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F1, IndyCar, Red Bull GRC highlight jam-packed motorsports weekend on networks of NBC

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NBC Sports Group presents more than 30 hours of motorsports coverage this week, highlighted by the IndyCar GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sunday at 4:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN, as Team Penske teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves battle for the championship points lead in the penultimate race of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series campaign. In addition, three-time IndyCar series champion, and current NASCAR driver Sam Hornish Jr., joins the NBCSN broadcast booth as an analyst in Sonoma this week.

NBC Sports Group’s motorsports coverage also features the F1 Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN, Red Bull Global RallyCross action from Daytona on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, and the final race of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season from the Utah National on Saturday on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.

All IndyCar, F1, Red Bull Global RallyCross, and Lucas Oil Pro Motocross coverage will be streamed live via NBC Sports Live Extra, NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, and tablets.

INDYCAR GOPRO GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA – SUNDAY AT 4 P.M. ET ON NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the IndyCar GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma begins Saturday evening with live qualifying at 7:30 p.m. ET, followed by live race coverage on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET.

Last weekend, Will Power extended his lead in the points standings with his first career Milwaukee victory in the ABC Supply Wisconsin 250, and now leads teammate Helio Castroneves by 39 points in the standings after Castroneves finished 11th. Six drivers, including 2013 IndyCar Champion Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing) and 2012 IndyCar Champion Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport), are still alive in the title chase.

VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES POINTS STANDINGS
Rank Driver (Team) Points Behind Wins Top 10
1 Will Power (Penske) 602 3 13
2 Helio Castroneves (Penske) 563 39 1 10
3 Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Peterson) 510 92 2 11
4 Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti) 494 112 3 8
5 Juan Pablo Montoya (Penske) 488 116 1 7
6 Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi) 472 130 1 10

These six drivers in contention will continue to jockey for positioning this weekend in preparation for the season finale at the MAVTV 500 IndyCar World Championships on Saturday, August 30. Next weekend’s race will award double points, meaning a possible 100-point swing on the final day of the season.

Veteran motorsports voice Brian Till will call the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. He will be joined by former IndyCar driver Paul Tracy, and current NASCAR driver and three-time IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr., who enters the NBCSN broadcast booth for the first time. Hornish Jr. has raced at Sonoma in both the IndyCar and NASCAR series, and boasts 19-career IndyCar victories.

Reporters Marty Snider, Kelli Stavast, Kevin Lee and Robin Miller will report from the pits. Lee will be joined by Anders Krohnand Jake Query to call the Indy Lights Sonoma race at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, following the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

FORMULA ONE BELGIAN GRAND PRIX – SUNDAY AT 7:30 A.M. ET ON NBCSN

NBC Sports Group’s comprehensive coverage of the F1 Belgian Grand Prix begins Friday morning with live coverage of Practice 1 at 4 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Live Extra, followed by NBCSN’s coverage of Practice 2 at 8 a.m. ET.

Live Extra will present live coverage of Practice 3 on Saturday morning at 5 a.m. ET, and CNBC will present live coverage of qualifying at 8 a.m. ET. NBCSN will air an encore presentation of qualifying at 12:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, followed by the GP2 race from Belgium at 2 p.m. ET.

NBCSN’s live presentation of the F1 Belgian Grand Prix begins Sunday morning at 7:30 a.m. ET, followed by F1 Extra at 10 a.m. ET.

Most recently, Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) outpaced Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) to take the checkered flag at the Hungarian Grand Prix for his second victory of the year. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) currently holds an 11-point lead in the standings over teammate Lewis Hamilton, who earned the pole position in Belgium last year, and took the checkered flag at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in 2010.

Lead F1 announcer Leigh Diffey will call the Belgian Grand Prix, and will be joined by veteran analyst and former racecar driverDavid Hobbs, and analyst and former race mechanic for the Benetton F1 team Steve Matchett. F1 insider Will Buxton will serve as the team’s on-site reporter from the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Francorchamps, Belgium, and will also call the GP2 race.

RED BULL GLOBAL RALLYCROSS DAYTONA – SATURDAY AT 2:30 P.M. ET ON NBC

NBC’s coverage of the 2014 Red Bull Global RallyCross Championship continues weekend on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET from Daytona International Speedway in Daytona, Fla. Ken Block (Hoonigan Racing) won at the series’ most recent race in Charlotte in July, while Nelson Piquet Jr. (SH Racing) continues to lead Scott Speed (Volkswagen Andretti) in the points standings.

Motorsports commentator Toby Moody will call the action on Saturday on-site from Daytona International Speedway in Daytona, Fla., joined by former driver and analyst Tommy Kendall and reporter Kristen Kenney.

LUCAS OIL PRO MOTOCROSS UTAH NATIONAL – SATURDAY

NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra will combine to present six hours of Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Utah National coverage from Tooele, Utah, on Saturday. Coverage starts on Live Extra at 12:30 p.m. ET with practice, followed by the pre-race show at 2:15 p.m. ET. Race coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET on Live Extra with Moto 1s, followed by live coverage of the 250 Class of 2nd Motos at 5 p.m. ET on Live Extra, which will air on NBCSN at 6:30 p.m. ET. An encore presentation will air on NBCSN at 1 a.m. ET on Sunday.

Last weekend, Jeremy Martin clinched the 2014 250 Class title at the Indiana National, while and Ken Roczen extended his lead over Ryan Dungey in the 450 Class with a win in Crawfordsville. Roczen sits 20 points ahead of Dungey heading into the season finale this weekend.

Veteran play-by-play voice Jason Weigandt, analyst and two-time AMA Pro Motocross Champion Grant Langston, and pit reporter Georgia Lindsay will call the action from Utah National in Tooele, Utah.

Motorsports Coverage This Week on NBC, NBCSN, CNBC and NBC Sports Live Extra (subject to change):

Date Program Time (ET) Network
Thurs., August 21 NASCAR America 6:30 p.m. NBCSN
Mecum Dealmakers: Kansas City (Encore) 8 p.m. NBCSN
Mecum Dealmakers: Indianapolis (Encore) 9 p.m. NBCSN
Mecum Dealmakers: Seattle 10 p.m. NBCSN
/DRIVE on NBC Sports 11 p.m. NBCSN
/DRIVE on NBC Sports (Encore) 11:30 p.m. NBCSN
Fri., August 22 Motocross Highlight Series 12 a.m. NBCSN
Mecum Dealmakers: Seattle (Encore) 1 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Belgian Grand Prix – Practice 1 4 a.m. NBC Sports Live Extra
F1 Belgian Grand Prix – Practice 2 8 a.m. NBCSN
Motorsports Extra 9:30 a.m. NBCSN
Off The Grid: Budapest 10 a.m. NBCSN
Motorsports Extra (Encore) 6:30 p.m. NBCSN
Sat., August 23 F1 Belgian Grand Prix – Practice 3 5 a.m. NBC Sports Live Extra
F1 Belgian Grand Prix – Qualifying 8 a.m. CNBC
F1 Belgian Grand Prix – Qualifying (Encore) 12:30 p.m. NBCSN
Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Utah – Practice 12:30 p.m. NBC Sports Live Extra
GP2 Belgium 2 p.m. NBCSN
Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Utah – Pre-Race 2:15 p.m. NBC Sports Live Extra
Red Bull Global RallyCross – Daytona 2:30 p.m. NBC
Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Utah – 1stMotos 3 p.m. NBC Sports Live Extra
Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Utah – 2ndMotos 5 p.m. NBC Sports Live Extra
Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Utah 6:30 p.m. NBCSN
IndyCar GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma – Qualifying 8 p.m. NBCSN
Sun., August 24 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Utah (Encore) 1 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Belgian Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Extra 10 a.m. NBCSN
IndyCar GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma 4 p.m. NBCSN
Indy Lights Sonoma 7 p.m. NBCSN

Yamaha, Ducati enjoy launches ahead of new MotoGP season

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© Yamaha MotoGP
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MotoGP heavyweights Yamaha and Ducati geared up for the new season of motorcycle racing’s premier championship with launches this week.

Yamaha and Ducati both enter 2017 with a new line-up following Jorge Lorenzo’s decision to move from the former to the latter, acting as one of a number of shake-ups in the rider market.

Three-time MotoGP champion Lorenzo replaces Andrea Iannone at Ducati, who sought refuge at Suzuki after a seat was freed up by Maverick Viñales following his move to Yamaha in replace of – the man who started the merry-go-round all – Lorenzo.

Yamaha was the first to take the covers off its new bike at a launch in Madrid on Thursday, with Viñales being joined by nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi for the unveiling of the YZR-M1.

The new bike features a darker blue as its main livery color, as well as greater presence for title sponsor Movistar.

“I had the first test in Valencia after the race, but particularly after we moved to Sepang and we could have more kilometers and [do] more work on the new bike,” Rossi said.

“We discovered a very good potential. It looks like we can be stronger. For sure now it’s important to work in the three tests before the first race, and try to arrive ready in Qatar. But the first impression is very good.”

Ducati followed suit earlier today by unveiling its new livery for 2017, with Lorenzo making one of his first official appearances in the team’s colors following the expiration of his Yamaha contract on December 31.

The team presented its 2016 bike, the Desmosedici GP16, in ’17 colors, as well as removing the controversial – and now banned – winglets from its model.

The new MotoGP season begins in Qatar on March 26, with pre-season testing set to start at the end of January in Malaysia.

Neuville leads Ogier midway through Monte Carlo Rally

Thierry Neuville (BEL) competes during the FIA World Rally Championship 2017 in Monte Carlo, Monaco on January 20, 2017
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MONACO (AP) Belgian driver Thierry Neuville took a 45-second lead Friday over defending world rally champion Sebastien Ogier midway through the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally.

Overnight leader Neuville won three of Friday’s six special stages, while Ogier struggled early on before pegging Neuville back by winning the last two. Ott Tanak of Estonia is third.

Four-time champion Ogier is now driving for Ford M-Sport after switching from Volkswagen last month. The Frenchman was eight seconds behind Neuville’s Hyundai overnight and quickly under pressure.

Tanak, who also drives for M-Sport, won Friday’s first special stage – the third of 17 overall – ahead of Neuville, with Ogier in ninth.

Difficult morning conditions saw snow and sheet ice on the roads. With all the top drivers fitting studded winter tires, Ogier still went off into a ditch.

“It happened at a junction, it was very, very icy. I pulled the handbrake but the car never turned,” Ogier said. “I slipped into the ditch and became stuck.”

Neuville won the next three specials – with Ogier second on 4 and 5 – but Ogier finally found his best form to trim back the deficit from 1:12 to 45 seconds. He also overtook Tanak, who is a fraction of a second behind Ogier.

Conditions were slushy in the afternoon as the icy roads began melting.

“For me this was more tricky than this morning and difficult to know what rhythm to go,” Neuville said.

A spectator was killed on Thursday night after being hit by a car during the first stage.

Organizers said the spectator was struck by a car driven by New Zealand driver Hayden Paddon during the first of two night stages.

That stage was canceled but the second went ahead, with Neuville beating Ogier.

There are six specials Saturday with the race concluding Sunday lunchtime.

Last year, Ogier won by nearly two minutes ahead of then-teammate Andreas Mikkelsen of Norway.

Ogier announced last month that he was going to drive the Ford Fiesta for M-Sport this season. A fifth title would move him into outright second place on the all-time list behind countryman Sebastien Loeb, who won nine straight titles.

The 33-year-old Ogier, who has won 38 career races, is tied with Finnish drivers Tommi Makinen – who won four straight – and Juha Kankkunen.

The next event in the 13-race season is in Sweden in three weeks.

BRDC: Reports Silverstone will definitely drop British GP ‘speculative and wrong’

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 10:  The grid at the start of the race during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 10, 2016 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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The British Racing Drivers Club has issued a statement dismissing suggestions that Silverstone will definitely drop its Formula 1 race following the 2019 season.

Doubt was cast over the future of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone following a leaked letter from BRDC chairman John Grant, in which he admitted to concerns about the cost of hosting the race.

Grant admitted that BRDC officials were considering triggering a clause in Silverstone’s F1 contract that would allow it to end its commitment after 2019 due to “ruinous” costs.

In a statement issued on Friday, the BRDC stressed that no final decision had been made and that suggestions a final decision to drop the race had already been made were incorrect.

“The British Racing Drivers Club wishes to make clear that recent press reports suggesting that talks have been unsuccessful and that the British Grand Prix will definitely be dropped after 2019 are speculative and wrong,” the statement reads.

“Our objective is to preserve the British Grand Prix at Silverstone for many years to come but, of course, we can only do this if it makes economic sense,” Grant added.

“As I have said before, we will be considering over the next six months if we should give notice of our intention to exercise the break clause in our grand prix contract at the end of 2019. No decision has been made, or will be made, until mid-July.

“In the meantime, we will be using this period to explore all interested parties, hopefully in private, various ways in which we might work out a more sustainable proposition.”

Jacques Villeneuve: Indy 500 ‘the biggest, most important race in the world’

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 25: Jacques Villeneuve of Canada driver of the #5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Dallara Honda during the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 25, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
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1995 CART champion Jacques Villeneuve has called the Indianapolis 500 “the biggest, most important race in the world”, believing that its long-running traditions are key to its enduring appeal.

Villeneuve won the Indy 500 in 1995 en route to the CART title, having finished second at the Brickyard the previous year.

Villeneuve moved into Formula 1 following his CART title victory, becoming world champion with Williams in 1997 before ultimately leaving the series mid-way through the 2006 season.

Villeneuve appeared in his third ‘500 in 2014, finishing 14th for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (pictured above).

Speaking at Autosport International last week, Villeneuve spoke warmly of his experiences at the ‘500, saying it dwarfed any other race in motorsport.

“[You’re] running at an average speed of 230 mph in traffic, in a place where you’re still allowed to risk your life basically because it’s marginally safer than 20 years ago, and half a million people in the grandstands,” Villeneuve said.

“Back then it was an event that lasted three weeks. You would build on it so the energy was incredible. It felt like a big gladiatorial ring from the Roman Empire. It was very special.

“It is the biggest, most important race in the world. Obviously an F1 championship is bigger, but as a one single event, it’s the biggest one.”

Villeneuve said that he did not appreciate the enormity of the event until he finally raced at the ‘500, having followed F1 more closely as a child by virtue of his father, Gilles, who raced for Ferrari.

“The Indy 500, I didn’t grow up with it. I grew up with Formula 1, so I didn’t really know what it represented,” Villeneuve said

“I didn’t think about it until I raced in Atlantics and I thought ‘oh wow, there’s half a million people here, that’s cool’.

“I still didn’t really understand why there was one toilet where they didn’t put the door because one year there was a driver who didn’t close his door and they decided to keep it like that for the next 40 years.

“There’s lots of stuff in America that’s very important, the history of why things have happened. Why do you drink milk when you’ve won the Indy 500? It’s because – I don’t know which driver – in the past was thirsty and asked for a jug of milk. They gave it to him and it became tradition.

“All these little things keep it alive. To get a race where people come almost daily for three weeks, that takes a lot of passion. But when you’re in it, OK it’s just a race and there’s lots of people, great, but it’s a stepping stone to F1.

“When you’re out of it, you realize first of all I survived it, and then you’ve won it. And then you realize that it’s still present and alive.

“And then you realize that that win was 22 years ago, and then you understand the meaning of what you accomplished.”