MotorSportsTalk’s predictions: Spanish GP

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Formula One returns at the Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya, with the race being part of NBCSN’s 13 hours of motorsport coverage this weekend. With on-track rivalries set to resume, the MST team re-kindles its own prediction battle. Who are our hot picks for the race on Sunday?

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. It seems hard to imagine the Spanish GP has had seven different winners in the last seven years, but right now, it’s hard to pick against the driver who’s riding the hot hand.

Surprising finish: Kimi Raikkonen. Yes, Raikkonen has the chance to win this race for a third different team (McLaren and Ferrari before). But with Lotus technical director James Allison leaving the team just before the race, it is likely to have a negative impact both on Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean at least in the short term.

Most to prove: Pastor Maldonado. Williams plans to improve this race based on some new upgrades. And for defending Spanish Grand Prix winner Pastor Maldonado, improvement will be merely scoring both his and the team’s first points of the season.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. Barcelona is a proper all-around test for a car’s performance, and that plays right into the three-time defending World Champion’s hands (not to mention teammate Mark Webber’s). One also wonders if Pirelli’s decision to tweak its hard compound tire will benefit the Red Bulls as well…

Surprising finish: Charles Pic. Gonna go toward the back of the grid on this one. Pic was able to get the better of Marussia rival Jules Bianchi in Bahrain, and this weekend, he’ll get more updates on his CT-03. Could bigger gains be on tap for him and Caterham?

Most to prove: Fernando Alonso. After his DRS disaster in Bahrain, Alonso is 30 points back of Vettel in the driver’s championship as he heads to home ground. His countrymen will be counting on him for a big result that can start him toward closing that gap.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Mark Webber. Multi-21 aside, Webber will certainly be in the running for some big points in Spain. The Aussie will be keen on answering his critics, and having won in 2010, he is one to watch at the Circuit de Catalunya.

Surprising finish: Nico Hulkenberg. A quiet start to the season for Sauber, but Hulkenberg has shown signs of brilliance (e.g. leading in China). Relying the upgrades come, he could produce another good performance to finish in the top six or so.

Most to prove: Jenson Button. After being given a reality check by his teammate in Bahrain, JB needs to respond fast. McLaren’s upgrades are crucial to him responding well, and he appears to be in a good frame of mind, although the importance of this weekend will not be lost on him.

Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine)

Race winner: Fernando Alonso. Always dangerous on home ground, he’s bound to qualify inside the top four and from there I reckon he’ll make another of his trademarks fast starts to take the lead and control the race.

Surprising finish: Daniel Ricciardo. He’ll prove Bahrain was a blip and get another solid points finish.

Most to prove: McLaren. If they’ve going to have any chance of competing for the titles this year they’ve got to do what Ferrari did at this race last year: Halve the performance deficit to their rivals.

Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.