June 28, 2009

F1 News & Notes

There comes a day in every child's life where they realize that there is no Santa Claus.  For some it comes early, for others late, but a fortunate, lucky few keep their sense of wonder and joy alive for all their days, brightening the lives of all they come in contact with.

Max Mosley is not one of those.  In fact it seems likely that as a toddler, Max stood up in his crib and threw rattles and pacifiers at his false-beard-clad father on December 25th.

I've come to this conclusion regarding the Emperor Mosley only recently.  As we are all aware, a looming disintegration of F1 was avoided at the last moment only by Mosley's confirmation that he will not stand for re-election when his current term as President of the FIA comes to an end in October.  As could have been predicted by anybody with two synapses to rub together, this was hailed by the press as a victory for the FOTA teams over the much-disliked Mosley.  At one point, Ferrari chief (and de facto head of FOTA) Luca di Montezemelo used the word 'dictator' in reference to Mosely.

While in truth the Emperor has been a dictator for much of his time as the FIA President when it comes to F1, it may come as a shock to hear that he doesn't much care for such a description.  Perhaps that's because of his father's ties to the National Socialist movement just prior to WWII, or maybe he just prefers the title Emperor.  Either way, Mosley is throwing his rattles again, except now he's about to ruin our Christmas.

On Friday, he issued a statement insisting that di Montezemelo retract his comment, apologize, and correct the "many inaccurate statements" in the FOTA press release of Wednesday.  If this isn't done, says Mosley, he will reconsider his decision to step down as President and run for the office again.

I feel like I'm 17 years old and just opened my presents... and got nothing but socks.

From all appearances, the FOTA declaration calling off the split was based entirely on Mosely's departure.  Now that he might not leave, we're essentially right back where we were before last Wednesday's meeting.

Now I feel like I'm six years old, just opened my presents... and got nothing but socks.

In other news, there's a rumor floating around that Manor, Campos, and USF1, the three new teams on the grid next season (if there is a next season), will be allowed to run their engines at 20000rpm, while the "old" teams will continue to be restricted to 18000rpm.  On the face of it, that seems like like quite the advantage, worth perhaps as much as 10mph or so in straightline speed.  In truth, it probably won't work out to be much of an advantage at all.  Consider that those engines will still have to last three race weekends; those extra rpms will make life harder on those powerplants.  Also consider that the engines will be built by Cosworth, which hasn't been in F1 since 2006.  No knock on Cosworth, they're a fine marque with a long and very successful history in Formula 1, but the new engines will be essentially untried.  In a world where tolerances are measured in microns and a grain of sand can turn an engine into a flaming lump in seconds, untried engines are always a worry.  Letting them run at 20Krpm might be as much a curse as a blessing.

Next, it appears that Ferrari is seriously considering throwing in the towel on 2009 to concentrate on next year's car.  Luca di Montezemelo is blaming the team's poor chassis on poorly defined rules (i.e. the double diffuser dilemma) and KERS.  Of course, both rule changes can be laid right at the feet of Emperor Mosley, but that's just a coincidence I'm sure.

Finally, USF1's Sporting Director, Peter (Smarmy) Windsor was interviewed on SPEED's Wind Tunnel show tonight, and he was asked about the rumor that a major sponsor for the team was Chad Hurley, one of the creators of YouTube.  In a display Fred Astaire would have been proud of, Windsor danced around the question quite adroitly, while promising that there were announcements coming forthwith.  He DID, however, deny that Pamela Anderson was going to be involved in the team in some way.

For which fact, we should all be very grateful.  I wouldn't even wish that on Max Mosley.

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June 24, 2009

The Emperor Falls

Peace reigns throughout the land as the results of today's World Motor Sports Council meeting were revealed:

There will be no breakaway FOTA series, with all teams committing to F1 through 2012.

The rules for 2010 will mirror the current rules and regulations.

Teams will cut costs "to early 1990s levels" within two years.

Technical help will be given by the current teams to the three new teams next year.

Darth Bernie Ecclestone may have made some financial concessions to the teams, giving them a larger slice of the F1 pie.

...and Emperor Max Mosley, the sinister dark lord who nearly ruined the greatest racing series in the world with his power plays, is gone as the head of the FIA as soon as his current term is up in October.

There are tifosi Ewoks dancing as fireworks light up the skies over Monaco Endor.  FOTA The Rebel Alliance has blown up the FIA's monolithic oligarchy Death Star.

Now the question becomes: will another rise to take the fallen Emperor's place?  His hand-picked successor is Jean Todt, former team principal of Ferrari.  Ferrari International Assistance, indeed.

But that is a question for another day.  For tonight, Good has triumphed over Evil.

Fans at the 2005 USGP get it right.

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June 22, 2009

While We're Waiting

... for either the next round of the F1 Championship or Wednesday's meeting of the World Motor Sports Council, here's a little thing I found.

Yes, that's right, it's a race between the Safety Cars and the Medical Cars at the 2006 USGP! 

Okay, no, it's not.  It just looks like it.  See, every time F1 goes to a circuit, the drivers of the Safety and Medical cars have to know the layout of the course.  The Medical Car in particular has to know the fastest way around the circuit... a driver's life may depend on it.

So, they get their own practice session... and boy, you gotta love their noise!  Those V8s sound like what a race car should sound like, all full of grunt and growl.

Oh, and in case you're wondering?  The lap record at the Indy roval is 1:10.339, set by Rubens Barrichello in 2004 in the Ferrari F2004, which had a V10 in the back... and was a frickin' F1 car, not a hopped-up street vehicle.

I'd say a 1:59 and change is pretty good, all things considered.

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June 20, 2009

F1 Quals: Britain 2009

Shocker at Silverstone!  Let's take a look at the provisional grid:

Pos Driver Team Q1Q2Q3
1 Sebastian Vettel RBR-Renault 1:18.685 1:18.119 1:19.509
2 Rubens Barrichello Brawn-Mercedes 1:19.325 1:18.335 1:19.856
3 Mark Webber RBR-Renault 1:18.674 1:18.209 1:19.868
4 Jarno Trulli Toyota 1:18.886 1:18.240 1:20.091
5 Kazoo Nakajima Williams-Toyota 1:18.530 1:18.575 1:20.216
6 Jenson Button Brawn-Mercedes 1:18.957 1:18.663 1:20.289
7 Nico Rosberg Williams-Toyota 1:19.228 1:18.591 1:20.361
8 Timo Glockenspiel Toyota 1:19.198 1:18.791 1:20.490
9 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:19.010 1:18.566 1:20.715
10 HWMNBN Renault 1:19.167 1:18.761 1:20.741
11 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:19.148 1:18.927
12 Robert Kubica BMW Sauber 1:19.730 1:19.308
13 Heikki Kovalaineninnie McLaren-Mercedes 1:19.732 1:19.353
14 Nelson Piquet Jr
Renault 1:19.555 1:19.392
15 Grizzly Nick Heidfeld BMW Sauber 1:19.559 1:19.448
16 Giancarlo Fisichella Force India-Mercedes 1:19.802

17 SeaBass STR-Ferrari 1:19.898

18 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:19.909

19 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:19.917

20 Sebastien Buemi STR-Ferrari 1:20.236

Okay, Vettel on pole isn't a surprise.  It's his third of the season, and his second in a row.  Barrichello and Webber aren't a surprise, either.  Trulli?  Toyota's quick, so it's no surprise to see him fourth.  But Jenson Button in sixth?  Lewis Hamilton 19th?  Good merciful heavens. 

But wait, don't forget about fuel loads.  Button must be running heavy.  Except he's not: he's at 657.5kg, but Vettel has 666.5kg, the most of anybody in the top 10.

Uh-oh.  Not only that, but Vettel had the fastest times in all three quals, AND the fastest sectors of all as well.  Could it be that the RB5 has caught up with Brawn?

In a word, yes.  Silverstone has seen Adrian Newey roll out some new aerodynamic modifications to the front of the Red Bull chassis.

Compare this to the original nose on the RB5.  It used to be very narrow, almost fragile in appearance.  Now it is much wider (though narrower than the Renault).  Can such a change make that much difference?  I guess we'll find out on Sunday afternoon!

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F1 Practice: Britain 2009 (and other stuff)

Due to some... extreme weather here, Pond Central's recording suite only managed to tape the first 10 and the last 15 minutes of today's second Practice session from Silverstone.  Oh well.  For what it's worth, however, the best action came after the session had officially ended. 

Force India's Adrian Sutil ended up an incredible third on the session's timesheets.  Greatly enthused by having a competitive car, even if for one day, he came into the pitlane... where he promptly ran over the nose of his teammate's car, which was being pushed back into the garage.

So, with a dearth of action on the track, let's concentrate on the action occurring off the track.  On Thursday, the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA), feeling that their negotiations with the FIA over the budget cap have stalled and have no chance to recover, announced their intention to break away from F1 and start their own series.

The FIA, in turn, has decided to bring legal proceedings against FOTA.  Their statement reads, in part: "The actions of FOTA as a whole, and Ferrari in particular, amount to serious violations of law including wilful interference with contractual relations, direct breaches of Ferrari's legal obligations and a grave violation of competition law."

Interesting how the team with the red cars, FIA's long-time favorite, have suddenly become the red-headed stepchild. 

With all this rhetoric on the table, the Legendary Announce Team described the fracas like a divorce.  The couple have seperated and filed papers against each other... now the real negotiations can begin.  Throw in a meeting of the World Motor Sports Council next week, and there's a halfway decent chance that this will all be finished then.

The solution is easy and obvious: Max Mosely must go.  Unfortunately, Mosely knows this and has already gone on record as saying that he will not, under any circumstances, step down.  If that, indeed, is the case and he stays on as president of the FIA, then there is no chance of reconciliation whatsoever.  At this point, Mosely can't back down on the budget cap without losing whatever credibility he has with the rest of the FIA, at which point he may as well actually have stepped down.

So what will happen when FOTA breaks away from F1 and starts their own series?  Unfortunately, there is precedent, and it isn't pretty.  In 1996, Tony George, president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, broke away from CART, and formed his own series, the Indy Racing League (IRL).  While CART had the stronger hand for a while, they eventually went bankrupt and merged into the IRL... in 2008.  With the split of the two series, the fanbase was fractured, with the only race for both series that drew any attention being the Indianapolis 500.  Eventually, casual fans stopped caring, and even the Indy 500's ratings plummeted.  American open-wheel racing, which pre-split was incredibly popular, became an irrelevancy in the world racing scene.

In this particular split, the two sides each have their own advantages.  FOTA has the big names (Ferrari and McLaren), plus the best drivers in the world.  The FIA, however, has a big hammer.  They have the ability to ban any driver or team that participates in the FOTA series from ever racing in a FIA-sanctioned event again.  They can also ban any circuit that hosts a FOTA race from ever hosting a FIA event again.  They can also lay sanctions on any driver that competes against a FOTA driver (even in a charity event, or the Race of Champions), including banning them from FIA events.  Considering the way Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA have treated Silverstone, I suspect that they'll be willing to host one of the FOTA races.

About the only place that the FIA doesn't have much of a foothold is in the United States.  The only major series under their banner here is the NHRA

I suspect, however, that the FOTA teams will have the fans, and they have the money.  That'll be the deciding factor in the success or failure of any spinoff series... and I bet that, in the end, if it does come to a schism between the series, FOTA will succeed.  After all, Ferrari, McLaren, Button, Alonso HWMNBN, Massa, Raikkonen, Hamilton and so forth are a heckuva lot easier to cheer for than Max Mosely.

Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

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June 16, 2009

F1 on TV: Britain 2009

Once again, F1 returns to the green lands of Albion and the legendary "birthplace" of Formula One, Silverstone Circuit (the site of the first official Formula One World Championship race, in 1950).  Once a RAF bomber base, hosting No 17 Operational Training Unit flying the Vickers Wellington, it now becomes the busiest airport in England on race day (thanks to the atrocious traffic jams on the limited access roads to the track, helicopter transportation is common).

Let's take a look at the track map for this legendary circuit:

There is no better track to point out the incredible manueverabilty of a F1 car than Silverstone.  My favorite complex of turns in Formula 1 located here, 2 thru 6: Maggots, Becketts, Chapel.  Seeing a car zip through this left/right/left/right/left complex is awe-inspiring.  In fact, because most of Silverstone is high-speed corners it's the second-fastest circuit on the F1 calendar, behind only Monza which is nothing but straightaways with an odd turn thrown in here and there.

The setup for this jewel of a track isn't, however, low downforce and balls-to-the-wall.  Those fast turns require more traction than you'd expect, and as a result you'd want to look more towards a medium downforce setup.  At Monza, you could practically take the wings off and still be able to race... try that at Silverstone and you'd wind up in the grass immediately.

It's a tragedy that this is (theoretically) the final F1 race at Silverstone.  Beginning next year, the British Grand Prix moves to Donington Park, which is a nice circuit but it's no Silverstone.  So enjoy it while you can... and the good folks at SPEED will bring us their usual yeoman coverage, beginning with Friday's Second Practice, running from 8a to 940a.

Quals comes to us on Saturday, from 7a to 830a.  Will we see Britian's Button 'n' Brawn on pole?  Will Red Bull show who's boss?  Or will Toyota snap out of its funk?  My money's on Button, with Vettel #2.

The race on Sunday, however, will once again be on FOX, from 2pm to 4pm.  Again, that's Central Pond Time, so subtract two hours for, oh let's say San Francisco or Portland.

There'll be a replay on SPEED next Tuesday from 12n to 2p... so if you miss it on Sunday, there's your chance to see the last F1 race at Silverstone!

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June 12, 2009

F1 New Teams Announced!

The official team entries for the 2010 F1 season has been released.  While there's still some conditional teams listed (Toyota, Brawn, McLaren, BMW-Sauber and Renault) and one team that wants to be conditional (Ferrari), we now have an idea who'll be taking the grid.

The conditional teams, of course, are still trying to break the salary cap issue, the next deadline for which is June 19th.  At which point, the whole grid may very well be changed... but until then, let's run with what we've got.

The current 10 teams were all accepted for the grid, as expected.  The fun stuff comes from the three new teams added to the series.

CAMPOS is currently running in F3, and is the reigning GP2 champion.  Since its inception in 1998, the team has run in a number of different series, winning six drivers championships and five constructors titles.  They'll be based out of Valencia, where they share a facility with a different GP2 team and the Mexico A1GP team.  Plenty of experience here, and a technical partnership with Dallara should make the actual building of their chassis go quite smoothly.

MANOR has been around since 1990, and has mostly concentrated on Formula Renault in the past, though they ran in F3 as recently as 2008.  A long line of championships (19 team titles... obviously they ran in multiple series some years) testifies to their abilities.  They've also had some good luck with their drivers, too, as the team has had Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton and Antonio Pizzonia driving for them at one time or another.  The team's technical director will be Nick Wirth, who founded the Simtek F1 team back in the '90s.  He was the March F1 aerodynamicist in 1988 and 1989, and chief designer with Benneton F1 from '96 thru '99. Wirth has also designed the 2004 and 2005 IRL championship chassis, as well as Honda's American LeMans Series (ALMS) racers.  An impressive resume for the team on paper, at least.

It's official, there'll finally be an American team on the grid!  USF1 made a splash a few months back when they announced their plans to join the series, and now their dream has come true.  F1 Update! now has a new favorite team.  The only newbies on the block, with no prior experience as a team, they do have a lot of experience in motorsports at the upper levels of management.  The announced Team Principal, Ken Anderson, has 30 years of racing experience, has designed many Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar series championship winners, was the the tech director for both Onyx and Ligier F1 teams, and brings a stout background in aerodynamics to the team to boot.  Team director Peter ("Smarmy") Windsor has 35 years history in F1.  He's been a reporter (most recently as the 4th member of SPEED's Legendary Announce Team), a team manager (for Williams' most recent F1 championship team), managed Ferrari's chassis and suspension development teams, was a consultant for various F1 drivers, and reportedly runs a rather secretive driver training facility to boot.  The team will be dual-based in Charlotte, NC, where the chassis will be designed and built, and in Spain, where the team will race from for most of the F1 season.

All three teams will race with Cosworth engines, the first time since 2006 that the engine manufacturer has been in the sport.

Now we'll see if the big teams and the FIA can get their acts together...

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June 06, 2009

F1 Quals: Turkey 2009!

Have we just seen a tiny chink appear in the Brawn's armor?  The provisional grid for the Grand Prix of Turkey will be as follows:

Pos Driver Team Q1Q2Q3
1 Sebastian Vettel RBR-Renault 1:27.330 1:27.016 1:28.316
2 Jenson Button Brawn-Mercedes 1:27.355 1:27.230 1:28.421
3 Rubens Barrichello Brawn-Mercedes 1:27.371 1:27.418 1:28.579
4 Mark Webber RBR-Renault 1:27.466 1:27.416 1:28.613
5 Jarno Trulli Toyota 1:27.529 1:27.195 1:28.666
6 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:27.556 1:27.387 1:28.815
7 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:27.508 1:27.349 1:28.858
8 HWMNBN Renault 1:27.988 1:27.473 1:29.075
9 Nico Rosberg Williams-Toyota 1:27.517 1:27.418 1:29.191
10 Robert Kubica BMW Sauber 1:27.788 1:27.455 1:29.357
11 Grizzly Nick Heidfeld BMW Sauber 1:27.795 1:27.521
12 Kazoo Nakajima Williams-Toyota 1:27.691 1:27.629
13 Timo Glockenspiel Toyota 1:28.160 1:27.795
14 Heikki Kovalaineninnie McLaren-Mercedes 1:28.199 1:28.207
15 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:28.278 1:28.391
16 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:28.318

17 Nelson Piquet Jr
Renault 1:28.582

18 Sebastien Buemi STR-Ferrari 1:28.708

19 Giancarlo Fisichella Force India-Mercedes 1:28.717

20 SeaBass STR-Ferrari 1:28.918

Sebastian gets the clean sweep of qualifying, having the fastest speed in all three sessions.  Of course, the Red Bull RB5 got its new double diffuser at Monaco but that's hardly a good place to shake down new equipment.  Now that it's out on the open road, so to speak, it may just be that the Brawn has been supplanted as the best car.

Not to say that's for sure, however, because as usual the Brawns have more fuel on board than Vettel.  The polesitter weighs in at 649.5kg, Button is at 655.5kg, and Barrichello 652.5kg.  That extra weight might equal another lap or two on the first stint, and that may very well be the entire difference between the two marques.

All hail Adrian Sutil and Force India!  For the second race in a row, they managed to get out of Q1... while Lewis Hamilton's McLaren failed to get out of Q1 for the second race in a row.  In Monaco, of course, Hamilton stuck it into the wall, but no such excuse here: the MP4/24 is just a dog.  Everywhere it went, the rear end was twitching like an burlesque dancer's.  To be blunt, Hamilton and Kovaleininninnie are too busy keeping the car from killing them to be competitively fast.

The Ferraris, which looked so promising yesterday,  will have quite a task ahead of them if they want to keep the title of "Turkish Grand Prix Victors" entirely in-house.  Not bloody likely, though, considering that Massa has less fuel that Button, and Kimi about 3kg more.  Not an impressive result.

Finally, BMW must be feeling a little bit better.  They didn't look too bad in quals, and at least one of their drivers made it to Q3.  It's the right direction, at least.

I'm not sure which version of the race I'll be watching tomorrow:  Fox'll have SPEED's coverage at 2pm central, but I should also have the BBC's broadcast in my possession by noon.   So, which I watch will determine when the F1 Update! will be posted.  See you then, whenever it is!

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June 05, 2009

F1 Practice: Turkey 2009!

Take a sheet of 2-grit sandpaper.  Apply this vigorously to the side of a very large, very old, and very very pissed off bull.

That was the sound Sebastian Vettel's engine made when the Red Bull's gearbox tried to select two gears at the same time... or the driveshaft came adrift... or whatever it was that happened to it.  No matter what it was, it was not a pleasant sound at all, and one I've never heard from a F1 car before.  The smoke wasn't bad, but something got really codswallopped in there.

In other news, nobody has any idea how McLaren is going to do.  Heikki Kovaleininninninnie was fastest on the day, but Lewis Hamilton was well down the timesheets.  He also had multiple spins, and his car looked very twitchy all day.  On the other hand, Heikki's didn't look anywhere near as bad... I wonder if they're running different equipment?

The news of the day, however, was that only HWMNBN could get anything out of the softer of the two tire compounds, hauling his Renault up to second only .006 seconds behind.  Everybody else, however, looked like they were driving on pudding when they put on the softs.  Look for long stints on the hard compounds to begin with, so teams can minimize the time spent on the softs.  Funny, usually softer tires work better around this particular track.

Quals on Saturday.

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June 01, 2009

F1 on TV: Turkey 2009!

This week the mighty F1 Circus stops in Istanbul.  Nope, no They Might Be Giants jokes here.  I'll leave that to the highlights package guy at Speed Channel... he ALWAYS uses one of their songs when they're at the Istanbul Otodrom.

I won't mention which one.

Track map time!
Surprisingly enough, it's another Hermann Tilke circuit... but wait!  No "Adventure" layout here!  In fact, it's far and away his best F1 track design, and the only one of his to have a legendary corner.  Yes, this is the home of Quad-8, the infamous quadruple-apex turn that is the key to a good lap.  Done right, it's a beautifully balanced high-speed turn... but be wrong by a couple of inches and you're into the runoff area and praying that nobody noticed.  Many people have noticed some similarities between famous turns in motorsports and turns on this circuit.  For example, Turn 1 and 2 here has a passing resemblence to Laguna Seca's famed Corkscrew (though without the incredible downhill plunge), and Turn 11 has been nicknamed "Faux Rouge" due to the similarity with the famous complex at Spa (though without the incredible uphill climb).

Jenson Button has a history with Quad-8.  A couple of years ago, when Honda actually was sporty and looking like they were going to be challenging the big boys (kinda like BMW last year), Button had shown that he loved the Istanbul circuit by ripping off fast practice lap after fast practice lap... and he was the only driver who made Quad-8 look easy.

And then came Quals.  Through the first seven turns, he was amazing.  Then came Quad-8, a slight bobble, and voomph!  No pole for you, Jenson.  Ever since, he's been gunshy around that bend.

Turkey is also one of only two counter-clockwise tracks on the F1 calendar (Brazil being the other).  This lends an extra amount of fatigue to the drivers... they're used to going clockwise around racetracks, and their neck muscles are developed to do so.  Now, however, they have to go the other way... to the weak side, you could say. 

Running counter-clockwise also adds another difficulty to the teams, in that the refuelling receptacle on the cars needs to be moved to the left-hand side.  While this requires a minor change to the bodywork, and practically no change to the fuel tank itself (the tank doesn't move, the connecting hose between the tank and the receptacle does), it does cause some minor consternation amongst the pitcrews.  Usually, the right side tire changers have their backs to the garages... but now they'll have their backs to the pit lane, with cars zipping by behind them.  I don't care how professional they are, and they are arguably the best in the business, a change like that has to throw you off a little bit.

This track has been owned by the Ferrari drivers, with Kimi Raikkonen winning in 2005 (though he was with McLaren at the time), and Felipe Massa the winner of the other three races.  The question is, will that institutional memory be enough to boot BrawnGP from the top step of the podium? 

We'll begin to find out on Friday, from 6a to 740a, as SPEED brings us live coverage of 2nd Practice.  More questions will be answered on Saturday, from 6a to 730a, when we get plausibly live coverage of the Quals session, also on SPEED.

Then comes the race, which will NOT be live.  The Grand Prix of Turkey is the first of this year's four races on Fox, so check your local listings for times (though it's expected to be from 2p to 4p).  The only replay will be on SPEED on Tuesday, June 9th, from 12n to 2p.

All times are Central Pond Time, so subtract two hours if you are Vaucaunson's Duck, who lives in San Francisco.

Of course, F1 Update!'ll be all over this race, so see you then!

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