WATCH LIVE: FP1 for the Japanese Grand Prix

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Amid concerns about the approach of typhoon Phanfone and a possible rescheduling of the race weekend, the first free practice for the Japanese Grand Prix is going ahead as planned on Friday morning at Suzuka.

You can watch the complete session live on Live Extra from 9pm ET on Thursday evening.

CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

The first session in Japan will give us a first idea of how the pecking order may shape up this weekend at one of F1’s most famed and infamous circuits, but most of the attention will be paid to our two championship protagonists: Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

Hamilton retook the lead of the drivers’ championship in Singapore after winning his seventh race of the season as Rosberg was forced to retire due to an electrical issue on his Mercedes car. With five races to go, the gap stands at just three points, meaning that there is plenty to play for in the final quarter of the 2014 season.

Mercedes can clinch the constructors’ championship at Suzuka this weekend by outscoring nearest-rivals Red Bull, and it would be the first for the German marque. During its last heyday in the ’50s, there was no championship for the teams, with it only coming into existence three years after Mercedes withdrew from F1 in 1955.

However, Sebastian Vettel will be hoping to continue his good form at Suzuka in a bid to put the Silver Arrows’ celebrations on hold. In five races at Suzuka, Vettel has won four and finished third on the only other occasion (in 2011, when P3 was all he needed to win the world title). He will be keen to keep this form up during FP1 today.

There are two driver changes for the first session in Japan:

  • Max Verstappen is the most notable runner in FP1. At the tender age of 17 and three days, he will smash the record for being the youngest driver to take part in an F1 race weekend session as part of his preparation for a full-time role with Toro Rosso in 2014. Jean-Eric Vergne will step aside before returning to the seat for FP2.
  • Roberto Merhi will replace Kamui Kobayashi for FP1 at Caterham. The Japanese driver will get a first chance to head out in front of his home fans in FP2 (live on NBCSN from 1am).

Will Stevens was due to make his first appearance on an F1 race weekend in FP1 for Marussia. However, as his paperwork did not clear in time, the team will run with its regular drivers.

You can watch the full session live on Live Extra from 9pm ET on Thursday night. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

Please note that there will be no commentary from the NBCSN team for this session, but it will instead purely be the FOM world feed.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will race IndyCar stars in iRacing at Michigan

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The invite has been received, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has another iRacing event on his schedule.

The NASCAR on NBC analyst tweeted Wednesday that he will make his debut in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge with Saturday’s race at Michigan Speedway. The race will be shown live on NBCSN at 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

The 2-mile oval was chosen by IndyCar drivers as the third track in the six-race series. Earnhardt heartily endorsed Michigan as a potential iRacing venue Monday along with Daytona and Talladega. Michigan nearly was selected by fans as the opener in the iRacing Challenge.

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Earnhardt, a longtime avid iRacing fan, had been lobbying since last Thursday that he was interested in racing with IndyCar drivers.

He has driven in the first three races of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational, finishing second to Denny Hamlin in the opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Last year, he attended his first Indianapolis 500, working as an analyst as part of NBC Sports’ inaugural broadcast of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“I’d love to do it,” Earnhardt said Monday about joining the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. “I think I’d love to get to know those guys.

“I had such a great time at the Indy 500 last year, and the reception that I received from other drivers there really meant a lot to me. So I know they’re all a lot of great dudes in that series that I already know that I’d love to get to know some of them even better.”

It already has been quite the week for Earnhardt, who was announced Monday as one of 15 nominees for the 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The field for Saturday’s race at Michigan should include another  NASCAR driver in Jimmie Johnson. The seven-time Cup champion has driven the first two races of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge (and has plans to race IndyCar part time in the future).