Weston Peick enjoying dream season after transitioning from privateer to factory Motocross rider

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Five rounds into the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, the alliance between Weston Peick and the RCH Racing team has already been paying dividends for both sides.

Peick was signed by the team after RCH Racing was forced to rebuild their stable of riders at the end of the Supercross season – one rider, Broc Tickle, suffered a back injury, and the other, Josh Hill, parted ways with the team. A privateer in the truest sense of the term, Peick was the obvious selection based on his stellar results in limited action last season.

Privateers are the lifeblood of motocross. There are a limited number of factory rides available each year, and the rest of the field is comprised of riders who completely fund their own entry, possibly with the help of a few smaller sponsors. Privateers typically travel across the country in a van, which doubles as their pit setup on race days, buy their own equipment, and serve as their own mechanic.

Last season, Peick lived the privateer life. Only able to race five rounds due to lack of funding, when Peick did show up to a race, he would be pitting out of his van and working on his own bike. Incredibly, against all odds, he turned in numerous top-ten moto finishes.

As a privateer, the cards are stacked against you, and being able to produce like that made many people in the industry take notice, including the factory-backed RCH Racing squad co-owned by Carey Hart and motocross legend Ricky Carmichael.

“I’ve been working really hard the last few years to get to where I am today, and I think everything just fell in place,” Peick said of the deal.

In contrast to privateers, riders on factory teams backed by the leading bike manufacturers have access to world-class training facilities and equipment, their own mechanic and crew, and large trailers that they can cool off in on race day. They also rarely have to pay their own expenses, an important difference that explains why many privateers have such short careers – they just can’t afford to run their own operation.

Having factory support for all 12 rounds this year has not only boosted Peick’s performance, it has also changed his demeanor and his attitude towards racing.

“There’s so many little things that add up, and it just makes it so much easier and you start to actually have fun again when you’re on a factory team,” Peick said during an interview this week at RedBud. “You show up and everything’s ready to go instead of showing up in a van and having to still do everything. It definitely takes a lot of weight off your shoulders and just makes life so much easier.”

The payoff for Peick has been the best results of his career. He had shown flashes of being an upper-tier rider in the past, but now that he’s backed by factory equipment, he’s been able to consistently make it a reality, with three top-five finishes to his credit through the first ten motos of the season. He also has finished inside the top-ten in every moto except for one. For RCH Racing, Peick is the most successful rider the team has had in their short history.

That consistency has elevated Peick to sixth overall in 450 Class points – just ten points back of Brett Metcalfe for fifth. Before the season’s finished, Peick wants to take that position.

What does Peick think he’ll need to do in order to end the season in the top-five? “I think just keep working my way towards the front and start getting into that podium position,” he said. “I think it’ll pay off by the end of the year.”

If there’s been one knock on Peick this season, it has been his starts. He seems to always be working his way through the field from outside the top-ten. It remains to be seen what he’d be capable of with stronger starts, but he’s hopeful that he can snap the streak Saturday at RedBud.

“This weekend I think my goal is to hopefully get better starts and get up in the top-five sooner and try to run with the top four guys [Roczen, Dungey, Stewart, Canard] and just run that pace and get used to it and move up from there,” he said.

Among the riders impressed by Peick’s tenacity has been his RCH Racing teammate, Ivan Tedesco. “Weston’s been riding awesome,” Tedesco said. “He’s been consistent, he’s a bulldog. He hasn’t been getting the greatest starts, and he just powers through. Good shape, rides good, and he’s a good all-around dude. A good teammate.”

Peick continues his quest for the top-five Saturday at RedBud. Watch live coverage of the Red Bull RedBud National starting at 10:30 AM E.T. with the second practice session and pre-race show, exclusively on ProMotocross.com and NBC Sports Live Extra. All four motos stream live online starting at 1 PM E.T.

NBC will also carry live television coverage of the final 450 Class moto at 3 PM E.T. NBCSN will then pick up the action at 4 PM E.T. with the final 250 Class moto.

Lewis Hamilton completes Friday F1 practice double in Australia

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Lewis Hamilton continued his march at the top of the timesheets in practice for the Formula 1 season-opener in Australia on Friday afternoon, leading the way once again for Mercedes.

Hamilton entered the weekend unsure about his chances after an impressive display from Ferrari through pre-season testing, prompting the Briton to pick the Italian team as the favorite for victory in Melbourne.

Hamilton set the pace through first practice at Albert Park as the new-style F1 cars got their first official running, heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes with Valtteri Bottas in tow.

FP2 was expected to offer more insight into Ferrari’s true pace after it opted to limit its running through first practice, but it was Hamilton who led the way once again.

Running on the ultra-soft tire, Hamilton produced a stunning lap of 1:23.620 to finish half a second clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, the German driver unable to respond to his rival’s pace.

Bottas continued his impressive start to life with Mercedes, finishing the session third-quickest, while Kimi Raikkonen rounded out a Mercedes-Ferrari top-four lock-out in the second SF70H car.

Despite Ferrari’s inability to challenge Mercedes, it was Red Bull that came away from FP2 as the biggest disappointment after Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen had scruffy sessions en route to P5 and P6 respectively. Verstappen had been on a quick lap and due to improve his time, only to run wide at Turn 12 and narrowly avoid losing control.

Carlos Sainz Jr. finished a solid seventh for Toro Rosso ahead of Haas driver Romain Grosjean, who was fortunate to keep his car out of the wall as the American team’s brake issues arose once again. Nico Hulkenberg was ninth for Renault, with Daniil Kvyat rounding out the top 10.

FP2 was red flagged early on following a big shunt for Jolyon Palmer at the final corner. The Briton lost the rear-end of his car coming through the right-hander, causing him to slide into the wall and suffer a large amount of damage to his car. Felipe Massa was another driver to hit trouble, with his Williams FW40 grinding to a halt midway through the session, forcing the Brazilian to end his day early, while Marcus Ericsson spun off with five minutes to go, beaching his Sauber.

Lewis Hamilton sets rapid pace to open F1 2017 in Australia FP1

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Lewis Hamilton kicked off Formula 1’s new technical era in style by heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes in opening practice for the Australian Grand Prix on Friday morning in Melbourne.

Despite predictions from many that Ferrari and Red Bull would pose a greater challenge at the top of the timesheets in Australia, FP1 offered a familiar result as Hamilton led home new teammate Valtteri Bottas.

The added downforce of the new-style 2017 cars had the desired effect of slashing lap times, with Hamilton’s best effort of 1:24.220 being less than four-tenths of a second off his pole position time for last year’s race.

Bottas made a good impression in his first F1 weekend session in Mercedes colors, leading the bulk of the session before Hamilton jumped ahead on the ultrasoft tires with around 30 minutes remaining.

Daniel Ricciardo led Red Bull’s charge, finishing third ahead of teammate Max Verstappen, but Ferrari decided against showing its hand early and limited its running, only pushing for fast laps in the final 15 minutes of the session.

Kimi Raikkonen ended FP1 fifth in the SF70H, 1.1 seconds off Hamilton’s best time, while Vettel was a further tenth back in P6.

The session went by without any major incident, although a handful of drivers did have minor technical issues that are part and parcel of the first session of the year.

McLaren’s difficulties continued from pre-season as Stoffel Vandoorne was limited to just 10 laps, while Jolyon Palmer and Esteban Ocon also had their running cut due to problems. All three featured in the bottom five of the standings.

Times are below:

Sean Gelael set for Toro Rosso F1 tests in 2017

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Formula 2 driver Sean Gelael will play a part in this year’s in-season Formula 1 test running after agreeing a deal with Toro Rosso.

Gelael, 20, raced full-time in GP2 last year before the championship evolved into F2, scoring one podium finish in Austria.

The Indonesian driver also appeared in the final three rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship, scoring an LMP2 podium for Extreme Speed Motorsports in Shanghai.

Gelael will race in F2 this year with Arden, but will also get his first taste of F1 machinery in the upcoming tests for Toro Rosso.

All F1 teams will get four days of in-season running this year (two in Bahrain, two in Hungary following their respective races) as well as the traditional end-of-year test in Abu Dhabi.

Gelael will feature in all three for Toro Rosso, having undergone a seat fitting at Faenza earlier this week.

All F1 teams are required to allocate at least half of their in-season running to junior drivers who have made fewer than two grand prix starts.

Gelael will make his first appearance for Toro Rosso following the Bahrain Grand Prix, with running set to take place at the Bahrain International Circuit on April 18 and 19.

More speed, but will Formula 1 be more of the same?

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Faster cars and fiercer competition are the great expectations of the new regulations in Formula One, yet the championship outlook hasn’t altered much ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton remains the hot favorite to win another title for Mercedes.

Hamilton won 10 GP events last season and was close to claiming his fourth drivers’ title but was narrowly beaten by his teammate Nico Rosberg, who secured Mercedes a third consecutive championship and then retired.

While Hamilton talked about wanting more drivers competing for the title, and even tipped Ferrari to be quickest this weekend, he’s already lining up a victory he thinks would be unprecedented.

“I don’t believe (any) team has won back-to-back through rule regulation changes,” Hamilton said Thursday during the first official news conference ahead of Sunday’s race. “So that’s our goal as a team. We’re here to win. We’re here to do what no-one else has done.

“I have every belief in my team that we can do that.”

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel won four consecutive season titles from 2010-13 while he was racing for Red Bull, so he knows what it’s like to be in Hamilton’s position. He has no doubt who is favorite this season, regardless of the rule changes that dictated wider tires, greater aerodynamics, bigger fuel loads and increased downforce and which are expected to make the heavier cars faster.

“Obviously Mercedes has been in a very, very strong form the last three years and even with changes to the rules and regulations, if the team is strong then they will build a strong car the year after, no matter what they do,” Vettel said. “It is very clear who is the favorite.

“For all of us sitting here we are obviously trying our best to catch up. As the season goes on obviously, I’m sure the cars will have big progression.”

Ferrari had good results in the eight days of pre-season testing, and Hamilton predicted Vettel and former champion Kimi Raikkonen would have the fastest cars in the first practice sessions Friday and Saturday.

“I see Ferrari being the quickest at the moment – and I think they’ll definitely be the favorites,” said Hamilton, who was joined at Mercedes this season by former Williams driver Valterri Bottas. “It’s interesting to see, Sebastian is usually a lot more hype. I can tell he’s trying to keep a lid on it. But their pace was obviously great in testing.”

Hamilton said he couldn’t judge the pace of the Red Bulls in testing, saying they were “quite far behind” and he didn’t see many upgrades to the cars.

“I’m assuming they’re bringing something new,” he said, “which I’m excited to see.”

Daniel Ricciardo finished as the highest-ranked of the non-Mercedes drivers last season, winning the Malaysian GP and placing third in the season standings. He concedes Hamilton will start favorite, but is hoping for a shakeup at the top.

“I think for everyone it’s like when Red Bull were dominating a few years ago – everyone wanted to see someone else win,” Ricciardo said. “It’s natural that people like change.

“For us drivers, not being in Mercedes, we want to see change as well. Even for the fact to have more cars fighting for the win makes it more exciting.”

Hamilton wanted more frequent changes to the regulations, to keep the cars getting faster and the competition “spicier.”

That’s something on which all the leading drivers could agree.

If Hamilton “wins a race against four of us as opposed to maybe just his teammate I think that reward is bigger as well,” said Ricciardo, who is aiming to be the first Australian to win the Australian GP since it became part of the world championship in 1985.

“If you can win against more … that feeling of self-accomplishment is greater. Ferrari showed good pace in testing. If they can take a few points away as well it kind of opens up the championship over the long time.”