2015 IndyCar schedule officially revealed; 17 races including 12 on NBCSN (VIDEO)

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The 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule has finally been released this Thursday, featuring a 17-race slate with two new venues.

Additionally, the number of doubleheader races has dropped and the second half of the schedule sees most races switch dates from their 2014 events.

New events are the two previously announced races in Brazil and New Orleans. Gone are the Houston doubleheader and one of the two Toronto races. The schedule drops from 18 races in 2014 to 17 in 2015.

“The Verizon IndyCar Series calendar represents another step forward in our strategy to grow the series,” Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., the parent of INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said in a release.

“There were several factors that led to the positive momentum we experienced in 2014 and we will continue to execute on those initiatives – continuity in our broadcast schedule, strategic growth of our schedule and improvements to how we promote our events. The continued support from our television partners at ABC and NBCSN, and the ongoing collaboration with promoters, teams and sponsor partners gives us a lot of confidence about our future.”

The mooted second international race in Dubai is not listed on the schedule.

The first half of the season is fairly straightforward and has already been released drip-by-drip. The series’ return to Brazil will open the calendar on March 8, followed by St. Petersburg March 29, a week off and then three straight weekends in New Orleans, Long Beach and Barber in April.

The second Grand Prix of Indianapolis, now featuring new primary sponsor Angie’s List, kicks off the month of May on May 9. Practice and qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 follows before the 99th edition of the race itself May 24.

Detroit marks the lone doubleheader weekend May 30-31, followed by Texas June 6.

Then the schedule gets shifted quite a bit from where it was in 2014.

Toronto moves to June 14 and will be just a single race, as the city prepares to host the Pan-Am Games during the race’s usual July date. Despite rumors of a shift to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, the race stays at Exhibition Place.

Following a needed week off, IndyCar then heads west to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Saturday June 27, which will be that race’s fourth date in as many years. It was held Labor Day weekend this year, on Saturday night, August 30.

In July, the Milwaukee IndyFest moves from August, which had just moved from June this current year. Milwaukee runs July 11-12. Milwaukee is paired with Iowa Speedway, which moves back only a week later in July to Saturday night, July 18. The short-track twin bill is also likely to include several of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder series.

Mid-Ohio is next up on August 2. A two-week break follows before IndyCar heads to Pocono on August 23 for 500 miles – after both NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races – and finally will head west once more for the season finale at Sonoma Raceway August 30.

The Sonoma finale marks the first time under INDYCAR sanction (dating to 1996) that the series will end its points-paying season on a road or street course rather than an oval. Previous oval season finale venues have been Fontana (2005, 2012-’14), Kentucky (2011; Las Vegas canceled), Homestead (2009-2010), Chicago (2006-2008), Texas (1999-2004), Las Vegas (1997-1998) and Indianapolis (1996).

The last North American open-wheel season to end on a road or street course was Champ Car at Mexico City in 2007; meanwhile INDYCAR ran a non-championship race at Surfers’ Paradise, Australia in 2008 after that season ended at Chicago.

Here is the schedule in full, with broadcast networks listed alongside. NBCSN will feature 12 races, including the season-opener at Brazil, and the final eight races of the year from Texas through Sonoma.

3/8 Brazil (NBCSN)
3/29 St. Petersburg (ABC)
4/12 New Orleans (NBCSN)
4/19 Long Beach (NBCSN)
4/26 Barber (NBCSN)
5/9 GP of Indianapolis (Saturday, ABC)
5/16-17 Indianapolis 500 Qualifying (ABC)
5/24 Indianapolis 500 (ABC)
5/30-31 Detroit (Doubleheader, both ABC)
6/6 Texas (Saturday night, NBCSN)
6/14 Toronto (NBCSN)
6/27 Fontana (Saturday, NBCSN)
7/12 Milwaukee (NBCSN)
7/18 Iowa (Saturday night, NBCSN)
8/2 Mid-Ohio (NBCSN)
8/23 Pocono (NBCSN)
8/30 Sonoma (NBCSN)

The timeslots of the 12 NBCSN races are below:

2015 INDYCAR RACE COVERAGE

Date Race/Track Network Time (ET)
Sun., March 8 Autódromo Internacional Nelson Piquet – Brazil NBCSN 11 a.m.
Sun., April 12 NOLA Motorsports Park NBCSN 3 p.m.
Sun., April 19 Streets of Long Beach NBCSN 4 p.m.
Sun., April 26 Barber Motorsports Park NBCSN 3 p.m.
Fri., May 22 Carb Day – Indianapolis Motor Speedway NBCSN 11 a.m.
Sat., June 6 Texas Motor Speedway NBCSN 8 p.m.
Sun., June 14 Streets of Toronto NBCSN 3 p.m.
Sat., June 27 Auto Club Speedway NBCSN 4 p.m.
Sun., July 12 The Milwaukee Mile NBCSN 5 p.m.
Sat.,  July 18 Iowa Speedway NBCSN 8 p.m.
Sun., August 2 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course NBCSN 1:30 p.m.
Sun., August 23 Pocono Raceway NBCSN 2 p.m.
Sun., August 30 Sonoma Raceway NBCSN 4 p.m.

Sebastien Ogier in driver’s seat for sixth straight World Rally Championship title

Sebastien Ogier leads the way in the WRC title chase. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) — Thierry Neuville finished the sixth stage of Rally Australia on Friday without a rear left tire, damaging his chances of catching five-time defending champion Sebastien Ogier for the World Rally Championship title.

The Belgian driver entered the rally just three points behind Ogier in the closest title fight in 15 years.

He held the upper hand on his French rival, building a near-10 second gap through the first five stages at Coffs Harbour before hitting a chicane and finishing the stage with only three tires on his Hyundai.

Neuville was fortunate the puncture occurred late enough in the day to finish all six forestry stages and avoid a retirement. But the mistake cost him 40 seconds and gave Ogier, who is 33 seconds ahead of him, a clear run at his sixth straight championship.

In his last start with Ford before a move to Citroen next year, Ogier struggled as the first to drive the dusty, slippery forest routes.

“I pushed like crazy, I was on the limit over the jump and everywhere, I can’t do (any) more,” Ogier said. “I was on the limit.”

With Ogier on sweeping duties the back markers flourished, and Mads Ostberg took the lead in his return to the series.

Ostberg was forced to miss the previous round in Spain to make way for rally winner and nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb, who was making the last of his three guest appearances for Citroen.

Now back in the seat, Ostberg leads Jari-Matti Latvala by 6.8 seconds in the Australian rally, with sixth-stage winner Craig Breen in third.

Ogier was seventh, 38.2 seconds off the pace, but only needs to finish ahead of Neuville to claim the championship title. Neuville is in 10th place after six stages.

Roles will reverse on Saturday, with Ogier to start further back in the field and do his best on cleaner roads to make up the day-one deficit before Sunday’s final stages.

Andreas Mikkelsen, the 2016 Rally Australia champion, was an early dropout after rolling into a ditch in his Hyundai. Mikkelsen had only just avoided a tractor that had found its way onto the course.

Former winner Molly Taylor and co-driver Malcolm Read were also forced out of their event when their Subaru hit a hay bale at high speed on the morning’s second stage. Both reported soreness but suffered no serious injuries.

The 24-stage rally totals 319 kilometers (197 miles). Ten stages are scheduled Saturday with the final six on Sunday, most of them through forests on the New South Wales state’s north coast about 530 kilometers (325 miles) north of Sydney.