Photo credit: ProMotocross.com/Matt Rice

Fredrik Noren excited to join Honda Muscle Milk Motocross team at RedBud

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When Fredrik Noren’s van arrives at the track one final time this weekend at RedBud, he will officially be stepping into a whole new life – a life which may have seemed like a pipe dream until a few weeks ago.

Seeing a top rider sidelined for the season is always unfortunate, but sometimes it opens up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a hard-working, deserving rider. Such is the case for Noren, the privateer from Sweden who was signed by the Honda Muscle Milk team this week to fill in for Justin Barcia for the rest of the season.

If you’ve been following the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship closely this season, Noren’s promotion shouldn’t come as much of a shock. He has easily been the top privateer in the 450 Class, continually knocking on the door of the top-ten despite the lack of funding or factory support. Noren’s results have long been notable, but this year he is stronger than ever.

Noren opted to leave Sweden to come to the United States in 2011 and attempt to make a career for himself here but had to do so as a privateer, funding his own travel and expenses for nearly four full years.

“It’s been good,” Noren said of his privateer days. This year he has been traveling cross-country in a van to all the races. “I get to see a lot of the country. Not just the tracks.”

At the track, Noren, like most privateers, has been responsible for everything but has had one other important member on his team. He’s been receiving assistance in the pits over the years from his girlfriend, Amy.

“She knows how I work,” Noren said of Amy. “It’s nice, I feel really comfortable with her.”

Among Amy’s responsibilities at the track were packing Noren’s line at the starting gate, getting his goggles and washing the bike. On the mechanical side, Noren says he’s been fortunate not to have really had any major issues with the bike.

This past year, Noren took the time to ride his bike in the winter for the first time – a factor that he attributes his improved results to. He also claims he had more power in his bike this season after making a switch to KTM.

Despite some struggles in the Supercross season, Noren came out strong once the outdoor season began. Ever since a 29th-place finish in the opening moto of the season, he has scored points in all nine motos since then, highlighted by 12-13 moto results at Hangtown and 14-13 moto scores at High Point.

By the time High Point had wrapped up, Noren had caught the eye of the Honda Muscle Milk team, which was down a rider after Justin Barcia was ruled out for the remainder of the season with foot and ankle injuries.

“We started talking a little bit after High Point,” Noren recalled, “and obviously they were looking for a rider – everyone knew that. They asked me if I was interested, and I said ‘Heck yeah!’”

During the downtime between High Point and Tennessee, Noren had the opportunity to test the bike. “They wanted me to come try the bike out first, see how it worked,” Noren said. “So they flew me out to California.”

Although he had been on a KTM this season, Noren saw the Honda as a great fit for him. “I like the Hondas a lot,” he said. “It’s a bike that I liked in the past, it’s a really good bike and the people on the team are really cool people too. They’re really friendly.”

With the contract signed, Noren will officially join the team on Saturday. No more driving cross-country in a van, no more setting up his own bike after that – something that comes as a relief to the 22-year-old. “I can just kind of show up and race and don’t have to worry about my suspension being right or washing or driving or anything like that,” he said.

It’s tempting to set sky-high expectations for this year’s Cinderella story, but Noren knows that the first order of business is to get comfortable on the new bike. “This weekend now at RedBud, I haven’t really been riding the bike before now,” he said. “I hope that I’ll be where I’m at on my KTM, same spot. After that, I hope to be top-ten, but I don’t know. We’ll see what happens.”

There are seven rounds left in the season, and top-ten finishes would not only be a great result for the Muscle Milk Honda team, they would also help the future prospects of Noren, who admits that he hasn’t really thought much about 2015 yet but knows that he wants to race the 450 Class in both Supercross and the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship.

“I don’t think it would be hard going back to the van life,” he said. “But it would be nice if I wouldn’t have to.”

To find out how Noren performs in his first opportunity with a factory team, tune in to the Red Bull RedBud National today. Coverage starts at 10:30 A.M. ET with the second practice session, followed by the pre-race show at 12:15 P.M. ET. Both are airing online exclusively on ProMotocross.com and NBC Sports Live Extra.  Live coverage of all four motos begins at 1 P.M. ET with the first moto in the 450 Class. Click here to watch the Live Extra stream.

NBC will also carry live television coverage of the final 450 Class moto at 3 P.M. ET. NBCSN will pick up the action at 4 P.M. ET with the final 250 Class moto.

Pascal Wehrlein withdraws from ROC Nations Cup on medical grounds

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22:  Pascal Wehrlein of Germany and Manor Racing walks in the Pitlane during qualifying for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sauber Formula 1 racer Pascal Wehrlein will take no part in Sunday’s Race of Champions Nations Cup in Miami after being withdrawn on medical grounds.

Wehrlein sustained a frightening crash during Saturday’s ‘Champion of Champions’ event, rolling his KTM X-Bow with a passenger inside after crossing the line during a heat against Felipe Massa.

Both Wehrlein and the passenger escaped unhurt, but the Race of Champions organizers confirmed on Sunday that the German would not be racing on Sunday as a precaution.

“I’m very sorry to withdraw from today’s ROC Nations Cup. I’d really like to race again and I feel fine, but the doctors have advised me to rest so of course I will take their advice,” Wehrlein said.

“It’s no more than mild discomfort but my real priority for the coming year is my Formula 1 season. So while I’m sad to be missing out on all the action, I send my best wishes to my team-mate Sebastian Vettel and the rest of the competitors here in Miami and I wish them another exciting day’s racing.”

Event officials are yet to confirm who – if anyone – will replace Wehrlein in Team Germany’s line-up.

The Race of Champions Nations Cup takes place later today at the Marlins Park in Miami.

Juan Pablo Montoya victorious on opening day of Race of Champions in Miami

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Juan Pablo Montoya of Columbia, driver of the #2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet prepares to practice on Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya added another trophy to his cabinet on Saturday by claiming a shock victory in the Race of Champions.

The event at the Marlins Park in Miami pitted some of motorsport’s biggest names up against each other in a multi-discipline challenge, with the Race of Champions’ traditional crossover circuit style being used.

Ahead of the battle for national honors on Sunday, the 17 drivers on the entry list in Miami faced off for the individual title.

Defending champion and four-time F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel suffered a shock exit in the group stage after defeats to Helio Castroneves and Travis Pastrana. The German won only one tie against 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi, who in turn had qualified following a shoot-out against GRC’s Scott Speed.

In the bottom half of the draw, IndyCar stars James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan were eliminated in the group stages, while veteran British F1 racers David Coulthard and Jenson Button made it through. The pair were joined by nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen and NASCAR’s Kyle Busch; the latter’s brother, Kurt, was knocked out at the first hurdle.

Pastrana and Castroneves both fell in the quarter-finals, losing to Felipe Massa and Montoya respectively. Massa advanced through the draw despite a frightening incident in the group stage involving fellow F1 driver Pascal Wehrlein, who flipped his car after crossing the finish line.

Kristensen edged out Button 2-1 in their best-of-three bout to reach the semi-finals, setting up a tie against Coulthard after he eased past Kyle Busch 2-0.

Massa and Montoya’s semi-final went down to a tie-breaker, with the former receiving a time penalty to hitting the wall and gaining an advantage. As a result, Montoya progressed into the final, winning the tie 2-1. Losing 2015 finalist Kristensen followed Montoya through, beating Coulthard 2-0.

Montoya won the first heat of the final in the rallycross car, edging Kristensen out by less than a car length before jumping into a KTM X-Bow for the second match-up. Despite almost jumping the start, Montoya managed to wrestle his car through the two laps before edging out Kristensen by just 0.08 seconds, securing a shock rookie victory in the process.

“Honestly I had a blast,” Montoya said. “It’s pretty amazing. I told my wife, I’ve got to make it through the first round. It just worked out.”

Montoya will race in the ROC Nations Cup on Sunday, teaming up with recent IndyCar racer Gabby Chaves for Team Colombia.

Report: Manor making progress in talks to make start of F1 season

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 12:  Pascal Wehrlein of Germany driving the (94) Manor Racing MRT-Mercedes MRT05 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 12, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Manor Racing has made progress in talks with a possible investor as it bids to make the grid for the start of the 2017 Formula 1 season, according to a report from BBC Sport.

Manor confirmed at the beginning of the month that it had entered administration for the second time in three years amid ongoing financial difficulties.

The backmarker team finished 11th in last year’s constructors’ championship, dropping behind Sauber at the penultimate round and missing out on a sizeable amount of prize money as a result.

With a little over one month to go until the start of pre-season testing, Manor faces a race against time to keep racing, but the latest report from BBC Sport suggests that a breakthrough has been made.

Andrew Benson writes that the future of the team is dependent on the promised investment arriving in the next week, noting that “prospects have improved considerably over the last few days”.

Manor had previously been in talks with Mexican-American businessman Tavo Hellmund over a buyout, as well as a Chinese consortium. The report from BBC Sport also names Indonesian businessman Ricardo Galael, the father of GP2 racer Sean Galael, as a possible suitor for the team.

NBC Sports learned last week that the team is pushing to race with a modified version of its 2016 car – likely to be named the MRT05B – should it make the grid in 2017.

If Manor fails to find a buyer, the F1 grid will drop back down to 10 teams for the 2017 season, returning to its pre-2016 level prior to the arrival of Haas.

NBC Sports has approached Manor’s administrators, FRP Advisory, for comment.

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.”