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

Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

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Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (4)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate plans at this moment.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today, but Ganassi acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six last year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Jack Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.