NT pledges further $8 million to Hidden Valley

The Northern Territory Government has confirmed an additional $8.05 million worth of funding for upgrades to Hidden Valley Raceway.

NT Chief Minister Adam Giles has announced the funding ahead of the territory’s 2015 Budget.

It comes in addition to the $9.6 million of public support for upgrades at the venue undertaken over the last 18 months.

Recent work has included a full resurfacing of the circuit, completed late last year, and the replacement of the earth-filled tyre bundles between turns 1 to 4 with concrete.

The latest funding consists of $4 million to replace water mains and systems, $2 million to install a glass-fronted structure that includes seating, bar and kiosk and a VIP area, $1 million to install lighting and power for the pit area $750,000 for upgrades to the Darwin speedway race surface, $200,000 to upgrade air fences and $100,000 to install WiFi throughout the complex.

According to Mr Giles, the continued upgrades will help keep the V8 Supercars Championship coming back to the NT once the current contract between the parties expires in 2018.

“The Territory is fast building a reputation as a haven for motorsports and this significant investment will help ensure events like the V8 Supercars are here to stay,” Mr Giles said.

“Motorsports fans have a lot to look forward to in Budget 2015 with a multi-million dollar package of sports infrastructure spending right across the Territory.”

Funding for a new Summernats-style modified car festival in Alice Springs is also expected in the 2015 Budget ahead of the inaugural event in September.

Chris Buescher to fill in again in No. 34

Front Row Motorsports announced Monday morning that Chris Buescher will drive the team's No. 34 Ford this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

Buescher, a NASCAR XFINITY Series regular, is scheduled to make his third career Sprint Cup Series start for the Bob Jenkins-owned team in Saturday night's Duck Commander 500. He'll be pulling double-duty, driving the Roush Fenway Racing No. 60 Ford in Friday's O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 for XFINITY cars.
 
Buescher is the fourth driver in six races for the No. 34 team. David Ragan began the year, but hopped in as the interim driver for the injured Kyle Busch in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota. That move set off a chain of driver swaps, putting Joe Nemechek behind the wheel at Atlanta in the season's second race.
 
Michael Waltrip Racing development driver Brett Moffitt competed in the next two events (Las Vegas, Phoenix) for Front Row, but rejoined MWR in its No. 55 Toyota after Brian Vickers was ruled out indefinitely with a recurrence of blood clots. That move made Buescher an 11th-hour replacement at Auto Club Speedway and the interim driver at Martinsville Speedway.
 
Ragan is expected to resume driver duties for the No. 34 team once Busch returns from injury.
 
Buescher notched his only XFINITY Series victory last August at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He currently ranks second in the XFINITY standings, just five points behind series leader Ty Dillon after five of 33 races scheduled this season.

Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas: Can it get any better?

The 2015 MotoGP™ World Championship continues with the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, after a thrilling opening race in Qatar.

As the paddock prepares for the race at the 5.5 km Circuit of the Americas, there are a number of talking points on everyone’s lips with fans wondering if it could possibly get any better after an incredible opening round under the floodlights in Qatar. It is the third year in a row that the MotoGP™ World Championship returns to COTA, with Honda having completed a 1-2 (Marquez and Pedrosa) at each previous race.

Ducati confirmed that they are “back” in Qatar, completing the reversal in the Italian manufacturers fortunes since Luigi Dall’Igna joined the factory team as Sporting Director from Aprilia at the end of the 2013 season. The new GP15 showed that it was not just a “one-lap wonder” on the softer tyre option and Dovizioso will fancy his chances after he claimed his first podium for Ducati in Austin last season. One change for the Ducati Team and Pramac Racing, is that they will now have to make do with 22 litres of fuel as opposed to 24, after achieving three podiums in the last two seasons.

Valentino Rossi was the focus of the world’s media after taking a spectacular race win under the floodlights at the Losail International Circuit. Can Rossi produce the same in Austin? There is no doubt that the nine-time World Champion still has the same hunger for success as when he made his World Championship debut 20 years ago, although his best finish in Austin is a 6th place back in 2013. His teammate Jorge Lorenzo had to make do with 4th in Qatar, after he experienced an issue with his helmet that ruined his chances for the win. The Spaniard had actually led the race at times and was dicing with the Ducati’s until the problem, but believes he can be battling it out for the race win in Austin where he has a best place finish of 3rd.

Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez got his title defence off to the worst possible start in Qatar, when he ran wide at the very first corner, eventually finishing the race in 5th. Marquez will be confident he can respond in Austin having won the previous two races held at the circuit. In fact the Spanish rider actually left COTA last year having topped every practice session, qualified on pole, and led every lap of the race on the way to his win, setting a new Circuit Record in the process.

Dani Pedrosa confirmed he will miss the Americas & Argentina rounds due to the arm pump issue that he revealed after the Qatar race, which  has been affecting him for the past year. The Spaniard will be replaced by Hiroshi Aoyama, who has filled in for Pedrosa before at the Dutch TT in Assen in 2011. Aoyama has 64 races under his belt in the MotoGP™ class, and finished 12th last year in Austin on the Aspar Honda RCV1000R.

Suzuki made their return to MotoGP™ in Qatar, and as to be expected there were some teething problems for the Japanese manufacturer, with both Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales down on power compared to their rivals. Team Suzuki Ecstar have never raced at COTA before, as the track was added to the MotoGP™ calendar after the Japanese manufacturer left the class in 2011.

CWM LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow won the battle of the satellite riders during the first round, finishing 0.5s ahead of his compatriot Bradley Smith on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha. Crutchlow crashed out of the Austin race last year, but in 2013 he managed a creditable 4th place. These two look set for a season long battle and it should be close once again as Smith also seems to like the track, finishing 5th at COTA last season as the leading Yamaha. His teammate Pol Espargaro should also be in the mix having only lost out to the British rider by just 0.1s in Qatar.

Expect to see more from Scott Redding on the Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda RC213V after he crashed out on the 2nd lap of the Austin GP last year, plus don't forget the Pramac Racing bikes of Yonny Hernandez and Danilo Petrucci which once again could perform well in qualifying as they make use of their softer tyre option.

Avintia Ducati’s Hector Barbera was the top Open class rider at Losail, although he should face a tougher fight from German Stefan Bradl on the Athina Forward Racing bike this time around, with the German taking 4th at COTA in 2014.

CWM LCR Honda’s Jack Miller will be hoping to improve his fortunes after he crashed out of his MotoGP™ debut in Qatar, and he has tasted success at COTA before having won the 2014 Moto3™ race in Austin from pole position.

One man who will be looking for a good result in Austin is Aspar MotoGP Team’s Nicky Hayden who will be his starting 200th MotoGP™ race in front of his home fans, with his previous best finish at the circuit being a 9th place two seasons ago.

The Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas takes place between 10-12 April, with practice on the Friday, qualifying on Saturday and the race on Sunday.

Teams seek to overturn Auto Club Speedway rulings

NASCAR announced Tuesday that the National Motorsports Appeals Panel will hear appeals on April 16 for infractions against Richard Childress Racing's No. 31 team and Circle Sport Racing's No. 33 team.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Ryan Newman and his team were penalized 75 points each, crew chief, Luke Lambert, was fined $125,000 and Lambert and two other crew members were suspended after NASCAR determined the team illegally altered air pressures in its tires during a March 22 event at Auto Club Speedway.
 
The findings came after an audit of tires taken from four teams following the Auto Club 400 were sent to an outside agency for further evaluation.

The fine and the suspensions from the P5 penalty were deferred until the appeal so Lambert, team tire technician James Bender and team engineer Philip Surgen will be with the team at Texas Motor Speedway for Saturday's Duck Commander 500 (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX).

On the No. 33 team, a P4 penalty was assessed for truck trailing arm alterations. Crew chief Slugger Labbe was fined $50,000 and suspended for the next three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship races, plus any non-championship races or special events which might occur during that time period. Labbe was also placed on NASCAR probation through Dec. 31. In addition, car owner Joe Falk was docked 25 championship car owner points.

The appeals will be held at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina with the RCR time set for 8:30 a.m

Kane Wins The Battle and The NSSS War

Queenslander Darren Kane drove his #36 Nissan Ultima bodied Super Sedan into the history books at Speedway City as he won a dramatic A-Main at the final round of the National Super Sedan Series (NSSS). In what was a nail bitting finish to the series the victory also saw Kane clinch his fifth NSSS Title over South Australian Dave Gartner, who unfortunately failed to finish the final after a massive hit to the turn one concrete wall.

The huge Easter Sunday crowd were treated to some top class Sedan racing throughout the night with the series lead changing on several occasions. In fact going into the final Kane only led Gartner by 4 points setting up a winner take all scenario for the 40 lap final.

Going into the final Tasmanian Brad Smith was a red hot favourite having secured two heat wins and the Super 7’s but his quest for the round win ended on lap one as he slammed the front straight wall. Smith was able to re-join at the tail of the field but he would never recover.

From this point Kane would actually lead the entire race journey but it was far from a boring event as the top four drivers, Darren Kane, Ryan Alexander, Dave Gartner and Kodee Brown, were rarely separated with the drivers lapping the venue at a lightning pace.

The race would turn on its head on lap 18 as the leaders attempted to lap Bill Miller, who was driving the Jamie Agius owned machine, with Gartner riding the right rear of Alexander’s car slamming the State Champion hard into the wall. After the incident Gartner was devastated and was lost for words as his Championship campaign came to an end.

On the restart the race was quickly under a red light as Trevor Ware, who was now running fourth, rode out a massive barrel roll in turn three totally destroying his Insane Chassis. The incident forced the event to be shortened to 35 laps.

The remaining laps were run with Kane holding onto the lead over Ryan Alexander with Kodee Brown, Mick Nicola and Michael Miller the only drivers on the lead lap.

No Le Mans for Craig Lowndes in 2015

The 24 Hours of Spa will be the only European GT event for Craig Lowndes this season after his relationship with AF Corse failed to bear fruit.

The V8 Supercars star made his debut in the race with Ferrari squad AF Corse last year in a relationship that he hoped would lead to a Le Mans seat.

Lowndes had first forged links to the Italian marque’s GT program by winning that Bathurst 12 Hour with local team Maranello Motorsport in February, 2014.

The 40-year-old says that Spa and a possible return to the Highlands Park Australian GT Championship finale will be his only GT appearances.

“I’d love to go back and do Highlands at the end of the year, but outside of that, there won’t be anything else,” Lowndes told Speedcafe.com of his GT plans beyond Spa.

“We looked into AF Corse again to see if there were opportunities there this year but there were no seats available.

“The deal with Roger was basically a case of right place, right time, with a chance meeting at the grand prix (Albert Park).

“I’m really looking forward to that and if we can do Highlands at the end of the year, that’d be great leading again into next year’s (Bathurst) 12 Hour.”

Lowndes raced at Highlands last year in Inky Tulloch’s locally based Chevrolet Camaro, but says that a car for his return is yet to be sorted.

In addition to the Chevrolet and Ferrari, Lowndes also has previous experience in Audi GT3 machinery and now says he’s looking forward to sampling Lago’s Lamborghini.

Driving the car alongside Lago, Steve Owen and David Russell, Lowndes is hopeful of improving on his eighth placed finish from last year in the Ferrari.

“The main goal is to help Roger finish,” said Lowndes.

“Last year I think they got to six o’clock on Saturday morning and had to pull the car out of the race.

“If we could first get to the finish line, that’s the first goal, but I’d like to think that we are no worse off than where we were last year.

“I think the driver line-up is very competitive and he’ll have a new car (currently being built by Reiter Engineering in Germany).

“We’ve got to work with the new Lamborghini and see where that’s at in terms of its aero.

“The Ferrari had some strong points around that track so I’m looking forward to seeing what the Lamborghini is like.”

The Blancpain Endurance Series gets underway this weekend, with Lowndes’ fellow V8 Supercars ace, Shane van Gisbergen, among the field.

Recently signing a factory McLaren contract, Van Gisbergen is slated to compete in four of the five BES rounds, including Spa, with Von Ryan Racing.

The Kiwi will share the #58 650S with Rob Bell and Kevin Estre, while Alvaro Parente, Adrian Quaife Hobbs and Bruno Senna complete the team’s line-up in the sister #59 entry.