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Hamilton faces big challenge at Chinese GP after penalty

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SHANGHAI (AP) Reigning Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton will have to make up considerable ground in the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday if he’s going to capture his third straight race in Shanghai and close the gap with Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the drivers’ standings.

Hamilton received a five-place grid penalty in Shanghai for making an early switch of his gearbox after it was damaged in a collision at the Bahrain Grand Prix two weeks ago.

Hamilton, though, seemed unfazed by the fact he can only start as high as sixth in Sunday’s race, even though he’s already 17 points behind Rosberg in the standings following a disappointing start to the season.

“When you hear on the Wednesday morning that you’re arriving at the weekend with a penalty already, of course, that changes the approach to the weekend and it changes the mindset a little bit,” he said at the track on Thursday. “But for me, a challenge is an opportunity to rise.”

Rosberg is confident after sweeping the races in Australia and Bahrain to start the season – and capturing five straight races going back to last season – but he knows he can’t count Hamilton out, particularly on a track where the British driver has prevailed four times before (2008, 2011, 2014-15).

“A Hamilton that starts sixth is still going to challenge for the win and we know that,” Rosberg said. “I’m not taking anything for granted at all.”

Hamilton noted that his teammate will most likely have an “easier weekend” with his penalty, but added: “I’m going to be pushing as hard as I can. It doesn’t mean I can’t win the race.”

Ferrari will also be looking to challenge the Mercedes cars after a series of technical issues slowed the team’s start to the year. Sebastian Vettel was forced out of the race in Bahrain with engine failure on the warmup lap and Kimi Raikkonen failed to finish in Australia due to a problem with the turbo charger.

“We didn’t have the start that we wanted, which is not a big secret,” Vettel said. “The performance is not yet where we want to be. But there’s nothing that shakes me or makes me nervous for this season or the next couple races because I know that this team is very strong.”

McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, is looking forward to just getting behind the wheel again following a frightening crash at the season-opening race in Melbourne that left his car in a mangled heap on the track and him with a fractured rib.

The FIA doctors ruled him out of the Bahrain Grand Prix, but he was given provisional clearance to take part in Friday’s practice in Shanghai, after which further tests will be done to ensure he’s fit enough for the rest of the weekend.

“In Bahrain, I was mentally 100 percent, ready to race, but physically I had a lot of pain,” he said. “Now the situation has improved a lot and I’m mentally 120 percent now, but physically also 100 percent with no pain in the last couple of days.”

Alonso said he’s been training normally the last two weeks with running and cycling, along with some golf and tennis, and he wouldn’t have made the trip to China if he wasn’t sure he was ready to race.

“I did (that) once, in Bahrain, and it was quite tough to be there all weekend,” he said.

Formula One will also revert to last year’s qualifying format in China after experimenting with a new rolling-elimination system in the first two races that proved unpopular with drivers.

All the teams voted against the new qualifying format last week, forcing FIA president Jean Todt and series commercial chief Bernie Ecclestone to backtrack.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.