Indy 500 rookies learn the ropes on Opening Day

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As he attempts to make the field for his first Indianapolis 500, A.J. Allmendinger’s past stock car experience at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is of very little help to him.

“It just tells me that there are four corners around this racetrack and I have an understanding of what they feel like,” said Allmendinger (pictured), who was one of three Indy 500 rookies to pass the Rookie Orientation Program this afternoon at IMS. The former Champ Car driver posted a top lap of 219.239 miles per hour in his ROP session.

“Obviously, it’s two different race cars — completely different race cars. The line and just the way the track feels, that I kind of knew, but from there it’s a completely different technique of how to get in the corners. You can’t hit the brake pedal, and you don’t want to lift. [I’m] trying to get used to that. The first few laps when I was trying to go wide-open, the right foot was quivering. I had to get the left foot to hold it down and say, ‘OK, it’s time to get used to this.’ It was enjoyable.”

Unlike Allmendinger, Tristan Vautier does have some open-wheel experience at Indy to fall back on. However, that was in a Firestone Indy Lights car that is considerably slower than the IZOD IndyCar Series’ Dallara DW12 he’s been driving for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports this year.

“That was so much faster than an Indy Lights car,” said Vautier of his rookie orientation. “It was harder to run slow when they were asking us to stay between the lower speed ranges, because it was difficult to judge how much to lift to stay in that segment. It was fun, though. I managed 15 laps at full speed at the end and loved it. Everything happens faster in these cars, and you need to anticipate everything. It’s easier to make a mistake, and you have to be on it all the time.”

As for Andretti Autosport’s Carlos Munoz, the third man to pass ROP today, he came away P3 overall on the practice charts behind Ed Carpenter in first and Josef Newgarden in second. That should give the young Colombian some energy as he prepares throughout the upcoming week for qualifications.

“My day ended really well with this afternoon’s practice,” he said. “I feel like each time I get in the [car] that I’m getting better. I’m starting to feel more and more confident, and I think my last lap was one of my best of the day. But it is still a long month with a lot of work left to do. I’m with the best team this season, which gives me confidence in my abilities as we go through this month.”

Ferrari, Mercedes launch 2018 F1 cars

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The title combatants from the 2017 FIA Formula 1 World Championship season both launched their 2018 challengers earlier on Thursday, with Scuderia Ferrari revealing the SF71H and Mercedes AMG Petronas revealing the W09.

For Ferrari, the SF71H represents an evolution of last year’s SF70H, which helped produce Ferrari’s best season in several years.

They presented a strong challenge to Mercedes for the championship, even leading the way at various points, with Sebastian Vettel recording five wins along the way. But, mechanical failures and crashes hampered their efforts late in the season, and they settled for second in the driver’s championship (with Vettel) and the constructor’s championship.

Entering 2018, the team is emphasizing the importance of building momentum with every race to ultimately secure their first constructor’s crown since 2008 and their first driver’s crown since 2007.

“There are no challenges actually. There are no challenges in the plural. There is just one challenge, which is the final challenge,” asserted team principal Maurizio Arrivabene. So that’s work that you build and you don’t build that work in one or two races. We’ve seen over the last few years, in the last championships, that you work race by race, and you always try to do the best you can.”

Technical director Mattia Binotto detailed some of the updates on the 2018 car, such as an new power unit and new suspension designs in anticipation of new tire constructions.

“We worked a lot on the power unit, we worked on its reliability and performance. We worked on the packaging, on suspensions in the rear axle because there will be new tires the following season, so we also tried to design the car to accommodate the new tires,” he explained.

Binotto added, “In regards to aerodynamics, we maintained our concept of having the inlets on the radiators, and everybody’s copying that, but we tried to make an additional step forward and what we showed today is not the same element of last year, but it is something more developed.”

Mercedes, meanwhile, will look to take it’s fifth consecutive driver’s and constructor’s championships with the W09. The team even took the car to the track for its launch, conducting a filming day at Silverstone Circuit.

“It is always a very exciting time because what has been designed is coming together and coming alive,”  team principal Toto Wolff said during the launch.

Despite facing challenges with last year’s car, the W08, the team elected to follow a similar design concept with the aerodynamics to improve on the car’s strengths while simultaneously addressing its weak points.

“We like some of the character traits from our diva,” Wolf quipped. “The W08 was the fastest car on the grid, scoring the highest number of pole positions and winning the most races last year. So we were careful not to lose the car’s many strengths just to overcome the difficulties.”

Both Ferrari and Mercedes are expected to slug it out again for the 2018 driver’s and constructor’s championships.

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