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As F1 silly season winds down, who’s in the race for the final four seats?

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The past two weeks have seen the 2017 driver markets for MotorSportsTalk’s two primary series, Formula 1 and IndyCar, develop very, very quickly.

Over in IndyCar, a flurry of confirmations mean that just two seats remain up for grabs: one at Chip Ganassi Racing, filled in 2016 by Max Chilton, and one for the street and road courses at Ed Carpenter Racing.

The F1 driver market was expected to be particularly volatile heading into 2017, but Red Bull’s early promotion of Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s decision to keep Kimi Raikkonen on for another year left it looking pretty stationary.

Things moved along quickly when Nico Hulkenberg decided to leave Force India for Renault, setting off a chain reaction that has seen Esteban Ocon move up as his replacement, Kevin Magnussen move to Haas and leave just four seats up for grabs: two at Sauber and two at Manor.

So who is in the race for the remaining seats? The names to work with here are Felipe Nasr, Marcus Ericsson, Pascal Wehrlein, Esteban Gutierrez, Rio Haryanto and Jordan King. It is likely that four of the six will fill out the grid.

Sauber F1 Team

Sauber’s fortunes for 2017 may remain bleak given the team’s decision to stick with a 2016-spec Ferrari power unit.

Yet with Longbow Finance’s takeover complete, the recruitment drive ongoing and, most importantly, the team poised for a multi-million dollar windfall all thanks to Felipe Nasr’s ninth-place finish in Brazil, things aren’t as bad as they once looked.

The result saw Sauber move above Manor in the constructors’ championship, with the difference between P10 and P11 equating to a reported $15 million in prize money.

Both Nasr and Ericsson pushed to secure a move to Force India, only to lose out to Ocon. Both bring decent financial backing to Sauber, with Ericsson also reportedly enjoying links to Longbow. As a result, it would be a big surprise to see the Swede racing elsewhere in 2017.

The question mark hangs over Nasr. He may have been a step above Ericsson on track, but off it, his reliance on Banco do Brasil and the current financial crisis facing Brazil may be an issue.

A possible option for Sauber is Gutierrez, who spent two years racing with the team in 2013 and 2014. His departure wasn’t on the best of terms, but he was spotted talking to his former boss, Monisha Kaltenborn, in Brazil; no real effort was made to hide that fact, either.

Gutierrez brings decent backing from Mexico, so would definitely be an option, relying the scars of his exit have healed for both sides.

Manor Racing

Just as Nasr’s points in Brazil boost Sauber’s fortunes, they hamper Manor’s. The British minnows will most probably need to secure a pay driver’s services for 2017 as a replacement for the Force India-bound Ocon.

Wehrlein’s debut season in F1 has been an odd one. His charge to P10 in Austria marked just the second points finish in Manor’s seven-season history, yet his failure to outclass early-year teammate Rio Haryanto and subsequent struggles against Ocon, who only made his debut in August, piqued enough concern for Force India to pass on him as Hulkenberg’s replacement.

Wehrlein will be keen to remain with Manor next year, and it could be that the likes of Gutierrez and Nasr push to join him. Both have backing (the latter’s admittedly uncertain), and both will benefit from 2017-spec Mercedes engines. It’s not unthinkable that Manor should run ahead of Sauber in the pecking order next year, making a move to the team desirable.

Haryanto was forced to give up his seat after Germany due to a shortfall in funding, but the Indonesian is apparently back in contention for a seat next year. Another option is Jordan King, who races in GP2 and is Manor’s development driver. He too would bring some backing.

Manor has no shortage of pay drivers to choose from. The big questions that will determine its decision are how crucial keeping Wehrlein is to its relationship with Mercedes, and what level of funding is now required after losing P10 in the constructors’ championship.

Perhaps the oddest thing in all of this is that both F1 and IndyCar look set to have their 2017 grids set before the end of the calendar year. As my colleague Tony DiZinno noted yesterday, Dale Coyne Racing has traditionally left things as late as possible; Manor is perhaps the equivalent in F1.

If things can be firmed up early, though, then the team will surely benefit from the stability that comes with it.

‘One and Only’ Kyle Larson wins Outlaws opener at Knoxville Raceway

Kyle Larson wins Knoxville
Paul Arch/World of Outlaws
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The magic of dirt racing wins for Kyle Larson continued Thursday night at Knoxville Raceway, where he scored his third consecutive World of Outlaws victory at the famed half-mile track to open “The One and Only.”

After starting 10th, Larson sliced through the field and passed pole-sitter Logan Schuchart to lead the final eight laps in the No. 57 of car owner Paul Silva.

“Just an awesome race,” Larson said after earning $10,000 for his second consecutive NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series victory (after winning at Pevely, Missouri, last Saturday), his sixth Outlaws victory this season and 14th of his career.

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“I was able to track Logan down and hit the bottom really well in (turns) 1 and 2 and got a run on him.  It felt like I needed to take advantage of that before we got to heavier traffic and slid him and felt some contact. So, glad to see him not in the wall or anything like that. Just, hard work there. Heartbeat is up again.”

Kyle Larson wins Knoxville
Kyle Larson scored his sixth World of Outlaws victory Thursday (Trent Gower/World of Outlaws).

It was the fourth Knoxville victory this year for Larson, who swept a World of Outlaws doubleheader weekend June 12-13 at the Sprint Car Captial of the World. He has more than 30 victories this year in sprint cars and midgets.

The One and Only continues Friday night with another $10,000 feature race that will set the starting lineup for Saturday’s Brownells Capitani Classic, which pays $50,000 to win.

The event is the Outlaws’ richest purse of 2020 and subs in for the annual Knoxville Nationals, which was canceled for COVID-19 concerns. Larson, a two-time Knoxville Nationals runner-up, has said winning The One and Only would be on the same as Knoxville’s signature event because of its tough three-day format.

Through the first of three nights, Schuchart and Larson are tied for second in The One and Only points standings, which factor in qualifying, heats, dash and feature races. Aaron Reutzel, an All Star Circuit of Champions stalwart who finished third Thursday, leads with 430 points.

A crash in Thursday’s 25-lap feature eliminated past Outlaws champions Brad Sweet and Donny Schatz after Cory Eliason spun in front of Sweet in Turn 1 to start the wreck, which also collected Sweet’s teammate, James McFadden. Sweet and Schatz finished outside the top 20, which moved Schuchart into the points lead for the 2020 season.

Schuchart still seemed slightly miffed after finishing second to Larson.

“As the race went on, I felt like I wasn’t hitting my marks as good,” he said. “I would have liked to of had a little bit better of a race with Kyle there. I wish his slide job was a little better there, but he’s got a reputation to live up to. That’s where you let other people make the rules and maybe we’ll get him next time.”


RESULTS

NOS Energy Drink Feature (25 Laps) – 1. 57-Kyle Larson [10]; 2. 1S-Logan Schuchart [1]; 3. 87-Aaron Reutzel [2]; 4. 2-Carson Macedo [24]; 5. 41-David Gravel [6]; 6. 21-Brian Brown [7]; 7. 71-Spencer Bayston [3]; 8. 18-Gio Scelzi [15]; 9. 12N-Joey Saldana [5]; 10. 5-Ian Madsen [19]; 11. 17A-Austin McCarl [21]; 12. 1A-Jacob Allen [11]; 13. 7BC-Tyler Courtney [16]; 14. 7S-Jason Sides [20]; 15. 24-Rico Abreu [22]; 16. 4-Terry McCarl [13]; 17. 2KS-Brooke Tatnell [18]; 18. O9-Matt Juhl [23]; 19. 17-Sheldon Haudenschild [25]; 20. 83-Daryn Pittman [9]; 21. 11K-Kraig Kinser [17]; 22. 15-Donny Schatz [8]; 23. 26-Cory Eliason [4]; 24. 49-Brad Sweet [12]; 25. 9-James McFadden [14]; Lap Leaders: Logan Schuchart 1-17, Kyle Larson 18-25; KSE Hard Charger Award: 2-Carson Macedo[+20]

Kyle Larson wins Knoxville
Kyle Larson celebrated with his family and team after the first night of The One and Only (Trent Gower/World of Outlaws).