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F1: Lewis Hamilton relishes challenge from young drivers, still hungry for more wins

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SAO PAULO (AP) Five-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton has a two-step plan for keeping the new generation of talented drivers behind him next season: match their youthful hunger and outwit them with the experience that comes with age.

The 33-year-old Hamilton wrapped up this year’s title at the Mexican Grand Prix two weeks ago and is already looking forward to the renewed challenge he will face in 2019 from a crop of young drivers who will only get better.

Hamilton, who became the youngest F1 champion when he won his first title at the age of 23 in 2008, says he sees a bit of himself in 21-year-old Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc and Red Bull’s 22-year-old Pierre Gasly.

“These are two young rising stars that are already showing incredible potential,” Hamilton said after he arrived in Sao Paulo for this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix.

He later added 21-year-old Red Bull driver Max Verstappen to the shortlist as well.

“I welcome the competition,” he said. “Naturally I do see a little bit of myself in them. At their age I had the same kind of eye of the tiger. Now it is a little different for me, I am one of the older drivers. But I feel like I still have that hunger they are coming in with.”

Hamilton also has the experience of spending a decade at the pinnacle of the sport, and he thinks that could help him stay at the top for a bit longer.

“Perhaps there are things that I will be able to bring to the table and that they won’t,” he said.

Interlagos will host the penultimate race of the F1 season this weekend. Hamilton called the Brazilian track “one of the trickiest of the season” and “an Achilles heel.”

Hamilton won the Brazilian race in 2016 and lifted his first F1 title in Sao Paulo 10 years ago, finishing fourth after a dramatic overtake on the last lap.

“The first year here was quite difficult, but it has been improving over time,” he said.

While Hamilton has already clinched the individual title, his Mercedes team is still fighting with Ferrari for the constructor’s championship – meaning the Briton will not be able to relax just yet.

“We still have two races to go and a championship at stake,” he said.

Don’t know the Rolex 24? You should. Here’s why.

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Hello, America. It’s time to go racing again.

Yes, Supercross is now three weeks into its season, and the Chili Bowl Nationals is now effectively the Christopher Bell Invitational after the young NASCAR star won his 3rd consecutive Golden Driller last weekend.

But the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway is the first marquee event on the American racing calendar – an event that just happens to have international prestige.

It’s also the start of Daytona Speedweeks, which culminates with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. But this is no mere opening act just warming up the crowd for the headliner.

In case you’re new to this event, here are a few reasons why it stands out:

Twice around the clock: Are you the kind of person that appreciates a challenge? Well, challenges don’t get much bigger in motorsports than a 24-hour endurance race where drivers, crews, machines, and strategies must work together flawlessly. For those behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, the obstacles are numerous: Punishing G-forces, extreme mental focus, lack of sleep, and staying on top of hydration and nutrition.

Star power: Speaking of those behind the wheel, the Rolex 24 traditionally draws top drivers from other disciplines such as IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR to join sports car regulars from North America and around the world. As a result, the winners’ list is a Who’s Who of Motorsports.

This year’s field includes a clutch of NTT IndyCar Series drivers, highlighted by 5-time series champion and past Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon. But pre-race buzz has centered on two particular interlopers: Alex Zanardi, the former CART champion making his first North American start since losing his legs in a 2001 crash, and Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion looking to add another endurance triumph alongside his win with Toyota in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Cool cars: If you’re a gearhead, the Rolex 24 is a 200-mile-per-hour candy store. Across the four separate classes of competition, 13 of the world’s premier car manufacturers are represented.

The majority of those manufacturers are found in the Grand Touring classes that feature vehicles based on road-going production models. Chevy and Ford’s eternal rivalry rages on in the factory-backed GT Le Mans, but the class also boasts efforts from BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari. It’s even more diverse in the pro-am GT Daytona, where Porsche is joined by Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus and Mercedes.

As for the exotic, purpose-built Daytona Prototypes, they are powered by engines from Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan.

Nifty fifty: This year’s Rolex 24 begins the 50th anniversary season for IMSA, the sanctioning body for North American sports car racing. A select group of teams will mark the occasion at the Rolex 24 by running historic IMSA paint schemes on their machines. You may not be familiar with these looks, but it’s worth discovering the history behind them.

Here’s an example. The Starworks Motorsports team (GT Daytona) will carry a scheme based on Audi of America’s 90 Quattro from the 1989 IMSA GTO season. Boasting sports car legends Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck in the driver lineup, the 90 Quattro captured 7 GTO wins that season.

Audi’s performance led one competitor to create a “no passing” sticker with Stuck’s face on it. Stuck’s response: A doll fixed to his car’s rear window that dropped its pants to moon anyone Stuck put behind him.

Status symbol: Last but not least, the Rolex 24 has a unique prize – a trophy you can wear.

Winners get a standard cup, but what they’re really after are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches, which include a special engraving to commemorate their victory. A standard version of this watch retails for tens of thousands of dollars, but you can’t put a price on the ones awarded at the Rolex 24.

This year’s grand marshal, 5-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett, sums it up as “the ultimate reward.”

“To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever,” he added. “Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level.”