What to watch for: Belgian Grand Prix (7:30am ET on NBCSN and Live Extra)

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Formula 1’s summer break may have been a time for relaxation and restoration, but championship leader Lewis Hamilton showed few signs of rust as he stormed to his tenth pole of the 2015 season in qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Hamilton dominated proceedings in Q3 to beat Mercedes teammate and championship rival Nico Rosberg by almost half a second, marking the Briton’s sixth straight pole.

The result also saw Hamilton clinch the FIA Pole Trophy for 2015, awarded to the season’s best qualifier, but he will be hoping to receive a far bigger prize at the end of the year: a third world title.

The Belgian Grand Prix remains one of the most popular races on the F1 calendar, taking place at the fearsome Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in the heart of the Ardennes forest.

A mix of fast, sweeping corners and brutal straights makes this race the ultimate challenge for both man and machine, whilst the track’s notoriety for changeable weather is sure to keep everyone on their toes today.

Here are a few things to watch out for in today’s Belgian Grand Prix.

HAMILTON LOOKS TO TURN THE SCREW

After dodging a bullet in Hungary and extending his championship lead, Hamilton now has the chance to take his advantage over Rosberg to almost 30 points with a win at Spa on Sunday.

The Briton has a mixed history at the Belgian Grand Prix, and although he struggled to find much of a rhythm in practice on Friday, he will be hoping to stamp his authority on the race with a trouble-free performance.

And in truth, he needs it. He may have pulled away from Rosberg in recent races, but Hamilton has not had an ‘easy’ weekend since the Canadian Grand Prix two months ago. Now would be a good time for him to stabilize himself ahead of the run to Abu Dhabi.

LES COMBES v2?

It was on the second lap of last year’s Belgian Grand Prix when Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg clashed in an incident that had massive on their fight for the drivers’ championship. That day, it was Rosberg who emerged the villain – he would beat Hamilton just once more in the whole season.

Although the tension at Mercedes does appear to have defused in recent months, all eyes will be on the Silver Arrows once again on Sunday when they go side-by-side into the corner. Rosberg knows that another defeat cannot be afforded, though.

CAN FERRARI FIGHT THROUGH THE FIELD?

One of the biggest shocks in qualifying on Saturday was the struggle of Ferrari. Just four weeks on from Sebastian Vettel’s win in Hungary, the German driver will start today’s race from eighth place on the grid after a poor performance in qualifying.

There was worse news for Spa master Kimi Raikkonen in qualifying, though, as a loss of oil pressure caused the Finn to stop out on track. Ferrari has opted to change the gearbox on his car, meaning that he will start from P19.

THE BATTLE FOR THE PODIUM

Just three-tenths of a second separated P3 to P9 in qualifying on Saturday, which around the long lap at Spa is next to nothing. As such, we appear to be in for a thrilling fight to complete the podium.

Valtteri Bottas led the way in the race to be ‘best of the rest’ in qualifying, finishing third. However, Sergio Perez’s straight line speed has been highly impressive thus far this weekend. Daniel Ricciardo, Romain Grosjean, Pastor Maldonado and Felipe Massa are also likely to be in the mix, whilst the Ferraris should also be considered despite starting further back.

NEW START PROCEDURE

The new rules for race starts in F1 come into force for this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix, preventing the drivers from changing the bite point on their cars on the formation lap or from communicating with their engineers about the settings on their clutch.

It will be intriguing to see which drivers have adapted best to the new ruling at the start of the race on Sunday. Mercedes claims to have done all that it can to prepare, but after making poor getaways at Silverstone and the Hungaroring, Hamilton and Rosberg will need to be on their guard on the run down to La Source.

STARTING GRID FOR THE 2015 BELGIAN GRAND PRIX

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Valtteri Bottas Williams
4. Sergio Perez Force India
5. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
6. Felipe Massa Williams
7. Pastor Maldonado Lotus
8. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
9. Romain Grosjean Lotus
10. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
11. Nico Hulkenberg Force India
12. Daniil Kvyat Red Bull
13. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
14. Felipe Nasr Sauber
15. Will Stevens Manor
16. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
17. Roberto Merhi Manor
18. Max Verstappen Toro Rosso
19. Jenson Button McLaren
20. Fernando Alonso McLaren

The Belgian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7:30am ET on Sunday.

After thrilling ‘Evel Live,’ Travis Pastrana back in action this weekend

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It’s been 2 ½ months since Travis Pastrana channeled his inner Evel Knievel in “Evel Live” in Las Vegas on July 8.

The legendary motorcycle stunt rider and rallycross driver successfully replicated three of Knievel’s most infamous career motorcycle jumps, capped off by jumping – some would call it flying – over the fountain at Caesar’s Palace.

All without a scratch or any type of malfunction.

“It was awesome,” Pastrana told NBC Sports’ MotorSportsTalk in an exclusive interview. “Obviously, to do something live, a live stunt which hasn’t been done, is cool.

“And just the nostalgia, to live a day in Evel Knievel’s boots, literally, was awesome. To have the whole Knievel family out there, his three kids, and my mom and dad all out there, it was just a real awesome day.

“And to have the chance to jump the Caeser’s (Palace) fountain, probably the most infamous and iconic stunt location in the world. All that added up to be a really, really great event and I think it came off really well.”

MORE: Travis Pastrana successfully completes all three of Evel Knievel’s most famous jumps

MORE: Travis Pastrana’s goal to replicate 3 of Evel Knievel’s most famous jumps: ‘Try not to die’

LAS VEGAS, NV – JULY 08: Travis Pastrana peforms during HISTORY’s Live Event “Evel Live” on July 8, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for HISTORY)

Pastrana spoke at length about the logistics of setting up the three jumps in two different venues, getting from Point A in one part of Las Vegas to Point B (Caesar’s), and dealing with potential weather concerns.

“That’s the greatest part about Nitro Circus (Pastrana’s company) is having an amazing team so that when an idea like this comes up, we can make it turn into fruition and a possibility,” Pastrana said. “The idea came up less than a year before it was pulled off.

“I couldn’t have been more proud of my team and all the guys there. When we called Caesar’s, we thought for sure they were going to say no. Then they said yes.

“Then we talked to the Knievel family and they said, ‘this is going to be great. Go ahead.’ It was like, be careful for what you ask for because it just happened. And then we had a bike just like Evel’s, although a more modern day (version).”

While Pastrana and his team pulled off everything seamlessly, there was a lot of worry and concern, especially on Pastrana’s part, since he was the focal point of the stunt, which was televised live.

“I didn’t sleep at all the night before,” he said. “And then everything just worked out. It’s what you hope for, for sure. But with every race, every event, everything, there’s always something like a $5 part break in a half-million dollar vehicle. Something always goes wrong.

“The fact that everything went as well as it could – I mean, they were calling for 80 percent chance of rain with wind gusts up to 60 mph (on the day of the event).

“And the storm kind of went 20 miles south, it didn’t get that windy, and you have to think to yourself, ‘Man, that was a live event, and representing Evel Knievel, the stunt man of Vegas, you’ve gotta go for it.’”

Pastrana vowed to perform the stunts rain or shine. But if it had rained, he had his doubts that he’d be able to pull it off.

“Successfully, probably not,” the 34-year-old Pastrana said with a laugh. “That was the thing, what I had said coming up to it.

“When Evel got to Wembley Stadium (to do his infamous 13-bus jump in 1975), he said, ‘Look, the busses are bigger than they are in the U.S., I miscalculated the distance, this bike is not going to go as fast as I thought it would go. I’m not going to make it, but I told you guys I was going to put on a show, and I’m going to deliver.’

“That’s why I wanted to be the guy on this particular stunt. I can’t tell someone else when there are bad conditions or the bike is overheating or something else is going wrong to go, but with Nitro Circus and our history, and his family there, it just has to go, no matter what happens. We were just real fortunate and lucky that it all worked out.”

Pastrana jumped the fountain at Caesars Palace to wrap up a night of replicating three of Evel Knievels most infamous career jumps. Photo: Getty Images.

While he certainly enjoyed doing them, the Annapolis, Maryland native said it’s unlikely he’ll have any more Evel-like jumps in his career.

“This was a perfect storm,” he said. “Everything was just lined up on this one. For me, that was not my last hurrah, if you will, but as far as doing a big stunt, I did my biggest stunt I’ve ever done last year with the double back-flip 360 and kind of realized, you know what, I’ve been lucky long enough, let me just focus on my family.

“But then this came up, and I was like, ‘Put me in, coach.’”

Pastrana returns to the track this Saturday and Sunday for the third annual Nitro World Games at the Utah Motorsports Campus (formerly known as Miller Motorsports Park) near Salt Lake City.

Saturday will feature Nitro Rallycross (NRX) Qualifiers and Heat Races, including some of the biggest names in the sport including Pastrana and rival Ken Block having some “unfinished business,” as well as Scott Speed, Tanner Foust, Patrik Sandell, Steve Arpin, Mattias Ekstrom, Chris Atkinson and Timmy Hansen.

Pastrana and Ken Block have some ‘unfinished business’ in this weekend’s Nitro World Games near Salt Lake City. Photo: Nitro Circus.

On Sunday, the action includes the FMX Best Trick Finals, NRX Semi-Finals and Finals and FMX Quarterpipe Finals.

Among FMX Quarterpipe competitors are Colby Raha, Jarryd McNeil, Axell Hodges, Elijah Aldoff, Corey Creed and Kohl Denney.

And among riders and drivers taking part in the Best Trick Finals are defending champ Harry Bink, along with Pat Bowden, Christian Meyer, Josh Sheehan, William Van den Putte, Blake Williams, and Davi Johnson.

“Having the opportunity to kind of reinvent the sport for the American audience and for the drivers – I mean, we have Talladega-sized berms – right and left turns, dirt and pavement, huge jumps, there’s a triple-crossover,” Pastrana said. “World Games is basically the bigger of international sports. We take the most exciting sports, the biggest air, the least technical … and try to make it even bigger.

“I couldn’t be more excited. I think it’s going to be real exciting for the drivers, lots of options. It’s not a track that’s just built for a one-off event, it’s going to be a permanent place here so people can come out here and practice and keep getting better like European tracks do. So it should be good.”

Pastrana said Nitro Circus does over 70 live shows around the world per year, but he’s also excited about preparing for a lengthy residency in Las Vegas beginning next March.

Given all the things he’s accomplished over his career, Pastrana was asked if there’s anything remaining on his bucket list that he still hopes to do.

“I love racing, I love competing and I feel like I’ve competed in almost everything all over the world,” he said. “But the Daytona 500 is something … and I’ve never done a drag race. So those two would be pretty cool, wouldn’t they?”

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