Heavy racing contingent at SEMA Show in Las Vegas

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The offseason is basically underway for a majority of the North American domestic racing championships. NASCAR has two more weeks at Phoenix and Homestead while the NHRA its last round this weekend at Pomona.

With the on-track stuff all but wrapped, there’s a bevy of drivers and manufacturers on hand at this year’s 2013 SEMA Show in Las Vegas. The annual trade show is one of the largest in motorsports and automotive technology; it’s a hotbed for performance parts and products, and home to several unveils.

NASCAR drivers Jeff Gordon, Danica Patrick, Juan Pablo Montoya, Greg Biffle and others are among those here this week. NHRA has a heavy presence of Forces with John, Courtney and Brittany Force all here, and their John Force Racing teammate Robert Hight also making the rounds.

IndyCar also has a strong contingent with Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Graham Rahal, Ed Carpenter and more among those planning to be here. The Indy Lights cars from Andretti Autosport’s Zach Veach (ReplayXD) and Belardi Auto Racing are also on hand.

Pirelli World Challenge will hold its “State of the Series” meeting and unveil its 2014 schedule later on Tuesday.

Proof, then, that there is no “offseason” in motorsports. This is where many of the deals get done.

Mercedes power: Hamilton, Bottas fastest during 1st French GP practice

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LE CASTELLET, France (AP) — Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas posted the top two times during the opening practice for Formula One’s French Grand Prix on Friday.

Defending champion Hamilton clocked the best lap time at 0.140 seconds faster than Bottas.

Red Bulls’ Daniel Ricciardo had the third best effort, followed by Ferrari pair Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.

Vettel leads Hamilton by one point atop the standings after seven of 21 races.

The session had one red flag near the end when Marcus Ericsson spun out of control and slammed into the barrier on Turn 11. The right rear of his Sauber burst into flame before the Swede got out. Sauber said he was unharmed.

Hamilton also had a scare when forced to swerve off course to avoid ramming a slow-going Stoffel Vandoorne and slalomed around two rows of bollards before returning to the flow. Hamilton said on his team radio the McLaren driver was going “dangerously slow” when he came upon him.

Later, Hamilton complained his Mercedes was having trouble turning. After coming back out, the four-time world champion quickly went to the top of the timesheet.

This was the first chance drivers had to run on the 5.8-kilometer (3.6-mile) Paul Ricard Circuit, as F1 makes its return to France for the first time in a decade.

The track resting in wooded hills just inland from the Cote d’Azur was basked in the Mediterranean sun and subject to moments of gusting winds.

Raikkonen, Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso), Esteban Ocon (Force India) and Vandoorne all spun their cars onto the blue-striped run-off areas at Turn Six because of a tricky tailwind but managed to stop before hitting the barrier.

Charles Leclerc (Sauber) twice spun to a brief stop, while Max Verstappen drove wide on consecutive corners and had a near-miss with Sergio Perez of Force India.

Vettel took the lead in the standings two weeks ago in Montreal where he won the Canadian GP after starting from pole position. That victory erased a 14-point lead held by Hamilton after he could manage only a fifth-place finish.

There will be two more practices on Friday and on Saturday before qualifying for Sunday’s race.

The last time a F1 race was held here at Le Castellet was in 1990 when Alain Prost won for Ferrari.