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What to watch for: Singapore Grand Prix (NBCSN, NBC Sports app from 7am ET)

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Formula 1 enters the night on Sunday with one of the modern wonders of the current calendar: the Singapore Grand Prix.

With the track bathing under 1,500 spotlights and the iconic city skyline lighting up the night sky, few races come close to magic of Singapore.

Nico Rosberg will be hoping to create some magic of his own on Sunday as he chases his third straight grand prix victory and looks to regain the championship lead from Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton.

Rosberg dominated qualifying with a rapid lap that was over half a second faster than any other driver, securing his first pole position in Singapore.

With Hamilton struggling for form throughout the weekend and slipping to third place on the grid behind Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, his lead in the standings is at serious risk.

Alas, things in Singapore are never straightforward. With the walls waiting to punish the smallest of errors and at least one safety car expected, the fight for victory is wider than its seems.

You can watch the Singapore Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 7am ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

Here’s what to watch for in today’s race.

2016 Singapore Grand Prix – What To Watch For

The rule of Rosberg

Today’s race offers Nico Rosberg an opportunity never afforded to him in 2014 or 2015. In both those years, once Hamilton went on a streak and gained momentum, the title race was effectively over. You would have been forgiven for thinking the same after his run of four victories through July.

Yet after winning at Spa and Monza, Rosberg pulled himself back into contention. If his imperious display in qualifying is anything to go by, combined with Hamilton’s own lack of rhythm, this should be his race to lose.

Rosberg has a habit of capitalizing on situations where his opponents are at their weakest. An eighth win of the year today would be a huge, huge statement of intent heading into the final six rounds of the season.

Can Lewis bring it back?

Lewis Hamilton’s Singapore Grand Prix weekend thus far has been a difficult one. An issue in FP2 followed by a mistake in FP3 meant he was unable to complete a full qualifying simulation, perhaps accounting for his lack of pace in Q3 that left him third on the grid.

For Hamilton, the focus today will be jumping Ricciardo at the start. With the Red Bulls set to run further into the race before pitting and overtaking opportunities around the Marina Bay Street Circuit coming at a premium, failing to do so would surely end his hopes of victory.

That said, Hamilton’s career has featured a number of hard-fought for victories that seemed unlikely heading into the race. Perhaps Singapore will offer the latest chapter of that story today…

Super-soft start gives Ricciardo, Verstappen options

Red Bull’s gamble on getting Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen through Q2 on super-soft tires could pay off today. The ‘middle’ compound in Singapore has been holding up well, opening up a variety of strategy options for the Red Bull drivers. Given there has been a safety car in every Singapore Grand Prix of the modern era, this flexibility will surely boost Red Bull’s chances.

Ricciardo proved in Monaco earlier this year how tuned in the RB12 car is to street circuits, coming within a clean pit stop of his first victory since Belgium 2014. Now armed with an updated Renault power unit, the Australian will be out to avenge that defeat.

And just as it is crucial for Hamilton to get the jump on the Red Bulls off the line, Ricciardo will know that seizing the lead into Turn 1 could define his race. Keeping the Mercedes’ pace capped will put him in a very strong position indeed.

More misery for Grosjean?

Romain Grosjean’s Singapore Grand Prix weekend has been nothing short of miserable. After missing FP1 due to an engine issue and then completing just 12 laps in FP2, Grosjean crashed out of qualifying, leaving the Frenchman dumbfounded.

Haas brought a raft of updates to Singapore for its VF-16 car, yet they appear to have sent Grosjean off-kilter. Realistically, the team’s hopes of its first points since Austria lie with Esteban Gutierrez, who will start from 13th on the grid. Gutierrez is out to break his own points drought dating back almost three years – a race of attrition could lift him into the top 10.

Vettel’s Charge of the Night Brigade

What a difference a year has made for Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari. 12 months on from his charge to pole position and domination of the race in Singapore, the German will start from the very back of the grid after a rear anti-roll bar failure on his car during qualifying.

Vettel had struggled with the setup on his car all weekend long, but still felt he had a shot at the front row in qualifying. From P22, he will need a few safety cars and some lucky breaks to make it back into the top 10 – although as a four-time Singapore winner, you cannot write him off.

Everyone loves a fight through the field – so be sure to keep an eye on Seb today.

2016 Singapore Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
3. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
4. Max Verstappen Red Bull
5. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
6. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
7. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
8. Nico Hulkenberg Force India
9. Fernando Alonso McLaren
10. Valtteri Bottas Williams
11. Felipe Massa Williams
12. Jenson Button McLaren
13. Esteban Gutierrez Haas
14. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
15. Kevin Magnussen Renault
16. Felipe Nasr Sauber
17. Sergio Perez Force India*
18. Jolyon Palmer Renault
19. Pascal Wehrlein Manor
20. Romain Grosjean Haas**
21. Esteban Ocon Manor
22. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari***

* Eight-place grid penalty for yellow flag infringement in Q2
** Five-place grid penalty for gearbox change
*** 25-place grid penalty for multiple component changes.

Alexander Rossi hopes to dodge oncoming traffic in second Baja 1000

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One of the great viral videos of last year’s offseason was the sight of Alexander Rossi’s Honda Ridgeline off-road vehicle and its near head-on collision with a passenger SUV coming in the wrong direction of last year’s Baja 1000.

The video of the incident overshadowed an outstanding debut for Rossi in the SCORE OFF Road Desert race.

Rossi (pictured above on the right along with fellow driver Jeff Proctor) told NBCSports.com that driving down the same roads still used by passenger traffic is one of the unique challenges of the Baja 1000.

“The most demanding form of racing is IndyCar racing,” Rossi told NBC Sports.com. “But the big thing for me in the Baja 1000 is mentally being able to understand the terrain that is coming at you at 120 miles an hour in the dust and pedestrians and other cars, people and cattle that come along with this race.”

Rossi is becoming a modern-day Parnelli Jones, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. He wants to race anything on wheels and win.

Since the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season concluded with the Sept. 22 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, Rossi competed in the Bathurst 1000 in Australia on Oct. 13. Earlier this year, Rossi drove for Acura Team Penske in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

This weekend, the winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 and a perennial contender for the NTT IndyCar Series championship will compete in the Baja 1000 for the second straight year.

Rossi will be driving for the Honda Ridgeline Racing team and is the sixth Indy 500 winner to compete in the Baja 1000.

Other Indy 500 winners who have raced in the SCORE Baja 1000 include Jones, the 1963 Indianapolis winner and a two-time Baja 1000 race winner (1971 72); fellow Honda IndyCar Series driver and Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, the Indy winner in 2014; Rick Mears, who won the Indianapolis 500 four times, 1985 Indy 500 champion Danny Sullivan and 2004 Indy winner Buddy Rice.

NTT IndyCar season champions who have raced in the Baja 1000 include Mears, Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy.

Rossi has a better understanding of what to expect in this year’s Baja 1000 after last year’s rookie experience.

How valuable was last years’ experience?

“It’s hugely valuable,” Rossi said. “The course changes each year. There will be some elements that are the same, but it’s a new route from start to finish this year. That is why we go down a week early. We do pre-running in a similar type of vehicle and take course notes and analyze each individual section of the course, find the danger areas and what you need to do come race day.

“Ultimately, the biggest thing is having the knowledge of how to prepare for the race and what to expect once you roll off the starting line. That is something I will have going for me this year that I didn’t have last year.”

As an off-road rookie, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“I don’t know that I can pinpoint any highlights other than just the whole experience,” Rossi said of last years’ experience. “The whole week and a half I had down there in 2018 was phenomenal. The team made me feel part of the family from Day One. I just love driving a desert truck through Baja California. It’s an experience unlike any other.

“The entire event was a highlight more than one specific moment.”

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Driving an off-road Honda Ridgeline through the desert of Baja California in Mexico is vastly different than Rossi’s regular ride in the No. 27 NAPA Honda in the NTT IndyCar Series. But Rossi believes there are many similarities, also.

“It’s very different, for obvious reasons, but ultimately, a race car is a race car,” Rossi said. “It has four wheels, and you are trying to get it from Point A to Point B quicker than other people. The general underlying techniques of getting a car through the corner efficiently is all the same; it’s just a different style.

“Everyone here is very talented at what they do and very good so in order to win this race, you have to be at the top of your game.”

The Baja 1000, like most forms of off-road racing, is more against the clock than a wheel-to-wheel competition such as IndyCar. Rossi believes it is a different form of endurance racing, similar to IMSA in many ways.

“You have to compare it like an endurance race,” Rossi said. “It’s a race where the first part of it, you are trying to get through and not take chances and stay in touch with the people you are trying to stay in touch with.

“When you get down to the final 20 to 30 percent, that is when you try to either close the lead of extend the lead of whatever position you are in. That is similar to the Rolex 24 at Daytona. It comes down to the last three or four hours, and we take a mentality closer to that.

“The only difference is if you get it wrong at Daytona, you spin in the grass. Here, it can be more dramatic than that.”

As an off-road rookie in 2018, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“The Honda off-road guys and my co-driver/navigator Evan Weller make it so easy for me to just jump right in and go to work,” Rossi said. “I can’t wait to share the seat with Jeff [Proctor] and Pat [Dailey] once again, and hopefully, bring home a win.”

The Honda Off-Road Racing Team has had an outstanding 2019 season, including class wins for the Baja Ridgeline Race Truck at the Parker 425, the Mint 400 and the Baja 500; where the team successfully debuted the second-generation “TSCO” chassis; and a second-place Class 7 finish at the Vegas-to-Reno event.

Proctor won his class in the Baja 1000 in both 2015 and 2016 with the Ridgeline, finished second in class in 2017 and 2018; and won the companion SCORE Baja 500 race both in 2016, 2018 and again earlier this year. The Ridgeline competes in Class 7, for unlimited six-cylinder production-appearing trucks and SUVs.

“We are stoked to have Alexander back racing with us in Mexico for his sophomore attempt at this iconic off-road race,” Proctor said. “This year’s 52nd annual Baja 1000 course covers ALL of the toughest terrain and areas in Baja Norte….as always, it will be tough.

“Alex is one of the brightest motorsports minds I’ve worked with, and he is a great asset to our team.”

The Baja 1000 begins Friday and runs through the weekend along the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500