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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.

Supercross points leader Eli Tomac finds silver linings in interruption

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Though his Monster Energy AMA Supercross championship charge was put on hold, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had a silver lining for Eli Tomac.

Off the road while the season was postponed for nearly three months, the points leader was able to be present as his girlfriend, Jessica, gave birth to their daughter, Lev, on April 26

“A huge blessing for us there,” Tomac told host Mike Tirico during a “Lunch Talk Live” interview (click on the video above) in which he also joked about becoming a pro at busting off diaper changes. “That was one good blessing for us as we had our daughter on a Sunday, that would have been on a travel day coming back from the race in Las Vegas.

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“That was probably the only positive out of all this mess was being able to be there for the birth.”

But there also could be more good fortune for Tomac as the series resumes Sunday at Salt Lake City, Utah (3-4 p.m. ET on NBCSN, 4-6 p.m. on NBC).

The final seven events will be held over 22 days in Rice-Eccles Stadium, which sits at just over 4,000 feet.

The elevation could favor Tomac, who was born and lives in Colorado and is accustomed to riding and training at altitude, which is a departure for many Supercross riders (many of whom hail from California and Florida).

COVID-19 TESTING REQUIRED: Supercross outlines protocols for last seven races

“That’s going to be the test for us,” said the Kawasaki rider, who five of the first 10 races this season. “We’re at elevation in Salt Lake, so when you’re on a motorcycle, you have a little bit of a loss of power. That’s just what happens when you come up in elevation. And a lot of guys train at sea level, and we’re at 4,000 to 5,000 feet, so cardio-wise, we’ll be pushed to the limit.

“Most of our races are Saturday nights and back to back weeks, but this go around it’s Sunday and Wednesday, so recovery is going to be key.”

Supercross will race Sunday and Wednesday for the next three weeks, capping the season with the June 21 finale, which also will be shown on NBCSN from 3-4:30 p.m. ET and NBC from 4:30-6 p.m. ET.

Tomac, who holds a three-point lead over Ken Roczen (who also recently visited “Lunch Talk Live”), told Tirico he had been riding for 90 minutes Thursday morning on a track outside Salt Lake City.

“Most of us we can rely on our past riding pretty well,” Tomac said. “The question is if you can go the distance. That’s what a lot of guys have to train on is going the distance. We go 20 minutes plus a lap. That’s what you’ve got to keep sharp is your general muscles. Within two to three days, your brain starts warming up more if you take a few weeks off the motorcycle.”

Here is the schedule and TV information for the rest of the season:

  • Sunday, May 31 (3-4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4-6 p.m. ET, NBC);
  • Wednesday, June 3 ( 10:00 pm – 1:00 am ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 7 (5-8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 10 (7–10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 14 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 17 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 21 (3-4:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. ET, NBC).
Eli Tomac rides his No. 3 Kawasaki in the Feb. 29 race at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia (Charles Mitchell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).