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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

Hamilton hits back to lead second F1 practice in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on September 30, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton responded to the pace shown by Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg during opening practice in Malaysia on Friday morning by topping the afternoon session at Sepang.

Hamilton arrived in Malaysia trailing Rosberg for the first time in the Formula 1 drivers’ championship since the middle of July, the German’s run of three straight wins giving him an eight-point advantage in the standings.

Hamilton finished almost half a second off Rosberg in FP1, but managed to up his pace in second practice to record a fastest time of 1:34.944, enough to finish two-tenths of a second clear of the field.

Rosberg followed his teammate home in second place as Mercedes once again gapped the rest of the pack, pointing towards a significant advantage over one lap in qualifying.

Sebastian Vettel led Ferrari’s charge in third place, finishing 0.6 seconds off Hamilton’s fastest time, but was able to run the Mercedes duo closer during the long-run stints on the soft tire.

Kimi Raikkonen underpinned Vettel’s pace in the second Ferrari, finishing fourth ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in P5.

Sergio Perez followed in sixth place for Force India ahead of Fernando Alonso, who is set to start from the back of the grid this weekend after making changes to his power unit to accommodate new upgrades from Honda.

Daniel Ricciardo ended the session eighth for Red Bull, while Nico Hulkenberg and Jenson Button rounded out the top 10 positions.

The session saw Kevin Magnussen head back out on track following his firey exit from FP1, the Renault crew producing a rapid turnaround to get the singed R.S.16 car ready to head out midway through FP2. The Dane eventually finished 19th in the classification.

Pla powers to unofficial lap record at Petit Le Mans night practice

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Photo courtesy of IMSA
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BRASELTON, Ga. – Cooler conditions produced the fastest lap times yet this weekend for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale in night practice, and Olivier Pla kept the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda at the top of the charts.

A 1:13.541 is an unofficial lap record for IMSA (note times were quicker in the American Le Mans Series, but we’re talking post-mergification in 2014 when ALMS and GRAND-AM came under one roof) as Pla dropped the hammer Thursday night in the car he shares with Ozz Negri and John Pew, in Shank’s 250th and last scheduled prototype start. It also gave Shank a Thursday three-practice sweep of the top of the timesheets.

“I’m very happy with the performance today. I love this track, Road Atlanta, and the car has been great from the beginning. We just kept improving the car during each session. All of the changes we made were very positive so thank you to the team for that. I think it’s looking good for the race,” Pla told IMSA Radio.

Other class leaders at night included 2015 IndyCar driver Stefano Coletti, in the third Starworks Motorsport entry in Prototype Challenge, Dirk Mueller in GT Le Mans in the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT and Marco Seefried in GT Daytona in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS.

Night practice, like the two day sessions that preceded it, was largely uneventful – a welcome departure from last year’s nightmarish day of crashes and rain on Thursday.

A final pre-qualifying practice occurs on Friday before qualifying later Friday afternoon.

Session three times are linked here.

Stefan Johansson’s latest blog: Rosberg’s ascendance, Pagenaud’s title

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP speaks with his team-mate Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP as he celebrates his win on the podium during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Stefan Johansson’s latest blog entry previews the forthcoming Formula 1 title battle between Mercedes AMG Petronas teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, recaps the IndyCar title just won by Simon Pagenaud, and addresses some other topics from both worlds as well.

Per usual, it’s the latest conversation with Jan Tegler live on Johansson’s website, and continues with what we’ve been chronicling throughout the year on NBCSports.com.

On the Rosberg vs. Hamilton title title, Johansson notes that the narratives around the two keep popping up depending on who’s winning and losing on-track.

“Nico really dominated this one, no doubt,” Johansson wrote of Rosberg’s peerless weekend in Singapore. “He had a flawless weekend throughout qualifying and the race and never put a foot wrong.

“But what’s funny is that again some of the pundits are back saying that Lewis is finished because he’s partying too hard, he’s not focused, etc. I say leave the guy alone. What we’re seeing is the normal, natural dynamics over the course of a 21-race season. You’re going to have good and bad races.

“Rosberg was certainly off-the-boil too for a few races mid-season and the pundits were saying he’s not mentally strong enough and this and that. The changing of momentum back and forth is completely normal but I guess some people just don’t have enough to talk about. Because there is effectively only two of them at the moment with a realistic chance of winning and they are so incredibly closely matched all the time it doesn’t take a lot for the momentum to swing one way or the other.”

Johansson also acutely notes how Sebastian Vettel has taken advantage of 2017 Pirelli tire testing to perhaps gain a leg up on the competition next year.

He writes of Vettel and Scuderia Ferrari’s test runs on the newer 2017 rubber, among other things, “What’s more interesting is that Sebastian Vettel has been doing every test lap for Ferrari that has been available. I guarantee you that this will give him an advantage next year. Every time you run a car you gain some level of knowledge. Racing and F1 in particular is no different than any other business in that it relies on human interaction and relationships to get the best results.

“The fact that Pirelli has Vettel doing testing, making every single run he can make will pay off. I’ve done lots of tire testing in the past and it’s absolutely the best way to move things forward for driver or a team performance.”

On Simon Pagenaud’s IndyCar title, Johansson praised the 32-year-old Frenchman who’s come into his own this year:

“Pagenaud ended the season in a pretty impressive way. There’s no doubt that he went to Sonoma to win the race as well as the championship. He did a superb job all weekend and the Penske team definitely has the momentum now. Ganassi had the momentum for several years but it seems to have swung toward Penske now. They also have four very strong cars with any one of them capable of winning any race under right circumstances, Ganassi doesn’t have that at the moment.”

Johansson still said Scott Dixon, the 2015 and four-time champion, put together a barnstorming 2016 campaign – but it was one undone by horrific luck.

“As I’ve said, it’s weird but Scott had his best year for many years in some ways. If everything had gone his way, he could have won three races where he had mechanical failures which are almost unheard of now in IndyCar. But he had engine problems at Detroit, Road America and St. Petersburg. There were also a few strategic errors all adding up to a Championship finish that was his lowest for quite some time. If all that hadn’t happened he would have almost dominated the season.”

There are several more great nuggets within Johansson’s latest blog, which you can view in its entirety here.

Previous linkouts to Johansson’s blog on MotorSportsTalk are linked below:

Additionally, a link to Johansson’s social media channels and #F1TOP3 competition are linked here.

Rosberg leads Mercedes 1-2 in shorter Malaysian first practice

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on September 30, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Despite a near-20-minute red flag for Kevin Magnussen’s fire in pit lane, the Mercedes AMG Petronas pair needed less time to retain their usual positions on the top of the scoreboard for this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

Nico Rosberg, who regained the championship lead with his third win in a row two weeks ago in Singapore, topped the timesheets at 1:35.227 on Pirelli’s soft tires, which was 0.494 of a second clear of teammate Lewis Hamilton.

The profile of the Sepang International Circuit has changed this year owing to a resurfacing and the angles and lines to some of the corners are different compared to years past. And the race shifts back to October for the first time since 2000.

Juan Pablo Montoya’s race lap record is 1:34.223 set with Williams in 2004 and pole times in the V10 era were in the 1:33s. On harder tires – Pirelli has brought the three hardest compounds on offer with the soft, medium and hard tires this weekend – and times aren’t far off.

In the 90-minute session, Rosberg did have an off with 15 minutes to go; Hamilton had a monster lockup with about 53 minutes to go and Carlos Sainz Jr. went off course just following the session restart.

Magnussen’s pit fire though was the story of the session. The Dane pitted, then scrambled to exit his Renault when smoke and flames emerged from both the airbox in the engine cowling and then from the engine bay. His crew worked wonders to extinguish the flames.

Behind the Mercedes teammates at the top of the charts, Ferrari’s pair of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel were next followed by Fernando Alonso’s McLaren in fifth. Red Bull teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen were sixth and seventh, ahead of the Force India teammates Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez. Perez is hoping a resolution on his F1 future will be revealed sooner rather than later.

Romain Grosjean’s struggles with Haas F1 Team continued as he radioed that “something must not be right” with the car after a late off in the session. He was an unlucky 13th.

Further down the order neither Felipe Massa of Williams or Jolyon Palmer in the second Renault were able to eclipse the two Saubers, and languished in 18th and 19th.

Free practice two runs from 2 a.m. ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App, via streaming at f1stream.nbcsports.com for participating providers. Leigh Diffey is back in the booth with David Hobbs and Steve Matchett, with Townsend Bell in the pits. Set your DVRs, or brew some coffee.

Times from FP1 are below: