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What to watch for: Canadian Grand Prix (NBC from 2pm ET; NBC Sports app from 1:30pm)

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And so, today’s Canadian Grand Prix presents a 180-degree curveball from the Monaco Grand Prix two weeks ago. Where Ferrari was dominant on the streets of Monte Carlo, Mercedes has struck back thus far through the preliminary sessions at the combo park/street circuit/road course that is the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

It presents a golden opportunity for Lewis Hamilton to strike back in the championship race on the heels of his 65th career pole position.

Meanwhile Sebastian Vettel will look for his second straight win this season from second on the grid, having been oh-so-close but not fully ahead of Hamilton this weekend.

You can watch the Canadian Grand Prix live on NBC from 2pm ET and the NBC Sports app from 1:30pm ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

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

2017 Canadian Grand Prix – What to watch for

Hamilton vs. Vettel battle resumes

Montreal presents a race akin to Barcelona where it figures to be a straight fight between the two championship protagonists. Hamilton emerged ahead in Spain after a thrilling bout with Vettel. Meanwhile Vettel’s victories were more dominant by nature, his Monte Carlo win coming after a pit stop exchange with his teammate.

This is going to be an interesting test for the two drivers – and their Mercedes and Ferrari cars – in a straight power fight. Passing’s not been the easiest with the wider 2017 cars and their new tires, but Montreal is a track known for it.

Can Vettel and/or Hamilton stay close enough to the other where they can force their way by on track if they need to? Or will it again come down to pit stops for what is likely to be a one-stop race?

Bottas the wild card of note

Valtteri Bottas has gone rather well at Canada the last couple years. When the Williams Mercedes wasn’t at its zenith the last two years – it was better in 2014 – he still managed podiums both last year and in 2015, third at each occasion.

From third on the grid, Bottas has an important task ahead of him: get ahead of Vettel to help Hamilton however he can. Or, if he plays a blinder off the line as he did in Russia, can he get even further ahead into Turn 1? It was Vettel who launched from third to the lead here last year.

Bottas’ start is going to be pivotal for how the race plays out, and with Mercedes having yet to score a 1-2 finish this season, Sunday presents a good opportunity for them to do so.

Massa vs. the Force Indias

Given a new lease on life, Felipe Massa has done a sterling job this season for Williams Martini Racing as the undisputed team leader. As he hasn’t had good support from rookie teammate Lance Stroll from a points scoring perspective, how many points he scores versus the pair of Force India drivers, who’ll be keen to get back in the top-10 after a double non-score in Monaco, will be interesting to witness.

For Stroll, banking his first points of the year may be the goal, but doing so from 17th on the grid is a tough task in his home Grand Prix. Finishing needs to be the first goal for the teenaged rookie.

Brake wear and power delivery to monitor

As this is a power circuit where horsepower is king, it’s favored the Mercedes runners thus far – it’s been good weekends for the factory AMG Petronas team, and additionally the Mercedes-powered Sahara Force India and Williams Martini Racing squads, Massa as noted doing a good job in particular.

Elsewhere the Renault-powered cars have struggled. It took a seemingly Herculean effort for Max Verstappen to get his TAG Heuer-badged Red Bull into fifth on the grid but neither he nor Daniel Ricciardo looks likely to get Red Bull onto the podium for a third straight race. Toro Rosso missed out of Q3 with its pair of unbadged Renault engines as well, and with Carlos Sainz Jr. having an engine issue on Friday, they’ve not had a clean weekend.

Romain Grosjean has rallied this weekend through various spins and at a track where brakes matter more than almost anywhere else, seeing him crack the points in his Haas-Ferrari would be something of a surprise given the brakes have seemingly affected him more than most.

Honda and McLaren? What else can be said. If Fernando Alonso can scrape a point out of Sunday’s race he’ll have done beyond the best that seems possible.

Canada occasionally throws up surprise results and reliability and/or brake wear may impact who finishes where.

2017 Canadian Grand Prix – Starting Grid

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

You can watch the Canadian Grand Prix live on NBC from 2pm ET and the NBC Sports app from 1:30pm ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

EXCLUSIVE: NHRA’s Don Schumacher, all 7 of his drivers to donate brains for concussion research

From left, DSR Top Fuel drivers Leah Pritchett, Antron Brown and Tony Schumacher. Photos courtesy Auto Imagery.
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In a collective large-scale move never before seen in motorsports or any other form of professional sports, NHRA drag racing team owner Don Schumacher and all seven of his drivers have pledged in writing to donate their brains upon death to the Concussion Legacy Foundation (CLF), NBCSports.com’s MotorSportsTalk has learned exclusively.

The pledges were all signed this afternoon at suburban Denver’s Bandimere Speedway, site of this weekend’s Dodge NHRA Mile-High Nationals.

Team owner Don Schumacher (in red shirt) and his seven Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers sign written pledges to donate their brains for concussion research Friday at Bandimere Speedway in suburban Denver.

Don Schumacher Racing is the second-most successful team overall in NHRA history, with 11 Top Fuel and five Funny Car championships, as well as over 300 combined nitro national event wins by all seven of its drivers (as well as retired driver Gary Scelzi).

This is the first time an NHRA driver, owner or team has announced they will donate their brains to science for further study on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which can only be detected and diagnosed after death.

However, more than 3,000 current and former athletes in other sports have already pledged their brains to research post-mortem, including NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt Jr., U.S. Women’s Soccer Team star Brandi Chastain, and several former NFL Pro Bowlers including Randy Cross, Keith Sims, Shawn Springs and Gary Fencik.

MORE: Dale Earnhardt Jr. plans to donate his brain to CTE research

MORE: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s decision inspires NASCAR Hall of Famer to donate brain for CTE research

While concussions are not a widespread problem in the NHRA as in, for example, the NFL, they still happen from time to time.

With the g-forces, high-speed explosions and crashes and intense vibrations Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers endure while exceeding 330 mph in 1,000 feet, concussions are always a threat, but that threat is usually mitigated by the safety equipment found in the race cars.

Don Schumacher Racing’s Funny Car drivers, from left, Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson Jr., Ron Capps and Matt Hagan.

In pledging their brains, Schumacher and his seven drivers will also “immediately begin a comprehensive brain monitoring process to ensure an in-depth brain profile upon donation,” according to a team statement.

DSR’s pledges coincide with CLF Project Enlist, a new program launched this week by CLF and Infinite Hero Foundation (IHF) a non-profit organization (and a partner of DSR) that assists military veterans returning from battle and their families. IHF’s main goal is to “accelerate research on traumatic brain injury (TBI), CTE and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in military veterans.”

DSR and Project Enlist are conducting recruiting and outreach to military and veteran communities to increase participation in the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs-Boston University-Concussion Legacy Foundation (VA-BU-CLF) Brain Bank brain donation registry.

The VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank is the world’s largest CTE brain bank specializing in research into concussions, ALS, and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

Schumacher, who was one of the sport’s most successful drivers in the 1960s and 1970s, has since gone on to build a vast business and racing empire that employs over 2,000 individuals. He is also regarded as one of the top innovators in performance and safety in drag racing.

“Donating my brain for research to help other individuals in this world is something that I’m more than willing to do,” said Don Schumacher, who was recently named to the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America’s Class of 2019. “It surprised my wife, Sarah, but she also agreed to me doing this based on its potential to help drivers, soldiers, business people and the population of the world.

Team owner Don Schumacher.

“I support (the CLF) 100 percent and was thrilled that my seven drivers agreed to donate their brains.”

Here are comments from all of Schumacher’s seven drivers who have pledged to donate their brains to research post-mortem:

Tony Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster: “I think any athlete donating their brain is a great idea once you’re done with it here on earth. If people can come up with a better system, and a better way to keep future drivers safer, that’s what we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to improve our world. The doctors and the technology with all athletes right now, they’re diving in deep to come up with concussion research, and as a driver that goes through 11,000-horsepower, 2.5-Richter scale shaking every single run, I think we’re good candidates to research.”

“Fast Jack” Beckman, driver of the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car: “My wife didn’t take the news that I was pledging my brain quite the way I thought. Apparently, she wants to have me stuffed and put in the corner of our living room (he said with a laugh), but (growing serious) I’ve been an organ donor since I was 16. My thought is, if it can help somebody else, that’s fantastic. When you see these veterans coming back with traumatic brain injuries and PTS, and there’s no one cure for this, it makes you realize how much more we still need to learn about the human brain to have effective treatments for the majority of the injured vets. To be a part of that in some small way; well, I can’t take my brain with me, haven’t used it since I started driving a Funny Car (he said with another laugh), so someone else might as well take advantage.”

Ron Capps, driver of the NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car: “When approached with the chance to help the Concussion Legacy Foundation and have an opportunity to help with advancing the study, treatment, and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes as well as other at-risk groups, we said ‘yes’ without hesitation. The Concussion Legacy Foundation is a group of dedicated people doing great things to help the next generations to come, and we’re proud to help in any way we can.”

Antron Brown, driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster: “We always want to do whatever we can to help elevate the safety in our sport, and be proactive in bettering the safety for all.”

Matt Hagan, driver of the Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car: “I think it’s pretty cool to donate anything to science. My brain is kind of mush anyways (jokes). Anytime we can do something to help is a good thing and being able to have research off of how your brain is affected by g-force and things like that, is interesting. Driving a nitro Funny Car is not something just anybody gets to do. There are only maybe 50 people in the world that really, truly experience the g-forces we do on a regular basis. These cars are extreme, we put on a show, and we put our bodies through elements that most people will never even understand. If we can help with the research of concussions and saving lives, that’s a great thing, and I’m all about it.”

Tommy Johnson Jr., driver of the Make-A-Wish Foundation Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car: “I elected to donate my brain because of all of my years of racing, suffering explosions and experiencing tire shake. If the Concussion Legacy Foundation can learn something that would help the next generation, I would be very proud to be a part of that. Tying it in with the soldiers who experience traumatic brain injuries, if we can work together and help one another, I think it’s a great opportunity for the road to recovery for everyone.”

Leah Pritchett, driver of the Mopar Dodge Top Fuel dragster: “When I was first asked if I would be open to donating my brain for future research, there wasn’t even a question in my mind at all. All of us are safer in our passenger cars and safer in our race cars because of what we’ve been able to learn from the past. We get to do what we do and are safe because of technology and science. If I have a legacy to leave behind, and it can benefit anybody in any way, from the sports community to the military to a child that wants to play football, whatever it may be, once I’m gone, I won’t need my brain so I’m proud to know that it will benefit others.”

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