Photo via @AlbuquerqueFil

Le Mans: The off-the-wall pictures thus far

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Le Mans offers a bevy of photo opportunities, but with some of the new photo crazes that have popped up in the last year or so, drivers and teams have gotten creative at this year’s race.

The Audi driver selfie…

The AF Corse driver selfie…

The Aston Martin driver selfie…

And the Nissan driver selfie features a photo bomb from NISMO’s Darren Cox…

Rebellion Racing with their helmets on, doing their best Daft Punk “Get Lucky” imitation:

Here’s then the No. 12 Rebellion crew of Nick Heidfeld, Mathias Beche and Nico Prost with their helmets off:

I’m not exactly sure what this is from Toyota Racing:

The Dempsey Racing crew actually waits for a photo opp…

Porsche’s LMP and GTE teams have fun during the autograph session:

The youngest driver in history, 16-year-old Matt McMurry, juxtaposed next to the previous youngest, Ricardo Rodriguez in 1959:

By far the coolest team shot, GM’s Richard Prince uses the Le Mans circuit to spell out in human and car form, C7.R, for Corvette Racing. Corvette Racing celebrates its 15th anniversary at Le Mans this year.

Hockenheim ‘a bit of an unknown quantity’ for Pirelli

GP UNGHERIA F1/2016 - BUDAPEST (UNGHERIA) 21/07/2016
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER PIRELLI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)
© Pirelli
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Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery believes that this weekend’s German Grand Prix is “a bit of an unknown quantity” for Formula 1’s tire supplier after a two-year absence from Hockenheim.

Last year’s German Grand Prix was due to take place at the Nürburgring before the deal fell through, causing the race to drop off the calendar.

F1 returns to Germany this weekend at Hockenheim where Pirelli has just two races worth of data (2012 and 2014), significantly less than most other events this season.

“Hockenheim will be a bit of an unknown quantity,” Hembery said.

“We’ve not raced there for two years, and even before then it was a race that alternated with the Nürburgring, so everybody is lacking historical data compared to other venues we visit.

“The cars are obviously going a lot quicker than they were in 2014, which is why we have introduced a tyre nomination that is a step harder compared to last time.

“The most notable feature of that 2014 race was the variable weather: on race day track temperatures were 20 degrees cooler than they had been on the very hot qualifying day.

“With the German Grand Prix taking place at the same time of year again, there is obviously the potential for similar variation.”

Pirelli has nominated the medium, soft and super-soft tires for the weekend.

Formula V8 3.5 to support FIA WEC from 2017

Audi R18 (2016) #7 (Audi Sport Team Joest), Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer
Audi R18 (2016) #8 (Audi Sport Team Joest), Lucas di Grassi, Loïc Duval, Oliver Jarvis
© Audi Sport
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Formula V8 3.5 will become a support series for the FIA World Endurance Championship in 2017, featuring on the undercard of at least six of the sportscar series’ nine events next year.

Formula V8 3.5 took over from the hugely successful Formula Renault 3.5 at the end of last year, acting as a high-level single-seater junior championship for those looking to reach Formula 1.

The series has struggled with grid numbers so far this year, with just 13 cars entering the last race at Silverstone.

However, Formula V8 3.5 has now been handed a boost following the WEC’s announcement on Thursday that the two series would join forces for 2017.

“Jaime Alguersuari, President of RPM Racing and Gérard Neveu, CEO of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) have reached an extremely encouraging agreement that will link the Formula V8 3.5 series to the majority of the 2017 WEC events,” a statement reads.

“The agreement includes a minimum of three overseas rounds in Mexico, Japan and Bahrain, the last being the final event of the endurance championship, in addition to three of the four European events on the WEC calendar: Silverstone, Spa and Nürburgring.

“Both organizations have as their main aim the desire to provide young single-seater drivers with the opportunity to enter a professional motorsport environment offering a clear and well-defined professional career path including LMP1, LMP2 and GTE in addition to any other series in the pinnacle of motorsport.

“This benefits not only the drivers but also their families or backers. The WEC and RPM wish to offer the young drivers an outstanding international calendar with affordable costs.

“Included in this historic new motorsport project is an amazing prize: the chance to be part of the WEC’s Rookie Test in Bahrain in the main categories of LMP1 or LMP2 or GTE for the drivers placed first, second and third in the Formula V8 3.5 championship.”

“It is very good news that the V8 3.5 series will join the FIA WEC race meetings from 2017,” Neveu said.

“Great news for the fans, but also for the young drivers who are the champions of the future, and the future is tomorrow.

“This single-seater championship has demonstrated for many years how very appealing and exciting it can be, while at the same time providing many great champions.

“It makes sense to offer to the new generation of drivers access to a well-established championship such as the FIA WEC. The fact that the champions will have an opportunity to take part in the WEC’s official rookie test at the end of the season will be additional motivation and a target for everyone on the grid.

“We know also that RPM, promoter of this single-seater championship, shares the same values as the ACO, the promoter of the FIA WEC. It was logical to join together.

“This combination of V8 3.5 and Sports Prototype and GT cars, in the same place at the same time, will provide for the pleasure of the fans a fantastic motorsport show with great racing over the same weekend, a real festival of motorsport.

“The FIA WEC Paddock is really delighted to welcome V8 3.5, and we look forward to moving ahead together with this project where the main target is to have happy drivers, competitors, manufacturers, partners, media and fans.”

Graham Rahal looks to repeat winning performance at Mid-Ohio

Phoenix International Raceway - Day 1
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Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco. But for Verizon IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal, his heart will always be in Mid-Ohio.

That’s both the middle of the Buckeye State, where he grew up in the shadow of the capital city of Columbus, as well as – more importantly – Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, 50 miles north in Lexington, Ohio.

Mid-Ohio was where Rahal watched his father, Bobby, race (best career showing there were a pair of third-place finishes), qualify, practice and test.

Mid-Ohio was where the younger Rahal learned a great deal of not only how to drive a race car, but more importantly, how to be a race car drive both inside and outside the cockpit.

If Rahal had a dollar for every time he dreamed about or fantasized about winning an IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio, he could probably own the track now.

Next to winning the Indianapolis 500, winning an IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio was right at the top of the younger Rahal’s bucket list – which he finally achieved in emotional fashion last year.

(Photo courtesy Chris Jones/IndyCar)
Graham Rahal celebrates in the winner’s circle at Mid-Ohio last year. (Photo courtesy Chris Jones/IndyCar)

Now, Rahal returns to Mid-Ohio to try and make it to the winner’s circle two years in a row in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (2 p.m. ET on CNBC/re-aired at 5:30 p.m. ET the same day on NBCSN).

“Mid-Ohio is home to me,” the younger Rahal said in a media release. “I grew up at the track and spent so many days there as a kid.

“Watching races there, being a part of it, seeing and loving what it’s all about is a big part of who I am. The way it all came together last year, every aspect of it made it perfect for me. Having the Buckeye helmet and gear, having my entire family there – which never happens, ever, since everyone is spread out – and having the crowd support, to have that sort of experience makes it impossible to tell anyone how much it means to me.

“The sense of accomplishment for me is so great. Everyone knows this but I love Ohio. I’m very proud to be from Ohio and that event means so much to me. To win it is a career accomplishment that I will never forgot or take for granted. It means just as much to me now as it did then. To me it’s one of the highlights of my lifetime, and definitely the most meaningful win of my career. I sure hope it happens again.”

Prior to last year’s win, Rahal’s best IndyCar finish at his home track was fifth in 2014.

(He previously won one other time at Mid-Ohio: at 16 years old became the youngest driver to ever win the SCCA National Formula Atlantic Championship Runoffs in 2005.)

Rahal’s only other IndyCar top-10 at his home track was eighth in 2009, when he drove for Newman-Haas-Lanigan Racing (he’s now in his fourth season with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing).

And even though he’d leave the 2.258-mile, 13-turn natural terrain road course time after time without the checkered flag, Rahal was determined to one day do it – and he did just that on August 2, 2015.

Rahal drove his Steak ‘n Shake/Maxim sponsored Honda to the winner’s circle, leading one-fourth (23 laps) of the 90-lap event, taking the lead for the first and only time of the day on Lap 68 and holding on the rest of the way.

“We had to rally last year,” Rahal recalled. “We started 13th which wasn’t great. We should have qualified better than that as our pace was certainly better than that.

“We ended up getting up to the top three on pure pace then I was held up in traffic. I said over the radio that I wanted to pit. I like to think about strategy a lot as a driver, which is the way my dad was. I knew that with the strategy we were running, we were in the window to pit, I knew I was getting held up so I made the call and told them I was coming in.

“It happened to go yellow right as we came in, which was absolutely perfect. It worked out great for us. … There was so much pride involved in that day. It’s hard for me to explain the feelings that I had to people. It was a great moment in my life and I just hope it carries over and we see a lot of support this year.”

Sunday will be Rahal’s ninth IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio, but there will be a definite change in the aura from last year. He came into and left the track ranked No. 2 in the series standings, earning his second win of the season.

That’s not the case this year.

Rahal and his team have had strong showings for the most part, but have struggled in their quest for the winner’s circle (none), and even podium finishes (just two in the first 11 races).

Firestone 600 - Practice

Even worse, they’re mid-pack in the series standings (11th), 140 points behind points leader Simon Pagenaud. On the flip side, Rahal is only eight points out of seventh place (occupied by Alexander Rossi), and just 52 points behind fifth-ranked Josef Newgarden (344).

Overall, Rahal has five top-five finishes and a per-race finishing average of a respectable 9.4. That includes finishes on permanent road courses of second and third at Barber and Road America, as well as street course runs of fourth at Indianapolis (Grand Prix) and Belle Isle Race 1.

But he also has six finishes between 11th and 16th (twice), including disappointing showings in the season’s last two races – at Iowa (16th) and Toronto (13th). He also struggled in street courses at St. Petersburg (16th), Long Beach (15th) and Belle Isle Race 2 (11th).

That’s why a little home cooking back in Mid-Ohio may be just what Rahal needs to get back on track and make a late season surge upward in the rankings.

“We have certainly had an up and down season, and are in need of a good result this weekend in a big way,” Rahal said. “It’s exciting to go back as the defending champion, but we want to do that again year in and year out. We just have to focus on the task at hand, and hopefully we can pull it off.”

Rahal may have an ace up his sleeve. Of 20 drivers that took part in an open test at Mid-Ohio on July 21, Rahal was the fastest Honda-powered driver.

“The test was good,” Rahal said. “We were focused on getting to the mileage limit on our Honda engine, which we successfully did.

“Now we turn our attention to finding little bits of speed we will need to be quick come this weekend. I hope we can get the balance a bit better, but it didn’t feel far off on the test day.

“I expect that we should be very competitive and our performance from the other road courses should carry over to Mid-Ohio. The tricky part is that everyone is competitive nowadays. There are no longer any bad teams or non-contenders. So I fully expect it to be a patented tight IndyCar race weekend and I hope the Steak ‘n Shake team can come out on top again!”

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NASCAR’s 2017 start times are out; worth keeping in mind for IndyCar times

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JULY 02: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Detroit Genuine Parts Ford, and Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, lead the field during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 2, 2016 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
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So one of the fun things you can begin deducing about 2017 calendars is tea leaves you get from other series.

Today, NASCAR has released the start times of 2017 races for Sprint Cup (title sponsor to change), Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series races.

And it’s with that knowledge that we post the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Xfinity weekend dates, channels and start times after NBC takes over the coverage, below through what would be the projected end of the Verizon IndyCar Series season:

Sprint Cup

7/1

Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway

NBC

7:30 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

7/8

Kentucky Speedway

NBCSN

7:30 p.m.

PRN / SiriusXM

7/16

New Hampshire Motor Speedway

NBCSN

3 p.m.

PRN / SiriusXM

7/23

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

NBC

3 p.m.

IMS / SiriusXM

7/30

Pocono Raceway

NBCSN

3 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

8/6

Watkins Glen International

NBCSN

3 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

8/13

Michigan International Speedway

NBCSN

3 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

8/19

Bristol Motor Speedway

NBC

7:30 p.m.

PRN / SiriusXM

9/3

Darlington Raceway

NBCSN

6 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

9/9

Richmond International Raceway

NBCSN

7:30 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

9/17

Chicagoland Speedway

NBCSN

3 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

9/24

New Hampshire Motor Speedway

NBCSN

2 p.m.

PRN / SiriusXM

Xfinity

6/30

Daytona International Speedway

NBCSN

7:30 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

7/7

Kentucky Speedway

NBCSN

8 p.m.

PRN / SiriusXM

7/15

New Hampshire Motor Speedway

NBCSN

4 p.m.

PRN / SiriusXM

7/22

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

NBCSN

3:30 p.m.

IMS / SiriusXM

7/29

Iowa Speedway

NBC

3:30 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

8/5

Watkins Glen International

NBCSN

2 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

8/12

Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course

NBCSN

3:30 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

8/18

Bristol Motor Speedway

NBCSN

7:30 p.m.

PRN / SiriusXM

8/27

Road America

NBC

3 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

9/2

Darlington Raceway

NBCSN

3:30 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

9/8

Richmond International Raceway

NBCSN

7:30 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

9/16

Chicagoland Speedway

NBCSN

3:30 p.m.

MRN / SiriusXM

9/23

Kentucky Speedway

NBCSN

8 p.m.

PRN / SiriusXM

The only IndyCar race dates publicly announced yet for July 2017 are Iowa (July 9) and Toronto (July 16).

If each weekend stayed identical to this year for the July through September IndyCar races, you’d have these 2017 dates:

  • Iowa, July 9
  • Toronto, July 16
  • Mid-Ohio, July 30
  • Pocono, August 20
  • Watkins Glen, September 3
  • Sonoma, September 17

That doesn’t factor in the possibility of any additional race – say maybe one at Gateway Motorsports Park, which could be a possibility to fall in the August gap between Mid-Ohio or Pocono.

But of those remaining rounds, note that Iowa would again fall on the Sunday after a Cup race and have no live racing TV competition.

With both of the New Hampshire and Pocono start times at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN on Sunday, July 16 and July 30, respectively, it’s possible IndyCar’s start times at Toronto and Mid-Ohio could be moved forward to finish ahead of the NASCAR start time.

Alternatively, a later start time would likely produce a head-to-head TV conflict, prompt a channel change and likely require an NBCSN replay after the NASCAR race – as has been done on a couple occasions the last two years.

The conundrum is that over the last couple years, later start times closer to primetime have helped IndyCar’s numbers on NBCSN, rather than earlier start times.

With Bristol a Saturday night race on August 19, that opens up a Sunday timeslot, again without the potential of a head-to-head TV conflict.

Darlington as a night race would follow any potential IndyCar race if Watkins Glen continues in the same time frame and date.

And Chicagoland, the Chase opener for 2017, could fall ahead of a late afternoon IndyCar finale at Sonoma.

Again, there’s a lot of theoreticals here, but the late-ish start times for NASCAR races to 3 p.m. ET on Sunday for potential IndyCar weekends could produce the potential to avoid head-to-head conflicts where you have both Cup and IndyCar running at the same time.

We’ll know more, most likely, once IndyCar releases its 2017 schedule – which is projected for August.