What To Watch For: Brazilian GP (NBCSN, Live Extra from 10:30am ET)

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Lewis Hamilton may already have clinched his third Formula 1 drivers’ championship, but there is still plenty to play for in the remaining two races of the 2015 season as he battles for supremacy with teammate Nico Rosberg.

Having struggled to match Hamilton for most of the year, Rosberg has shown signs of a revival in recent weeks, claiming five straight pole positions in the lead-up to Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix.

For the second year in a row, Rosberg will start from pole at Interlagos ahead of Hamilton as he goes in search of a fifth victory of the season.

By getting in some late blows in this year, Rosberg will be hoping to set himself up for a renewed title bid in 2016, placing pressure on both Mercedes drivers on Sunday.

Here’s what to watch for in today’s Brazilian Grand Prix, live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 10:30am ET on Sunday.

What To Watch For – 2015 Brazilian Grand Prix

The Rosberg Renaissance?

He may have lost the championship, but we’ve seen a different side to Nico Rosberg in recent weeks. Having put up little fight to his teammate for the title, the German appears to have rediscovered the form that made him so dangerous in 2014 when he ran Hamilton all the way to the final race of the season.

Recording back-to-back victories in Brazil would be a big statement, particularly at a race that Hamilton so dearly wants to win. This is a big weekend for Rosberg – the psychological battle for 2016 is already underway.

Hamilton’s ‘to do’ list

There isn’t much that Lewis Hamilton has not won in Formula 1, but the Brazilian Grand Prix is still on his ‘to do’ list. There have been near-misses in the past (2012 being his best chance), and it will forever be the site of his dramatic title victory back in 2008.

However, he is yet to emulate hero Ayrton Senna by winning at Interlagos. In a year that saw him match the legendary Brazilian’s title tally, Hamilton will be hungry to go one step further and finally check this off his hit list.

Seb’s waiting on a miracle

Sebastian Vettel will take up his usual starting slot of P3 for today’s Brazilian Grand Prix, but the Ferrari driver has not given up hope of winning for a fourth time in 2015. Vettel said after qualifying that he hopes Ferrari can “create a miracle” at Interlagos and capitalize on the unpredictable nature of the race.

Indeed, the Brazilian Grand Prix is notorious for drama and suspense, but unless rain strikes on Sunday, it is hard to see Ferrari mounting much of a challenge to Mercedes. In a race that sees a split between two and three stops, Ferrari should be able to take advantage of the SF15-T’s kinder tire treatment, but it’s unlikely to be enough to bother the Mercedes runners.

Home favorites

Felipe Massa and Felipe Nasr will be flying the flag for Brazil on Sunday at Interlagos, and both have a good chance of points in the race on Sunday starting from P8 and P13 respectively.

For Nasr, this marks his first home grand prix, and offers a good opportunity for him to add to his growing points haul in his rookie season. Sauber appears to be in better shape in Brazil, with Marcus Ericsson also working his way into Q2 on Sunday.

More misery for McLaren?

After #PlacesAlonsoWouldRatherBe took the internet by storm on Saturday, McLaren will be hoping to make the headlines of the right reasons on Sunday – as unlikely as it may be.

Having completed just one lap in Mexico and stopped in both practice and qualifying so far this weekend, Fernando Alonso will be keen to buck the trend and make some kind of progress from the back of the grid.

Teammate Jenson Button starts a few places further forward, but both know that it will most probably require a race ‘out of the norm’ to give them points.

More memes would be welcome, of course.

2015 BRAZILIAN GRAND PRIX – STARTING GRID

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

* grid penalty applied

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”