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Mexico City hosts F1 grand prix 1 month after earthquake

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MEXICO CITY (AP) The earthquake that struck Mexico City in September crumbled walls, killed more than 200 people and shook the confidence of this teeming city of 20 million people.

The track and the majestic concrete grandstand at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez escaped unscathed and the Formula One Mexican Grand Prix, with its enormous crowds, confetti and celebratory sombreros on the podium, will go on this weekend. It’s a chance for Mexico City to show the world that it is on the road to recovery, slow as it may be in some places.

For Mexican driver Sergio “Checo” Perez, the race is a chance to embrace the role of ambassador for the sport and his country in a time of need. Perez was in his hometown of Guadalajara when the magnitude 7.1 quake struck on Sept. 19, and he quickly donated about $165,000 (140,000 Euros) to victims. The track itself became a staging area for relief supplies in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Perez will wear a special helmet this week with a map of Mexico and the quake zone on top with the phrase “Todo Mexico Unido! (All Mexico United!)”

“It’s been a very tough couple of months for my country. What happened was horrible, but it was amazing to me not just how Mexico responded but the whole world,” Perez said Thursday. “I knew that I needed to do something for my people … (the helmet) is to remind everyone that we are together.”

With a race weekend expected to draw more than 300,000, the Mexican Grand Prix has a chance to throw a grand party for Lewis Hamilton.

The Mercedes driver is closing in on a fourth career F1 driver’s championship. He is aiming for his 10th win of the season and would need only to finish fifth or better Sunday to win the championship.

There’s no chance Hamilton will hang back and let others fight it out up front.

“I’m here to win,” Hamilton said. “I’m not going for anything else but No. 1 … I think to myself, how would I feel if finish fifth and win the world championship? I wouldn’t feel great. You want to be on top of the podium.”

The Briton has won five of the previous six races, including last week at the U.S. Grand Prix in Texas . His tear through the second half of the season seized the title chase from Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel, who must win the final three races and have some bad luck strike Mercedes to have a chance of catching him.

Vettel isn’t giving up. He finished second in the U.S. and plans to put the fight to Hamilton again.

“It’s not over,” Vettel said. “It’s not as much in our hands as much as we’d like, but we want to win the last three races.”

A victory and another season championship would spur new conversations about Hamilton’s legacy among the sport’s great drivers. Formula One’s first and only black driver would join Vettel and Alain Prost with four championships, and he would trail only Michael Schumacher (seven) and Juan Manuel Fangio (five) in F1 history.

One of his peers already puts Hamilton in the top rung of drivers..

“Lewis is definitely one of the best drivers in the history of Formula One,” Williams driver Felipe Massa said. “You cannot really take him away or (put him) in a different level compared to Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna. He’s there.”

Hamilton’s first title came in 2008 when his fifth-place finish in the final race in Brazil – a position secured in the final turns – snatched the championship from Massa and Ferrari.

Mexico City is also a chance for Red Bull driver Max Verstappen to get past some recent controversy.

Verstappen and his team were furious last week when a third-place finish was taken away by a 5-second penalty for an illegal pass on Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen on the final lap. The demotion spoiled a brilliant drive up from 16th on the starting grid.

It was reminiscent of Verstappen’s race in Mexico in 2016 when officials ruled he improperly left the track to gain an advantage on Vettel to finish third and was bumped from the podium.

Mexico City will also be the second race for New Zealand’s Brendon Hartley. The former endurance driving champion and one-time Red Bull protege made his F1 debut with Toro Rosso last week and finished 13th. He drives this week in place of Russian Daniil Kvyat, whose future with the team has been in doubt all season.

March 29 in Motorsports History: Scott Dixon wins first race after reunification

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Reunited and it felt so good.

That’s what drivers likely thought before the 2008 IndyCar opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

For the first time since 1995, major-league open-wheel racing in the United States was under the banner of a sole sanctioning body as Champ Car and the Indy Racing Leauge had reunified just a month prior.

Scott Dixon celebrates after winning the 2008 IndyCar opener at Homestead. Photo: Jim Hines/IndyCar.

The first race after reunification also saw a reversal of fortunes for Scott Dixon, who won the race after losing the 2007 IRL championship in crushing fashion.

In the 2007 season finale at Chicagoland Speedway, Dixon ran out of fuel while leading on the final lap of the race. The race victory – and championship – went to Dixon’s future teammate, Dario Franchitti.

But the tides turned for Dixon nearly seven months later, and the Kiwi was able to win with the help of another driver’s misfortune.

Tony Kanaan was leading with seven laps remaining when E.J. Viso spun and made contact with Kanaan’s car. Kanaan remained on track through the caution period despite suffering obvious damage to his right front suspension.

On the final restart with three laps remaining, Dixon and others cars easily passed Kanaan’s wounded car on the outside. Dixon then maintained his lead through the checkered flag to win at Homestead for the second time in his career.

“I think Marco (Andretti) and T.K. probably had a little bit better cars today, but we came through with the win, and that’s what counts,” Dixon told ESPN after his 12th career victory.

Following his victory at Homestead, Dixon continued to redeem himself through the course of the 2008 season. In May, he won the Indianapolis 500 for the first (and so far only) time. Following Indy, he went on to win four more times in 2008 and won his second series championship.

Also on this date:

1998: Mika Hakkinen won the Grand Prix of Brazil, the first of eight victories in his first championship season.

2010: Will Power won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which was held on a Monday morning because of rain postponing the race on Sunday.

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