Photo credit: ProMotocross.com/Matt Rice

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.

Gasly takes third win of GP2 season in Spa feature race

Pierre Gasly (FRA, PREMA Racing) lifts the trophy
2016 GP2 Series Round 6
Spa-Francorchamps, Spa, Belgium
Saturday 27 August 2016

Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service
ref: Digital Image _SBB5293
© GP2 Series
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Pierre Gasly continued to strengthen his case for a Formula 1 seat in 2016 by claiming his third victory of the GP2 Series season on Saturday at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

Red Bull junior driver Gasly started second on the grid behind Prema Racing teammate Antonio Giovinazzi, and remained P2 behind Gustav Malja in the early stages.

Gasly managed to battle past the Rapax driver on lap five at the end of the Kemmel Straight before making his sole pit stop three laps later.

The Frenchman slipped behind Racing Engineering’s Jordan King after the Briton got the undercut by pitting earlier, with Norman Nato also moving into contention for the lead by passing Malja.

Gasly was able to wrestle the advantage back from King on lap nine, cycling back into the lead once those running an alternative strategy had come in to make their first pit stop.

Gasly continued to soak up the pressure from the Racing Engineering drivers after struggling to open up a lead through the traffic before Nato’s race came to an end following a loss of power.

Nato left his stricken car on the main straight, forcing officials to call a Virtual Safety Car period that neutralized the race. Gasly managed to retain and even extend his lead, with King complaining over the radio that the Prema driver had pulled away.

Gasly kept his cool at the front to ease to his third win of the season and extend his championship lead, with King and Alex Lynn bringing a British flavor to the podium in second and third place respectively.

Raffaele Marciello and Artem Markelov finished fourth and fifth respectively for Russian Time, while pole-sitter Giovinazzi was left to settle for P6 at the checkered flag ahead of Luca Ghiotto and Malja, the latter securing reverse grid pole for Sunday.

The battle for P9 and P10 ended in contact at the final corner. Upon his return to the series, Sergio Canamasas tried to force Oliver Rowland wide at the chicane to keep hold of the position, only for the two to make contact. This allowed title contender Sergey Sirotkin to sweep through and take P9, with Rowland hobbling over the line in 10th.

The victory for Gasly sees his championship lead grow to 23 points over Sirotkin, with the pair set to start next to each other on Sunday for the sprint race.

Verstappen stars in Belgian GP qualifying to become F1’s youngest front-row starter

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 27:  Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing gives a thumbs up from parc ferme during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 27, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Max Verstappen became the youngest driver in Formula 1 history to qualify on the front row of the grid on Saturday ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix, breaking a record dating back to 1961.

The race at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps acts as Verstappen’s home race, given he hails from the neighbouring Netherlands and lives in Belgium.

An army of Dutch fans have made the trip across the border for the race weekend, prompting a rise in ticket sales that could result in Spa’s highest attendance since 2002.

Their support was rewarded on Saturday as Verstappen starred in qualifying, finishing just 0.149 seconds behind pole-sitter Nico Rosberg to secure second place on the grid.

At 18, Verstappen becomes the youngest driver to qualify on the front row of the grid, beating Ricardo Rodriguez’s record set at the 1961 Italian Grand Prix when he was 19 and 208 days old.

“You can always have done a better job, but Nico could have too,” Verstappen said after qualifying when asked if pole was within reach.

“To be so close on a track with some long straights, we can be very pleased with that. It’s been very smooth. Just very pleased to be second in front of my fans.”

Verstappen will start Sunday’s race on the super-soft tire, giving him a pace advantage over Rosberg to begin with after the German elected to use softs in Q2.

The Belgian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

Hamilton prefers grid start for Belgian GP after penalties

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 27: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 27, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton would prefer to start Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix from the grid instead of the pit lane despite being resigned to last position after a series of engine penalties.

Hamilton has racked up a 55-place grid drop after taking three new power units across the course of the weekend, breaching the limit on the number of components that can be used in a season.

Hamilton only briefly featured in qualifying on Saturday, setting a time quick enough to secure a place on the grid before returning to the pits. He finished 21st in Q1.

Hamilton opted to start from the back of the grid in China before getting caught up in an incident at the first corner, leading to suggestions that Mercedes could opt to put him in the pit lane for the start of the race at Spa.

However, Hamilton wants to start on the grid on Sunday so that he can make up positions on the run down to the first corner.

“It’s not really a difficult decision. I prefer the grid, I love the grid,” Hamilton told NBCSN.

“Most likely I will do. Not really a big difference between both, but I’d rather be immediately in the hustle rather than waiting for everyone to get down to Eau Rouge before I start.”

Tire management will be decisive in Sunday’s race, with a number of teams being forced to raise the pressure levels to prevent failures such as the one suffered by Sebastian Vettel in last year’s Belgian Grand Prix.

“Everyone is struggling on tires. Really difficult on tires, to be honest,” Hamilton said.

“They’re overheating. We were at 18 psi, now we’re at 23 because they’re worried they will all blow. All the tires are blistering, bubbling.

“I don’t know how high I’m gonna be able to go tomorrow.”

The Belgian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

Rosberg takes Belgian GP pole, Verstappen scores first front-row start

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 27:  Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo  on track during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 27, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
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Nico Rosberg will start the Belgian Grand Prix from pole position after dominating qualifying at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday afternoon.

With Mercedes teammate and Formula 1 drivers’ championship leader Lewis Hamilton dropping out in Q1 as a tactical move due to his grid penalty, Rosberg was left largely unchallenged in the battle for pole.

Red Bull and Ferrari showed glimmers of pace in practice, but when it came to qualifying, Rosberg was able to turn up the wick and continue Mercedes’ pole streak dating back to the Monaco Grand Prix.

Despite failing to improve with his final flying lap in Q3, a fastest time of 1:46.744 saw Rosberg take pole by 0.149 seconds ahead of Verstappen in P2.

Verstappen was the only driver to really push Rosberg, and although he was also unable to improve on his final effort, second place marked his best F1 qualifying result to date. He also becomes the youngest ever driver to start on the front row of the grid in F1.

Four-time Belgian Grand Prix winner Kimi Raikkonen qualified third for Ferrari, edging out Sebastian Vettel in P4. Daniel Ricciardo was fifth in the second Red Bull, finishing over three-tenths off Verstappen’s pace.

Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg qualified sixth and seventh for Force India ahead of Valtteri Bottas in P8, while Jenson Button and Felipe Massa rounded out the top 10, finishing over a second off Rosberg’s pole time.

Haas enjoyed a somewhat routine qualifying as Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez both reached Q2 for the eighth race in a row. Grosjean qualified 11th with Gutierrez two places behind in 13th. Gutierrez will drop five places on the grid for blocking a driver in practice.

Kevin Magnussen led Renault’s charge in P12, while teammate Jolyon Palmer enjoyed his best qualifying of the year to finish 14th ahead of Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr.

Manor also produced a strong display in qualifying as Pascal Wehrlein reached Q2, finishing ninth in the opening session. The German ultimately finished 16th, with teammate Esteban Ocon finishing P18 in his first F1 qualifying outing.

The impact of Sauber’s car updates for Belgium were evident in Q1 as Felipe Nasr finished within one-tenth of a place in Q2. The Brazilian was left to settle for P17 on the grid, with teammate Marcus Ericsson in 20th. Daniil Kvyat’s ongoing struggles continued as he qualified 19th for Toro Rosso, finishing behind Ocon by 0.008 seconds.

With a 55-place grid penalty looming for a series of power unit changes, Mercedes opted to limit Lewis Hamilton’s qualifying program as much as possible. The Briton posted a time quick enough to qualify for the race, good enough for 21st place.

“This is the best strategic approach in order to maximize his opportunities from the back of the field tomorrow, in terms of new tire sets,” Mercedes confirmed.

Hamilton finished ahead only of Fernando Alonso, who was unable to post a time after coming to a stop at the top of Eau Rouge. The McLaren driver also has a sizeable grid penalty to take into Sunday’s race.

The Belgian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN from 7am ET on Sunday.