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

More races, more friction in the future for F1

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) The new owners of Formula One are planning to have more races and a greater presence in North America, and wouldn’t mind revving up the ratings with some extra friction among drivers.

Sean Bratches, the managing director of commercial operations for the Formula One Group – formerly Liberty Media – which took over the running of the sport in January, is already fielding offers from promotors wanting to buy in.

Lewis Hamilton has suggested Miami and Daniel Ricciardo picked Las Vegas as places they’d like to see new races, and Bratches told a news conference Friday that “there’s no dearth of interest in bringing Formula One to circuits, both track and street, around the world.”

Bratches said he’d had a “number of inquiries from cities, states, municipalities and countries around the world that are interested.”

There are 20 races on the 2017 calendar, starting with the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, and concluding with Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November. The debate over the number and location of races has been frequent over the last decade.

F1 racing returned in 2012 to the United States, where it is held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, in October. While the bulk of the races remain in Europe and Asia, there are also GPs in Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

“Our interest is in expanding the number of circuits in that marketplace, leveraging Austin – our incumbent and the benchmark in terms of what we’re doing in the States,” said Bratches, adding there was clear demand for it in North America. “We’re excited about all markets around the world, but the United States is going to be a focus.”

Three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and Ricciardo, an Australian who finished third on the season standings last year, are among the drivers who’d like to see more than 20 races in the F1 series. Veteran Fernando Alonso also doesn’t mind the idea of expansion, although maybe not for a few years.

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, who has won four world drivers’ titles, thinks 16 to 20 would be enough. All agreed that expansion was pointless unless it increases the level of competition. Hamilton and Mercedes dominated the last three seasons, and Red Bull was dominant for the four seasons before that.

There’s always been driver tension in F1, usually between teams but also involving teammates vying for championships. Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who edged Hamilton for the title last year and then retired, had an openly strained rivalry at Mercedes since 2013.

That’s something former ESPN executive Bratches doesn’t mind.

Responding to a question about the drivers being overly-managed by public relations people, Bratches said: “There’s a number of sports where there’s big personalities that allow sports to punch above their respective pay grades.”

He said the drivers were a big part of the fan engagement.

“Candidly, I would love it if more of the drivers had big personalities, there was more controversy among the drivers – and you kind of unleash them a little bit,” he said. “I think that’s good for all of us.”

Jolyon Palmer on the back foot in Australia after F1 practice crash

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Renault’s Jolyon Palmer has admitted that he is “on the back foot” heading into the remainder of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix after completing just 10 laps in Friday’s Formula 1 practice sessions.

F1 sophomore Palmer arrived in Australia looking to impress after enjoying a bold drive on debut at Albert Park 12 months ago, narrowly missing out on a points finish.

The Briton was the first driver to fall victim of F1’s more challenging cars in an official 2017 race weekend session, losing control through the final corner and slamming into the wall to bring his FP2 running to an early end.

This followed a problem earlier in the day that had limited his FP1 mileage, leaving Palmer with just 10 laps to his name from three hours of Friday running.

“Sadly it was a pretty short day for me in terms of time in the car. We had a minor technical issue in the first session then I had an off in FP2, which unlike FP1 required more than one part replacing,” Palmer explained.

“I’m not sure exactly what happened and we’ll be having a close look at the data. I feel for my crew as they have a decent amount of work to do.

“I’m hopeful of more track time tomorrow, but we’ll be on the back foot heading into qualifying after only 10 laps today.”

Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 2am ET on Saturday morning.

Indy 500 champ Rossi takes his shot with the Blackhawks (PHOTOS)

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There are many cool things you get to do after winning the Indianapolis 500. Visiting the grounds of one of the NHL’s most successful, Stanley Cup-winning teams is one of them.

Andretti-Herta Autosport’s Alexander Rossi visited Chicago this week to meet up with the Chicago Blackhawks, trading in his usual No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts Honda for a No. 98 jersey.

Usually it’s the ‘Hawks that are one of the top teams in the NHL and a usual Stanley Cup trophy winner – they’ve won in 2013 and 2015, recently – but it’s the Cubs that right now host a championship trophy having won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

Anyway, here’s a few photos and videos from Rossi’s trip to Chitown, which also included his own chance to shoot a puck.

Rossi took a photo with iconic Blackhawks singer Jim Cornelison:

Here’s Rossi with Marian Hossa:

Here’s a quick photo before practicing, then video of Rossi practicing:

Rossi paid a visit to WGN Radio:

And all told, Rossi was a fan:

FIA WEC reveals restructured TV commentary team

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One of Audi’s flagship drivers, Allan McNish and veteran TV hosts Martin Haven and Toby Moody join Louise Beckett and Graham Goodwin as part of the restructured television commentary team for the FIA World Endurance Championship, ahead of its 2017 season.

McNish retired from active driving at the end of the 2013 season and the two-time Le Mans winner and 2013 WEC LMP1 champion with Tom Kristensen and Loic Duval has remained an ambassador for Audi in the years since. He’ll be at six of the eight WEC rounds this season (Le Mans considered separately, although under the WEC umbrella).

Moody has been a familiar voice for his bike coverage and in the U.S., for Red Bull Global Rallycross broadcasts on NBC Sports. He’ll be on for the 6 Hours of Silverstone, the 6 Hours of Nürburgring and the 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Haven is well known to sports car fans and will be on for the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, 6 Hours of Mexico, 6 Hours of COTA, 6 Hours of Fuji and 6 Hours of Shanghai.

Beckett continues in the pits and paddock with DailySportscar editor Goodwin also back as part of the team; he’s been the lead analyst alongside John Hindhaugh the last couple years.

Hindhaugh won’t be on the TV side, instead having announced earlier this week on his own he’d be focusing on Radio Show Limited’s audio productions for WEC shows. Le Mans is treated as a separate entity from a broadcast and production side compared to the rest of the WEC season.

Renowned for his radio calls, Hindhaugh will be in his true area of passion throughout this season, as he also is Stateside for IMSA Radio’s coverage of IMSA championships. RSL has also recently announced it will broadcast VLN coverage this season (more here via DailySportscar).

“Thankfully the busy endurance racing schedule has only a couple of clashes so that means that for most of the WEC events I will be joining the established team providing live commentary for RSL radio,” Hindhaugh said in a release.

“For the WEC events I’m covering for the RSL radio service, we’ll be adding live audio coverage of qualifying to the regular full race broadcast.”

In the WEC release, series CEO Gerard Neveu thanked Hindhaugh for what he’s brought to the TV side the last couple years while also looking forward to the new arrivals to this year’s broadcast team.

“We believe that one of the reasons for the WEC’s current success in today’s motorsport world is that we try not to rest on our laurels; we are always looking to innovate and re-energize the championship in every area.

“John Hindhaugh, who has been our lead commentator until now, has decided to return to his first love of radio commentary, and we want to thank him for the great job he has done, and for his contribution to the championship. We are sure we will have an opportunity to work together again in the future but, for this year, we are very enthusiastic about our new broadcast team and the season ahead.”

The WEC season kicks off with the Prologue test next week in Monza before the season itself starts April 16 at Silverstone.