introduction of DRS in 2011 as being a negative result of doing so.

“The fans kept complaining that ‘oh, there’s not enough overtaking’, ‘oh, there’s not enough of this or that’,” Villeneuve said.

“By listening to that, what did F1 do? Let’s put DRS. Because that way we’ll have hundreds of overtakes in a race. But name me one overtake that you remember since DRS – you don’t. Because you don’t see the driver working it.

“Look at a motorbike race, sometimes they take a rider 10 laps to overtake another rider, but in these 10 laps you see the work that goes with it, and what that overtake happens, wow.

“But now you don’t. Next straight line, press a button, that’s it. All of these rule changes to try and create a better show actually create a worse show.

“Then the technology, take the engine, amazing beautiful technology – for the engineers. It shouldn’t be in F1. It doesn’t bring anything. It takes away from F1.

“It has nothing to do there. It’s crazy engineering. I wouldn’t want it on my road car.”

WRC’s Paddon calls for lessons to be learned from Monte Carlo spectator death

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FIA World Rally Championship racer Hayden Paddon has called for lessons to be learned following the death of a spectator on the opening stage of the Monte Carlo Rally on Thursday night.

A spectator was killed after being struck by Paddon’s car when the New Zealander hit black ice and careered into a roadside bank.

Hyundai driver Paddon was withdrawn from the remainder of the rally out of respect, and has now issued a statement regarding the incident.

Here is the statement in full:

Hi everyone,

Upon reflection, I wanted to issue a small statement about yesterday’s events.

Firstly, our thoughts are with the family and friends of the spectator involved. No matter the circumstances, this is never something we want to see.

Secondly, John [Kennard, co-driver] and I are humbled by all the messages of support at this time. Obviously, my thoughts are with the family and that is my only concern at the moment. Not being able to return home to New Zealand does make it a little tougher but it is important we stay strong.

I do want to take this chance to ask people not to speculate. Irrespective of how and why the accident happened, finger pointing will not change anything. The most important thing is that we learn from this and I am committed to work with the FIA and rally organizers relentlessly to ensure this does not happen again.

I will take this chance to ask spectators at rallies to please be considerate of where you stand and to respect the instructions of the marshals. We all want to enjoy a good show and go home to the family afterwards.

I also ask each and every rally fan at the events, if you see someone in a dangerous position to request they move for everyone’s best interest. As a community, we can collectively work together to prevent this from happening again.

Lastly, I please ask the respect from the media in these times, especially for the family and friends of the spectator. I will not issue any further statements or conduct interviews at this stage. We made the decision not to continue this weekend out of respect, but will be back in Sweden where we will pay tribute.

Thank you again for everyone’s support and for the support of the team – it really does mean a lot.”

The Monte Carlo Rally finishes on Saturday.

Marcus Ericsson excited about Pascal Wehrlein’s arrival at Sauber for 2017

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JULY 02: Pascal Wehrlein of Germany driving the (94) Manor Racing MRT-Mercedes MRT05 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track ahead of Marcus Ericsson of Sweden driving the (9) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C35 Ferrari 059/5 turbo during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on July 2, 2016 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Marcus Ericsson is relishing the opportunity to work with Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber through the 2017 Formula 1 season, saying he rates the German driver highly.

Wehrlein made his F1 debut in 2016 with Manor, scoring just the second top-10 finish in the team’s history at the Austrian Grand Prix.

The Mercedes junior was announced as a Sauber driver for 2017 on Monday, replacing Felipe Nasr after the Brazilian lost his financial backing.

Speaking to the official F1 website, Ericsson spoke warmly of Wehrlein’s arrival, believing that they will forge a strong partnership that will help Sauber to develop.

“I think it’s great news for me and Sauber. Pascal is a very fast and respected driver with a great CV,” Ericsson said.

“I think we can really push each other and the team forward, so I am looking forward to a great season.

“I honestly rate [Wehrlein] highly. He’s won the DTM championship and been part of the Mercedes family for a long time, so they seem to believe a lot in him.

“Of course my aim is to beat him – what else? – and I expect it to be a tough fight. But that’s exactly what I need in order to perform at my best.”

Sauber was at risk of collapsing at midway through the 2016 season, having struggled financially for some time before being taken over by Longbow Finance during the summer.

The team subsequently went on a recruitment drive, bringing in a number of management and engineering staff, with Ericsson noticing a difference.

“It definitely takes time, but I think it’s clear that if you look at the second half of last season we really made some big progress,” Ericsson said.

“And the aim is, of course, to continue that way in 2017. We’ve had some great people decide to join the team in the last couple of months and that also makes a difference.

“So all in all it feels like we’re moving in the right way. And with two young and hungry drivers in the cockpits we should be on a good run.”

VIDEO: Valtteri Bottas’ first day as a Mercedes F1 driver

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Following Valtteri Bottas’ official unveiling as a Mercedes driver on Monday, the team wasted little time in showing the Finn the ropes at its base in Brackley, England.

Bottas was released from his contract by Williams so he could join Mercedes for 2017, replacing world champion Nico Rosberg following the German’s shock decision to retire from F1.

Bottas was announced as Mercedes’ new driver on Monday, completing the puzzle for the 2017 driver market and putting an end to six weeks of speculation.

In the above video released by Mercedes, Bottas gets to grips with life at Brackley after signing his new contract with team chief Toto Wolff and meeting his new team members for the first time.

In related news, Mercedes announced on Friday that it had struck an agreement with the Wihuri Group, a Finnish conglomerate that has previously sponsored Bottas.

Wihuri’s branding will appear on the Mercedes drivers’ racesuits and helmets, as well as on the team’s trackside uniform.

“We are delighted to welcome Wihuri to the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport family today,” Wolff said.

“As a respected brand both in Finland and globally, Wihuri will be a valuable addition to our team and we look forward to working with them and helping to expand their Formula One experience.

“This year will be a new challenge for our team, with a new driver line-up, including our new Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas of course, and new regulations.

“I am sure it going to be a very exciting year to be involved with our team and the sport of Formula 1.”