Grosjean tops wet final practice in Australia

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Romain Grosjean managed to beat the rain clouds in Melbourne to finish on top in the final practice session for the Australian Grand Prix.

The Lotus driver set a quickest time of 1:26.929, edging out the Ferrari duo of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa in a session which saw just fifteen minutes of dry running.

The majority of the drivers opted to go out early on the medium compound tire in order to set a representative time, although Lewis Hamilton was one of the drivers who opted to stay in the pits leaving him in last place come the end of the session.

Friday pace-setter Sebastian Vettel encountered problems with his Red Bull RB9 late on in the session. With ten minutes left, the defending champion pulled over with a suspected hydraulic failure which will cause some concern for the team ahead of qualifying later today.

Mercedes’ problematic weekend continued when Nico Rosberg suffered a problem with his KERS, but the German driver still finished in P11.

Jules Bianchi was one of the surprise packages of FP3, finishing in fourteenth place just behind the Red Bull pair of Vettel and Mark Webber.

The wet running caused many of the teams to stay in the pits in order to save their tires for qualifying in case the conditions fail to improve in Melbourne. The teams at the top will be pleased with their times, although the lack of a final dry session before qualifying will have left many cursing their problems on Friday which are yet to be ironed out.

Free Practice 3 – Classification

1 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:26.929 14 laps

2 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:27.000 +0.071 7 laps

3 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:27.241 +0.312 10 laps

4 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:27.533 +0.604 9 laps

5 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 1:27.625 +0.696 12 laps

6 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 1:27.849 +0.920 19 laps

7 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 1:27.860 +0.931 16 laps

8 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:28.069 +1.140 15 laps

9 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1:28.253 +1.324 18 laps

10 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1:28.253 +1.324 20 laps

11 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:28.486 +1.557 13 laps

12 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:29.808 +2.879 9 laps

13 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:30.073 +3.144 16 laps

14 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1:30.388 +3.459 17 laps

15 Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1:30.598 +3.669 20 laps

16 Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1:30.959 +4.030 19 laps

17 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:33.236 +6.307 7 laps

18 Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1:33.527 +6.598 8 laps

19 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1:39.232 +12.303 13 laps

20 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1:39.779 +12.850 13 laps

21 Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1:42.872 +15.943 13 laps

22 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:47.246 +20.317 9 laps

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.