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What to Watch For: IndyCar at Sonoma (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

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SONOMA, Calif. – We haven’t done one of these this year for the Verizon IndyCar Series, but it’s fitting to do when a championship is on the line.

At today’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the question is whether it will be Team Penske and Chevrolet that prevails with one of its four drivers – Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves or Will Power – or whether Scott Dixon will beat them all for Chip Ganassi Racing and Honda.

Today’s 85-lap race at Sonoma Raceway may well witness a number of other story lines develop.

PREVIEW
QUALIFYING REPORT

Here’s some of the additional items to watch for today:

TIRE DEGRADATION

Key to watch is how soon drivers will get off the Firestone red alternate tires, provided most if not all of the 22 drivers in the field start on them.

Here’s Firestone’s explanation of the tires this weekend: “Based on the feedback from drivers, we decided to bring more durable compounds,” said Cara Adams, Chief Engineer, Bridgestone Americas Motorsports. “The 2017 Sonoma primary and alternate tires use the same race-proven specifications as the 2017 Barber tires. This compound is more durable than the 2016 Sonoma primary compound. The 2017 Sonoma alternate tire is similar to the 2016 Sonoma primary.”

And here’s some of the driver feedback about tires this weekend, and how the track surface changes on the low-grip surface depending on what rubber goes down just before:

Josef Newgarden: “I think what happened there is the track gripped up from the Pirelli World Challenge race (GT race; Sunday’s race has GTS before). I was surprised. It was a little slippery for my first lap because we went out first. After you got that off the track, it was pretty gripped up. I’m sure these guys would say the same thing. But it was pretty impressive how much grip was on the track.”

Scott Dixon: “I don’t think you really want to run too long. The degradation is high in the first couple laps on new tires, pretty strong, too.”

Sebastien Bourdais: “From one run to the other, you can lose about four-tenths on pure tire deg, or the conditions have changed that much that you don’t know if it’s in the change or in the conditions.”

TEMPERATURES

The Hondas have not had the measure of the Chevrolets the hotter it gets; they’ve been closer in cooler conditions. Sunday’s forecast should be in the high-70 or low-80-degree Fahrenheit range, with track temperatures likely to be in the high-100 or low-110 degree ballpark.

With the four Team Penske Chevrolets considerably further ahead though on one-lap pace, it may not matter too much. The Penske contingent are set to fight among themselves for the win if things go according to plan.

THE INTERNAL PENSKE BATTLE

How aggressive will each of the four drivers be? Josef Newgarden has the pole and the points lead, with Will Power second, Simon Pagenaud third and Helio Castroneves fourth.

Newgarden downplayed a crucial pole on Saturday, noting it was great for validation for his No. 2 team for this season but meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. Pagenaud’s win from pole here last year was the first for a polesitter at Sonoma since Power in 2011.

“Better late than never. I feel like we had a couple places this year where we were capable of getting poles. It just didn’t materialize,” Newgarden said.

“I’m really happy for the 2 car guys. They’ve wanted a pole all year. I think they deserved it. At a couple — a couple points I feel like we had shots at it. It just didn’t work out. I’m really happy for that.

“I don’t think it really means anything for the race. It really doesn’t. Win the pole, lose the race, lose the championship. Doesn’t really matter. Tomorrow is all that really matters.”

Power has the least to lose and where he finishes could play a major, major role on the championship.

THE WILD CARDS

What will the day hold for, among others…?

  • Takuma Sato, starting fifth, in his last race for Andretti Autosport and as top Honda on the grid?
  • His three other Andretti teammates, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi and Marco Andretti in seventh, eighth and 11th?
  • Zachary Claman DeMelo, starting 21st, in his IndyCar debut?
  • Pretty much anyone in the second half of the field who doesn’t have their 2018 plans set?

NASCAR America: Scott Speed’s quest for Red Bull GRC three-peat

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Red Bull Global Rallycross points leader Scott Speed is going for his third consecutive championship next month (Saturday, October 14, 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC from Los Angeles) for the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team.

Prior to that, he joined Thursday’s edition of NBCSN’s NASCAR America, checking in with his former Red Bull Racing teammate Brian Vickers, show host Carolyn Manno and analyst Steve Letarte.

Speed talked teammate dynamics – he and Tanner Foust have been the class of the Red Bull GRC field for several years – and what it takes to succeed in the diverse championship that features racing on both pavement and dirt.

“Tanner comes from more of a more rally background and I come from more of an open-wheel, road course background,” Speed explained. “You have to meet in the middle and often times that creates success. Our personalties are polar opposites and that’s a good thing.”

One other thing Speed addressed was Austin Cindric’s couple notable incidents in the last month or so. Going for his maiden NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win, Cindric hit Kaz Grala at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park to move for the lead and ultimately the win.

Cindric then made his GRC Supercars debut at the most recent weekend in Seattle and the two collided after a miscommunication in a preliminary race, prior to the Joker section of the course.

“He’s a young kid with not a lot of experience. He’s made a couple big mistakes. He came in like a wrecking ball,” Speed laughed.

“I was more mad because the car couldn’t restart at first. But it did, and we got going.”

Public clashes over future of Detroit Grand Prix

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DETROIT (AP) State officials are deciding whether to continue hosting the Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle, a state park and island that opponents say is negatively impacted by the annual event.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is considering whether to allow the race to continue after its current five-year contract expires after the 2018 race.

The department held a public meeting Wednesday at the Belle Isle Nature Center to gather feedback. Dozens of residents attended.

Opponents voiced concerns about the race’s environmental impact. Several conservation groups have requested a third-party environmental impact study on how the race affects island habitat.

But supporters say the race shines a spotlight on Detroit and stimulates the economy.

The Grand Prix has occurred on Belle Isle periodically since 1992 and annually since 2012.

FIA confirms Halo crash test details, International F3 plans and more

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Following the latest meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris, France, a number of updates concerning the championships under the governing body’s umbrella for 2018 had been confirmed.

The stand-out news was the confirmation of a Formula E race in Zurich for June 2018, marking motorsport’s return to Switzerland after being outlawed back in 1955.

A number of tweaks have also been made to the FIA Super Licence points allocation from next year, placing a greater onus on drivers to race in Formula 2 before stepping up to Formula 1.

Here’s a run-down of all the other news from the WMSC’s meeting in Paris.

FORMULA 1

Following the F1 Strategy Group’s approval of ‘Halo’ cockpit protection being introduced to F1 from 2018, the WMSC gave its approval to the required updates in the technical regulations to allow its implementation.

The various technical details can be found in the regulations by clicking here (under Article 17), but the key point is that teams will now be able to finalize their chassis designs for 2018 now they know the crash test details.

The WMSC also confirmed that Sentronics will be the exclusive supplier of fuel flow meters in F1 for 2018 and 2019.

There is also a clampdown on oil burn in F1 for 2018 following the controversy with Mercedes and Ferrari in 2017, as well as continued plans to ban the ‘shark fin’ from next year’s regulations.

One point we already knew but is nevertheless of interest is the reduction in power unit elements permitted to each driver per season. As of 2018, each driver will be limited to just three internal combustion engines, three MGU-Hs, three turbochargers, two control electronics and two MGU-Ks per season, down from four for each element in 2017.

No updates were made to the F1 calendar for 2018, but Bahrain and China are tipped to switch places, the latter becoming the third round of the season.

INTERNATIONAL FORMULA 3

The WMSC confirmed plans to form an International Formula 3 series in 2019 in a bid to complete the pyramid from Formula 4 to F1.

Both the FIA European F3 and GP3 Series co-exist as the third rung on the single-seater ladder at the moment, with the international championship tipped to replace the latter.

The WMSC called for expressions of interest for chassis and engine suppliers for an international series, as well as a promoter.

Loose regulations have also been formed that are similar to GP3’s current rules, with a 24-car grid desired over a nine-to-10 round season featuring single-make chassis, engines and tires.

The FIA is also pushing to create more regional F3 series in the future to bridge the gap between F4 and International F3.

FIA WORLD ENDURANCE CHAMPIONSHIP

Following confirmation of Silverstone’s return to the 2018/19 ‘super season’ calendar last week, the WMSC ratified the schedule for the next WEC campaign that will last 13 months.

The technical regulation amendments for 2018 were also approved as part of the WEC’s bid to attract more manufacturers to the LMP1 class following Porsche’s shock exit.

“The FIA Endurance Commission was also encouraged to pursue a number of exciting and innovative proposals that it is currently working on, with the aim of enticing new manufacturers to the Championship,” part of the WMSC’s release reads.

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

The FIA confirmed its calendar for the 2018 WRC season, with the addition of a rally in Turkey being announced in place of Poland.

1. Rally Monte Carlo – January 28
2. Rally Sweden – February 18
3. Rally Mexico – March 11
4. Tour de Corse – April 8
5. Rally Argentina – April 29
6. Rally de Portugal – May 20
7. Rally Italia – June 10
8. Rally Finland – July 29
9. Rally Germany – August 19
10. Rally Turkey – September 16
11. Rally Great Britain – October 7
12. Rally Spain – October 28
13. Rally Australia – November 18

To see the full release from the WMSC, click here.

FIA tweaks Super Licence points allocation for 2018

FIA Formula 2
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The FIA has tweaked its points allocation for the Super Licence required to race in Formula 1 for 2018, placing a greater onus on Formula 2 as being the final step on the single-seater ladder.

In a bid to tighten up on the route drivers took to reach F1, the FIA introduced a new points system for the Super Licence from 2016.

Drivers require a score of 40 points in a three-year period to be granted an FIA Super Licence, with different scores being awarded for success across a variety of categories.

Previously, drivers scored the full 40 points required for a top-two finish in GP2 (now F2) or winning the title in IndyCar, FIA Formula 3, Formula E or the FIA World Endurance Championship’s LMP1 class.

As of 2018, 40 points will only be awarded for a top-three finish in F2 or winning the IndyCar drivers’ title, with the other series facing points reductions.

One of the most devalued championships is Formula V8 3.5, formerly seen as being equivalent to GP2, with a title win previously worth 35 points now worth just 20.

Here are the points breakdowns for the most valuable championships, running from P1 in the final standings to P10.

FIA Super Licence Points Allocations

Formula 2: 40-40-40-30-20-10-8-6-4-3
IndyCar: 40-30-20-10-8-6-4-3-2-1
FIA F3: 30-25-20-10-8-6-4-3-2-1
Formula E: 30-25-20-10-8-6-4-3-2-1
WEC LMP1: 30-24-20-16-12-10-8-6-4-2
GP3: 25-20-15-10-7-5-3-2-1-0
Formula V8 3.5: 20-15-10-8-6-4-3-2-1-0
Super Formula: 20-15-10-8-6-4-3-2-1-0

You can see the full breakdown by clicking here.