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WATCH LIVE: Will James Stewart reverse his fortunes as Motocross season’s second half starts at Budds Creek?

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The first half of the 2014 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship is in the books, and the series is set up for some great second-half racing over the next six rounds, beginning today at Budds Creek.

Get set for a full afternoon of racing with the pre-race show airing exclusively online at 12:15 P.M. ET on and NBC Sports Live Extra. All four motos will then stream live from 1:00-5:00 P.M. ET, with NBCSN also televising live coverage of second motos in both classes at 3 P.M. ET. Click here to access the Live Extra stream.

Clearly this is Ken Roczen’s championship to lose right now in the 450 Class. The Red Bull KTM rider his finished on the podium in all 12 motos that have been run this season – an incredible display of consistency that has given him a 26-point cushion over teammate Ryan Dungey. Historically though, Roczen has been a much better rider in the first half of the season. When he was racing in the 250 Class last year, one crash at Round 9 was all it took to wipe out his points lead and hand the championship over to Eli Tomac. As long as Roczen can avoid those big mistakes, he will be the favorite to earn a title in his rookie season in the premier class.

Tomac battled with Roczen throughout the season last year in the 250 Class, and had Tomac been healthy entering this season, you have to think he may have added some extra intrigue to this 450 Class title race. Tomac is out of the championship running after missing the first four rounds with a broken collarbone, but since his return, there has been no adjustment period needed. The GEICO Honda rider has been a podium threat in every single moto he’s raced, battling with Ryan Dungey, who has been his usual consistent self this season, and Trey Canard, who has continuously improved throughout the year and could be on the verge of a moto win.

One of the biggest conundrums in the series right now is James Stewart. Just a few weeks ago, Stewart was being talked about as a legitimate title contender after sweeping both motos at High Point to move within striking distance of Roczen in the championship race. In the two rounds since then though, the Yoshimura Suzuki rider has been nowhere to be seen near the front of the field, repeatedly doomed by first-turn crashes which have forced him to work his way up from the back and just salvage as many points as he can. The slide has coincided with the news that Stewart was provisionally suspended by the FIM for a failed drug test during the Supercross season and could face even heavier sanctions pending the outcome of his case. Whether or not the controversy hanging over Stewart is affecting him mentally, the last two rounds have taken him out of the championship discussion for now.

Even if he can’t win a title, Stewart is still a competitor at heart and will be hungry to win races. He turned the fastest lap time in 450 Class practice this morning at Budds Creek, the first time this season he’s earned the distinction of being the top qualifier. Being the top qualifier will allow Stewart to choose any gate he wants for the start of the first moto, which could help propel him to a good start. If he can get a clean start and put himself near the front, maybe he can finally reverse his fortunes this afternoon.

Status targets 2016 GP2 title after GP3 exit

2015 GP2 Series Round 8.
Autodromo di Monza, Italy.
Sunday 6 September 2015.
Marlon Stockinger (PHL, Status Grand Prix) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _G7C2088
© GP2 Series
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Status Grand Prix has set its sights on winning the 2016 GP2 Series championship following its decision to close down its GP3 team at the end of the current season.

Earlier this week, GP3 issued a statement confirming its team roster for the next three seasons that featured new entries from DAMS and Virtuosi Racing.

However, both Carlin and Status did not appear on the list, signalling that both had opted to leave GP3 at the end of 2015.

Status first entered GP3 back in 2010, but only set up a GP2 team in 2015 after taking over the old Caterham Racing operation.

This will now become the main focus for the Irish outfit, though, as explained by team boss Teddy Yip Jr. earlier this week.

“Status Grand Prix has not renewed entry into the GP3 Series from 2016 onwards in order to maximize focus on our GP2 campaign,” Yip said.

“Having finished second in the team championship in the inaugural GP3 Series, we have enjoyed six successful years in the category collecting nine race wins, 26 podium finishes and vying for numerous team and driver titles.

“We are very proud to have given opportunities and achieved success with drivers such as Robert Wickens, Antonio Felix da Costa, Alexander Sims and our current GP2 race winner, Richie Stanaway.

“We now look forward to finishing the 2015 GP2 and GP3 seasons on a high before mounting a robust GP2 title campaign in 2016.”

Both GP2 and GP3 return from a one-month break next weekend in support of the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix.

Hakkinen: Verstappen is already “a real pro”

during a media interview at the Shanghai Grand Theatre prior to the 2015 Laureus World Sports Awards on April 15, 2015 in Shanghai, China.
© Getty Images
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Two-time Formula 1 world champion Mika Hakkinen has heaped praise upon Toro Rosso rookie Max Verstappen, supporting his decision to ignore team orders during last month’s Singapore Grand Prix.

Verstappen only turned 18 on Wednesday, but has already made a big impression on the F1 world during his first 14 races with his aggressive driving style and mature approach to racing.

In Singapore, Verstappen was told by Toro Rosso to let faster teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. go past, but refused to give up his position and eventually beat the Spaniard to finish eighth.

Writing in his Hermes blog, Hakkinen backed Verstappen’s decision to stay ahead and praised the Dutchman for his performances so far this season.

“A driver must be alert and keep track of what is happening around him at all times,” Hakkinen wrote. “That’s what Verstappen is. He does not simply let anyone pass if it’s not for the world championship, but only a few championship points.

“Verstappen is 18 years old, but the guy’s already a real pro. Young people are developing incredibly fast nowadays, and by that I don’t mean just drivers.”

Despite having more than half a season of F1 racing under his belt, Verstappen only gained his road driver’s license on his 18th birthday, having previously been under the age limit to drive a regular car in public.