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What to watch for: Canadian Grand Prix (NBC from 2pm ET; NBC Sports app from 1:30pm)

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And so, today’s Canadian Grand Prix presents a 180-degree curveball from the Monaco Grand Prix two weeks ago. Where Ferrari was dominant on the streets of Monte Carlo, Mercedes has struck back thus far through the preliminary sessions at the combo park/street circuit/road course that is the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

It presents a golden opportunity for Lewis Hamilton to strike back in the championship race on the heels of his 65th career pole position.

Meanwhile Sebastian Vettel will look for his second straight win this season from second on the grid, having been oh-so-close but not fully ahead of Hamilton this weekend.

You can watch the Canadian Grand Prix live on NBC from 2pm ET and the NBC Sports app from 1:30pm ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

Here is what to watch for in today’s race.

2017 Canadian Grand Prix – What to watch for

Hamilton vs. Vettel battle resumes

Montreal presents a race akin to Barcelona where it figures to be a straight fight between the two championship protagonists. Hamilton emerged ahead in Spain after a thrilling bout with Vettel. Meanwhile Vettel’s victories were more dominant by nature, his Monte Carlo win coming after a pit stop exchange with his teammate.

This is going to be an interesting test for the two drivers – and their Mercedes and Ferrari cars – in a straight power fight. Passing’s not been the easiest with the wider 2017 cars and their new tires, but Montreal is a track known for it.

Can Vettel and/or Hamilton stay close enough to the other where they can force their way by on track if they need to? Or will it again come down to pit stops for what is likely to be a one-stop race?

Bottas the wild card of note

Valtteri Bottas has gone rather well at Canada the last couple years. When the Williams Mercedes wasn’t at its zenith the last two years – it was better in 2014 – he still managed podiums both last year and in 2015, third at each occasion.

From third on the grid, Bottas has an important task ahead of him: get ahead of Vettel to help Hamilton however he can. Or, if he plays a blinder off the line as he did in Russia, can he get even further ahead into Turn 1? It was Vettel who launched from third to the lead here last year.

Bottas’ start is going to be pivotal for how the race plays out, and with Mercedes having yet to score a 1-2 finish this season, Sunday presents a good opportunity for them to do so.

Massa vs. the Force Indias

Given a new lease on life, Felipe Massa has done a sterling job this season for Williams Martini Racing as the undisputed team leader. As he hasn’t had good support from rookie teammate Lance Stroll from a points scoring perspective, how many points he scores versus the pair of Force India drivers, who’ll be keen to get back in the top-10 after a double non-score in Monaco, will be interesting to witness.

For Stroll, banking his first points of the year may be the goal, but doing so from 17th on the grid is a tough task in his home Grand Prix. Finishing needs to be the first goal for the teenaged rookie.

Brake wear and power delivery to monitor

As this is a power circuit where horsepower is king, it’s favored the Mercedes runners thus far – it’s been good weekends for the factory AMG Petronas team, and additionally the Mercedes-powered Sahara Force India and Williams Martini Racing squads, Massa as noted doing a good job in particular.

Elsewhere the Renault-powered cars have struggled. It took a seemingly Herculean effort for Max Verstappen to get his TAG Heuer-badged Red Bull into fifth on the grid but neither he nor Daniel Ricciardo looks likely to get Red Bull onto the podium for a third straight race. Toro Rosso missed out of Q3 with its pair of unbadged Renault engines as well, and with Carlos Sainz Jr. having an engine issue on Friday, they’ve not had a clean weekend.

Romain Grosjean has rallied this weekend through various spins and at a track where brakes matter more than almost anywhere else, seeing him crack the points in his Haas-Ferrari would be something of a surprise given the brakes have seemingly affected him more than most.

Honda and McLaren? What else can be said. If Fernando Alonso can scrape a point out of Sunday’s race he’ll have done beyond the best that seems possible.

Canada occasionally throws up surprise results and reliability and/or brake wear may impact who finishes where.

2017 Canadian Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
3. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes
4. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
5. Max Verstappen Red Bull
6. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
7. Felipe Massa Williams
8. Sergio Perez Force India
9. Esteban Ocon Force India
10. Nico Hulkenberg Renault
11. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
12. Fernando Alonso McLaren
13. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
14. Romain Grosjean Haas
15. Jolyon Palmer Renault
16. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren
17. Lance Stroll Williams
18. Kevin Magnussen Haas
19. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
20. Pascal Wehrlein Sauber

You can watch the Canadian Grand Prix live on NBC from 2pm ET and the NBC Sports app from 1:30pm ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’

Photo: Chris Estrada, NBC Sports
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NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”