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Buemi shaping up as best candidate for Toro Rosso F1 seat at COTA

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Sebastien Buemi is shaping up as the leading candidate to race for Toro Rosso in next weekend’s United States Grand Prix as the Formula 1 team searches for a driver to replace Pierre Gasly.

Toro Rosso announced last week that Gasly would be joined by the returning Daniil Kvyat for the remaining four races of the season following Carlos Sainz Jr.’s early move to Renault.

Gasly made his F1 debut with Toro Rosso in Malaysia after Daniil Kvyat was dropped due to poor form, but uncertainty quickly arose surrounding his participation at the Circuit of The Americas due to the clash with the Super Formula finale at Suzuka on October 22, where the Frenchman is Honda’s sole title contender.

Red Bull team advisor Helmut Marko said last weekend the announcement was a “mistake”, with reports from multiple outlets emerging on Thursday claiming that Gasly would not be featuring in Austin.

Toro Rosso is short on options for a replacement given FIA Super Licence requirements, leading to Toyota LMP1 and Renault Formula E driver Buemi entering the mix.

Buemi raced in F1 for Toro Rosso between 2009 and 2011 before being dropped to make way for Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne, prompting the Swiss driver to link up with Toyota in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Buemi won the WEC title in 2014 and became Formula E champion in 2016 with Renault, giving him more than triple the required 40 Super Licence points to race in F1.

Despite losing his Toro Rosso seat at the end of 2011, Buemi retained his links to Red Bull, and recently completed running in its 2017-spec F1 car in a Pirelli tire test.

Asked directly at Suzuka if Buemi could return, Marko remained coy, saying: “With Red Bull, anything is possible.”

Besides Buemi, Toro Rosso is short on options for drivers to replace Gasly, with no other racers inside the Red Bull family meeting the required Super Licence criteria to step in.

Porsche WEC racer Brendon Hartley was linked to the seat by multiple sources to NBC Sports, with the New Zealander still boasting ties to Red Bull despite being dropped from its junior program at the end of 2010.

Hartley has raced with Porsche since 2014 and claimed the WEC drivers’ championship in 2015 to give him the 40 points required for a Super Licence.

Hartley won this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and is expected to return to single-seaters next year in the Verizon IndyCar Series with Chip Ganassi Racing upon the closure of Porsche’s LMP1 program.

However, Hartley does not fulfill the Super Licence criteria as he has not completed 300 km in an F1 car from the past four seasons, with his last F1 test coming back in 2012 with Mercedes.

Hartley’s travel schedule also is problematic. He won last weekend in Atlanta at Motul Petit Le Mans in a Nissan Onroak DPi on Saturday, and would then have needed to travel shortly thereafter to the WEC event in Fuji this weekend.

So unless a narrow window appears to complete a private test to rack up the required mileage between now and the start of on-track running at COTA, he is not an option.

Red Bull has not hired a driver from outside of its own umbrella since signing four-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais to Toro Rosso back in 2008, making a change in approach now seem unlikely.

However, the team may have no choice but to if it is keen on finding a driver to evaluate for a 2018 F1 seat, potentially to partner Gasly and replace the struggling Kvyat.

The 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi is a favorite son of Honda, who will become Toro Rosso’s F1 engine supplier next year, and would be a popular fan option for the U.S. race, as he was in 2015 when he last competed with Manor. However, the American is currently out of the country, believed to be filming TV show The Amazing Race.

Another Honda-linked driver is Formula 2’s Nobuharu Matsushita, but the Japanese youngster falls way short of having the required Super Licence points to be a viable option.

As noted in a report by Auto Motor und Sport, Renault youngster Sergey Sirotkin could be a candidate as he has the required Super Licence points and could offer financial backing from the Russian SMP Racing program.

Renault has already confirmed Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr. for 2018, cutting off Sirotkin’s most obvious route into F1, but Toro Rosso could yet become an alternative were deal to be struck.

Regardless of who steps in for the Austin F1 race, Toro Rosso will be unable to use any additional drivers this year due to the FIA-imposed limit of four per season.

Buemi has no clashes between now and the end of the F1 season, with upcoming WEC races in Shanghai and Bahrain falling between the grands prix in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

Gasly is set to return following his appearance in the Super Formula finale for the final three races of the season as he makes a case for a full-time drive with Toro Rosso in 2018.

As per the previously cited report from Auto Motor und Sport, a decision will be taken by Red Bull and Toro Rosso on Tuesday.

Todd LeDuc advances two positions in Monster Jam Power Rankings

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Neil Elliott held onto the top spot in the Monster Jam Power Rankings, but he has a new driver sniffing his exhaust as Todd Leduc advanced two positions to second this week.

The Stadium Series Green continues to hold the advantage in the Power Rankings with Elliott topping the chart, Morgan Kane in fourth, and Ryan Anderson eighth, but there is an equitable distribution among the other series throughout the field.

Notably, Leduc and his Monster Energy truck in the Stadium Series Red closed the gap with a 38-point overall victory at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. Leduc achieved his win through consistency, pocketing the overall without winning a single individual event. Leduc’s best session was a second-place finish to Mike Vaters II in Overkill Evolution by .001 points.

Meanwhile on the West Coast, Elliott rambled on. Elliott won his sixth skills challenge in seven contests so far. That contributed to his 35 points for the event at PETCO Park in San Diego and allowed him to hold onto the No. 1 slot in the Monster Jam Power Rankings.

Colton Eichelberger also held station. Third last week, he entered the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on a mission in the Triple Threat Series Central. He topped the event points in all four events with timed race wins in each session, ATV race wins in three of the four, three wins in the speedster obstacle course, two freestyle wins and one win in the donut competitions.

MORE: Ryan Anderson and the anatomy of a Monster Jam freestyle run

Morgan Kane and Grave Digger had a rough night. He was ousted from the racing event in Round 2 by Max-D and Elliott. He failed to win either of the other two competitions of the night and ended with 29 points, which was a distant third to Ryan Anderson’s Son-Uva Digger (37) and Max-D (35).

Brandon Vinson moved up to the fifth position with three wins in the Triple Threat Series West. During the weekend he earned seven session wins, including a sweep of the speedster obstacle course and two victories in the two-wheel skills challenge.

Tom Meents debuted on the Monster Jam Power Rankings in 10th by winning the overall in back to back nights of the Stadium Series Yellow. The Saturday show can be seen Feb. 22 at 11:30 p.m. on NBCSN (click here for streaming). The highlight of Meents’ weekend were race wins on Saturday and Sunday, defeating Coty Saucier in a Monster Energy truck on Night 1 and Eric Swanson in Obsessed on Night 2.

Power Rankings

1. Neil Elliott–same
2. Todd LeDuc–up 2
3. Colton Eichelberger-same
4. Morgan Kane–down 2
5. Brandon Vinson–up 1
6. Tyler Menninga–up 1
7. Coty Saucier–down 2
8. Ryan Anderson–same
9. Linsey Read–up 1
10. Tom Meents-new for 2020

Upcoming TV Schedule (All showings on Eastern time on NBCSN)

Oakland: February 22 (Saturday); 11:30 p.m.
Miami: March 1 (Sunday); 12 a.m.
Jacksonville: March 9 (Monday); 6 p.m.
Detroit: March 21 (Saturday); 11 p.m.
Las Vegas: March 28 (Saturday); 7 p.m.
Santa Clara: April 11 (Saturday); 7 p.m.
Philadelphia: April 17 (Friday); 2:30 p.m.
Denver: April 25 (Saturday); 6:30 p.m.
Monster Jam World Finals Racing: May 9 (Saturday); 5 p.m.
Monster Jam World Finals: May 19 (Tuesday); 4 p.m.
Monster Jam World Freestyle: May 20 (Wednesday); 12 a.m.
Monster Jam World Finals: June 20 (Saturday); 2:30 p.m.