Photo: Mazda Raceway

Eclectic weekend of sports car, other series racing on tap

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There’s no open-wheel racing this weekend as the Verizon IndyCar Series season is complete and Formula 1 has its only off weekend in October before the two-week North American swing at Circuit of The Americas for the United States Grand Prix and at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez for the Mexican Grand Prix.

That being said, beyond NASCAR in Talladega and NHRA in Dallas, there’s still plenty on tap in a very eclectic weekend of racing, mainly in California but also in Germany and Japan to monitor.

RED BULL GRC, RED BULL AIR RACE BOTH SET FOR SEASON FINALES

Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull Content Pool

Red Bull hosts two unique showcases of content this weekend in California and Indiana, with the season finales of both Red Bull Global Rallycross and Red Bull Air Race for 2017.

In Red Bull GRC’s case, the 12th and final race of the year comes from the Port of Los Angeles on Saturday. The Supercars finale airs on Saturday, October 14, at 4:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Will Christien will be on the call.

Scott Speed is poised to wrap his third straight title for Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross, with teammate Tanner Foust looking to overtake him. A weekend preview is here.

Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

Red Bull Air Race coverage from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the eighth round of the year, airs Sunday night, October 15, at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

After seven rounds, Czech pilot Martin Sonka leads the standings with 63 points, ahead of Yoshihide Muroya (Japan, 59), Pete McLeod (Canada, 56) and Kirby Chambliss (USA, 52).

The top four can still win the Air Race World Championship. A Q&A with Chambliss and a weekend primer is here.

MRLS HOSTS SRO, PWC, MX-5, PIRELLI GT3 CUP (Full weekend schedule)

The level of “eclectic” that is occurring at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this weekend is fascinating. Two years ago in September, the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires and Pirelli World Challenge held its season finales at the track on the same weekend, and it was a case of “whose headliner is it anyway.” Then last year, MRTI joined other Mazda-powered series – IMSA’s Prototype Lites and the inaugural Global MX-5 Cup race were alongside – for an all-Mazda weekend.

And so the fall date at Mazda Raceway has its latest reinvention this week with four different series all on the same dance card.

K-PAX Racing McLaren joins SRO race at Mazda Raceway. Photo: PWC

The headliner is meant to be SRO’s Intercontinental GT Challenge, with the inaugural California 8 Hours on tap featuring a mix of primarily GT3 and GT4 cars in what will be the longest professional race in Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca’s history. This comes out of the relationship between SRO and Pirelli World Challenge, so this sees the traditional sprint series now having some of its teams running factory efforts in an endurance race.

Wright Motorsports, K-PAX Racing, RealTime Racing, Magnus Racing, GMG, TRG, Black Swan Racing and Ian Lacy Racing will fly the flag for PWC squads while Team Land and WRT are among the notable international additions. Here’s the full entry list for that race, which will stream via SRO Motorsports’ website (main site; TV site), and will also have domestic coverage on both CBS Sports Network and Motor Trend on Demand (details linked here). The eight-hour race begins at 9:15 a.m. PT on Sunday morning.

TC classes full field photo at COTA. Photo: PWC

PWC has its own cars and series on tap as well, with the three Touring Car classes in action for their finales. Given the high car counts (29 TC, 12 TCA, 9 TCB), the TC races are split off from the TCA/TCB races. All four races will occur on Saturday though; the TC races are at 9:50 a.m. and 4 p.m. PT, with the TCA/TCB races set for 9 a.m. and 2:05 p.m. PT; those stream via the series website.

In TC, Paul Holton (C360R Audi RS 3) leads the points going in with 183, ahead of Nick Wittmer (175), Greg Liefooghe (162) and Toby Grahovec (156). In TCA, Matthew Fassnacht (S.A.C. Racing Global MX-5 Cup) leads teammate Elivan Goulart by 12 points (209-197). In TCB, Jake Pipal (220), P.J. Groenke (218) and Canaan O’Connell (217) are spread by just three points. The TC class entry lists are here.

Photo: Mazda Motorsports

Mazda hosts its second Global MX-5 Cup Challenge, with $75,000 awarded to the winner. Among the 20 cars entered, guest stars include Indy Lights champion Kyle Kaiser and iRacing gamer turned driver Glenn McGee, along with 2017 MX-5 Cup champion Patrick Gallagher and past champions Kenton Koch, Nathanial Sparks and John Dean II and a number of other series veterans including Dean Copeland, Nikko Reger, Bryan Ortiz, Robert Stout, Matt Cresci, Robby Foley and Drake Kemper. That entry list is linked here. Mazda will stream both races on its Facebook page, which run at 12:40 p.m. and 5 p.m. PT on Saturday.

The Pirelli GT3 Cup Trophy USA is also in action with a pair of races itself. This series, which runs around the country and was at Road America for its most recent round at the end of September, has nearly 40 Porsches split between 991 and 997 GT3s, and a bunch of GT4s. Notably on the entry list here, Flying Lizard Motorsports founder Seth Neiman will return to the driver seat this weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for his first event back under the team banner since 2014. Neiman will race a Porsche GT4 Cayman for Round 8 of the Porsche Pirelli GT3 Cup Trophy USA October 12-14. These two races run at 5:10 p.m. PT Friday and 3 p.m. PT Saturday. Additional series details are linked here via the Competent Motorsport website.

WEC IN JAPAN, DTM AND AUDI TT CUP RACES IN GERMANY

Porsche 919 Hybrid, Porsche LMP Team: Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley

The seventh round of the FIA World Endurance Championship season takes place at Fuji Speedway in Japan, during the overnight hours of Saturday into Sunday. A catch-up with Porsche factory drivers Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber is linked here. The race runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time in Japan, which translates to 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. ET in the U.S. FOX Sports has coverage via FS GO (10 p.m. to 1 a.m. ET), FS2 (1 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. ET) and FS1 (2:30 a.m. to 4 a.m. ET), while Radio Show Limited coverage for the race only via its RS3 channel.

Hockenheim will be the site of the DTM season finale. Audi drivers Mattias Ekstrom and Rene Rast are 1-2 in that series’ championship, Ekstrom with 172 points to Rast’s 151. It’s an interesting time for that series with Mercedes having announced it will leave at the end of 2018, and enter Formula E.

Meanwhile Audi Sport’s TT Cup series will also be in action in Hockenheim. The regular TT Cup event (two races) is joined by a unique Audi Sport TT Cup “Race of Legends” on Sunday, where 16 Audi legends (Christian Abt, Filipe Albuquerque, Frank Biela, Dindo Capello, Rahel Frey, Marcel Fassler, Jean-Marc Gounon, Lucas di Grassi, Vanina Ickx, Tom Kristensen, Lucas Luhr, Stephane Ortelli, Emanuele Pirro, Frank Stippler, Hans-Joachim Stuck, Marco Werner) will compete in a half hour race. Audi’s stream link is here and commentary will be supplied by Radio Show Limited. More details on RSL’s participation and times can be found via its website and @RSL_Studio on Twitter.

F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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