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2015 United States Grand Prix Preview

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The old adage that “everything is bigger in Texas” rings true when it comes to Formula 1. A bigger track, a bigger facility, a bigger event – and for this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, bigger stakes.

For on Sunday, Lewis Hamilton could become the first British driver to successfully defend his drivers’ title and become a three-time world champion in the process, emulate his hero Ayrton Senna, and firmly establish himself as one of F1’s all-time greats.

The Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas is yet to have witnessed an F1 title victory, but should Hamilton outscore nearest rival Sebastian Vettel by nine points and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by six, the championship will be settled with three races remaining.

Beyond the title battle, though, COTA is embarking on its biggest weekend of the year with a bumper crowd expected across the three days of on-track action.

The presence of Alexander Rossi, the first American driver at the US GP for the first time since 2007, and excitement surrounding the arrival of Haas F1 Team in 2016 is sure to only gee up home interest in the US GP.

F1’s relationship with America has been turbulent throughout the 65-year history of the sport, but this weekend is set to be a new high point.

2015 United States Grand Prix – Talking Points

Lewis looks to wrap up the title

Lewis Hamilton’s third championship victory has been something of a formality for some time, but after seeing teammate Nico Rosberg retire in Russia and his lead over the pack swell to 66 points, the Briton will know that Austin is where it could be settled.

Hamilton knows that winning at COTA with Rosberg second and Sebastian Vettel third (the ‘norm’ in 2015) would be enough to clinch him a third world title. Doing so in Austin would be all the more important for Lewis, who has fostered a real affinity for the USA in recent years, and it would only aid the sport’s profile in America.

Rain? In Austin?

Those travelling to Austin for the US GP may have seen little need to pack a coat or umbrella heading into the weekend, given that it hasn’t rained in the city since August.

But naturally, when F1 rocks up in town, things change. The forecast for the entire weekend is rather miserable, with some predicting heavy rain across all three days of on-track action. It could set the stage for a classic race – something Austin has arguably lacked thus far – and really spice up the fight at the front.

Rossi flies the star-spangled banner at home

Alexander Rossi will realise a life-long dream this weekend in Austin when he becomes the first American driver since 2007 to race in the US GP, returning to his Manor seat after missing the Russian Grand Prix due to GP2 commitments.

As Rossi detailed in his latest NBC Sports blog, his schedule has been hectic in recent days due to the massive media focus on his appearance at COTA, proving just how far F1 has come in the USA.

Rossi may stand little chance of scoring points, but simply seeing an American driver lining up on the grid to start his home grand prix must go down as a momentous achievement.

The Mexico effect

COTA’s crowd figures in all of its past three US GP weekends have been highly impressive, but undoubtedly boosted by the presence of a large Mexican contingency that has made the trip across to cheer on home heroes Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez.

However, with the Mexican Grand Prix returning to the calendar next weekend, it will be interesting to see what kind of impact this has on Austin’s crowd figures. The race in Mexico City does pose a threat to the US GP – that should not be understated – and the initial reaction and effect will be important to gauge.

Red Bull’s engine saga continues

Red Bull’s lack of an engine supplier continues to concern the F1 paddock, with the fear of losing two of the teams on the grid becoming more and more real.

The team has said before that it wanted a decision made by the US GP, so perhaps this weekend will bring some kind of news, be it Renault or Ferrari who is bailing the fallen champions out.

2015 United States Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Circuit of The Americas
Laps: 56
Corners: 20
Lap Record: Valtteri Bottas 1:40.896 (Williams, 2014)
Tire Compounds: Soft (Option); Medium (Prime)
2014 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2014 Pole Position: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:36.067
2014 Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 1:41.379
DRS Zone: Main Straight (T20 to T1); T11 to T12

2015 United States Grand Prix – TV Times

Free Practice 1: NBCSN 11am ET 10/23
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 3pm ET 10/23
Free Practice 3 and Qualifying: NBCSN 12:30pm ET 10/24
Race: NBC 2:30pm ET 10/25

April 9 in Motorsports History: Al Unser Jr. gets sixth Long Beach win

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The list of winners in the Grand Prix of Long Beach is a ‘who’s who’ of open-wheel racing.

Mario Andretti won at the famed street course four times. His son Michael won there twice.

Paul Tracy is also a four-time winner at the beach. Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais, and Alexander Rossi also have won at the famed course multiple times.

But there is only one “King of the Beach”: Al Unser Jr.

The winningest driver in the race’s history, Unser won at Long Beach four consecutive times from 1988-91. He won again in 1994 and entered the 1995 edition as the race’s defending champion and the defending CART champion as well.

Starting fourth, Unser made slight contact with Gil de Ferran when he passed the Brazilian on Lap 3. He then continued to move up to the front, taking the race lead from Teo Fabi on Lap 30.

Once he had the lead, Unser ran away from the field, winning by more than 23 seconds over Scott Pruett.

Unser’s victory was such a familiar scene that after the race, CART news manager John Procida began the winner’s news conference with the following statement: “Well, we have a very familiar face on the top rung of the podium. As we listed on the prerace press release, this seems to be the Al Unser Invitational.”

Indeed it was. Unser’s victory was his sixth at Long Beach, and the 28th of his career. overall. While it would be his last win there, Unser continued to race at Long Beach through 1998 before missing 1999 with a broken leg and moving to the Indy Racing Leauge in 2000.

In 2009, Unser was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame, which honors significant contributors to the race and California motorsports community.

“It truly is just an honor to be mentioned with the names and the legends that have already been put into the sidewalk,” Unser said during the induction ceremony. “To have Brian (Redman, the inaugural winner of the race) and Parnelli (Jones) is really an honor and just to be in their company is very, very special.”

Also on this date:

1971: Jacques Villeneuve was born in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada. The second-generation driver was one of the best in open-wheel racing during the 1990s, winning the Indianapolis 500 and CART championship in ’95 and becoming a Formula One champion two years later.

1989: Rick Mears dominated CART’s Checker Autoworks 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, leading every lap from the pole and lapping the field.

2011: Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park, their sixth consecutive victory in Grand Am competition. Their lengthy win streak, which started on Aug. 7, 2010 at Watkins Glen, prompted Grand Am to offer a $25,000 bounty for any Daytona Prototype team that could beat the dominant duo. The Action Express trio of Joao Barbosa, J.C. France, and Terry Borcheller finally unseated Pruett and Rojas in the series’ next round at Virginia International Raceway.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994