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Jay Howard confirmed in Tony Stewart’s supported SPM Indy entry

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Occasional Verizon IndyCar Series competitor Jay Howard will make his comeback to the series for the first time in six years, having been confirmed Monday as driver of the Tony Stewart Foundation Team One Cure-supported No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

“I can’t begin to tell you how honored I am to have this opportunity,” Howard said in a release. “I’m not one to give up on a dream and I have every bit of determination to make this a successful effort for Tony, Team One Cure and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. I’m in the best condition both mentally and physically, and my race craft is on point. We will be more than ready when IMS opens for practice this May.”

Stewart added, “I have every bit of confidence in the skills of Jay behind the wheel. Growing up 45 minutes from the Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 is an important part of my racing history. Participating in this year’s race with Jay and Sam through Team One Cure, we will be making a difference in both the 500 and the race against cancer.”

SPM co-owner Sam Schmidt said, “We are pleased to have Jay competing with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports once again. Given our impressive winning record together in the past, we have high expectations for the 101st Indy 500. Jay is extremely talented in the car as well as being a great advocate for the Team One Cure initiative.”

Howard, the 36-year-old Englishman, won the 2006 Indy Lights title for Schmidt but had a bit of a roller coaster career in IndyCar over parts of three official years (2008, 2010, 2011) and two years where he was supposed to drive but didn’t (2012, 2015).

Despite being hired by Roth Racing in 2008, he was unceremoniously dispatched prior to that year’s Indianapolis 500, replaced by John Andretti, and made only one more start later that year.

A comeback occurred with Sarah Fisher Racing in a second car in 2010, also part-time, although he missed the field that year, and then was not retained into 2011.

In a jointly entered RLL/Schmidt Honda, Howard finally made his Indianapolis 500 race debut in 2011, qualifying 20th and finishing 30th after an incident. He made two other race appearances that year, at the dual Texas race and the ultimately canceled Las Vegas finale.

Two other would-be comebacks stopped before they even had a chance to begin. Howard was Michael Shank’s driver choice for 2012 but Shank was unable to secure an engine lease. Then after being announced for a second Bryan Herta Autosport car in 2015, a sponsor pulled out.

This gives Howard a quirky career stat line of 12 race starts, one race he started that doesn’t count in the record books, four other races where he was entered but didn’t start the race and two races he was announced but the car didn’t show up to drive.

His best career start (13th) came in a race where there was no qualifying, instead just a blind draw (Texas race two, 2011); his best career qualifying effort (14th) came in a race where the field was split (Motegi 2008, where IRL raced at Japan and Champ Car signed off at Long Beach on the same weekend), and his best finish (13th) he’s achieved twice (Motegi, and Kansas the following week with a full field).

All of this background makes Howard’s latest comeback all the more interesting, especially as he’s never driven the new base Dallara DW12 chassis and has been out of full-time driving for six years, instead having focused on coaching and go-karting in the interim.

Howard joins the other two confirmed entries of James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin, and is SPM’s fifth different third driver in as many years (Katherine Legge, Jacques Villeneuve, Conor Daly and Oriol Servia since 2013).

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.