Munoz gets tow to the top of Indy 500 practice

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Andretti Autosport rookie Carlos Munoz’s tow-assisted lap of 223.023 miles per hour was enough to lead the second day of practice for the 97th Indianapolis 500.

Munoz led an Andretti charge that saw all but one of their drivers inside the top five on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Ryan Hunter-Reay was second-quickest at 222.825 mph, followed by E.J. Viso in third (222.523) and Marco Andretti in fourth (222.485). Another rookie, Team Penske’s A.J. Allmendinger, was fifth-fastest (221.279).

In addition to leading the charts, Munoz had the first near-miss of the month when he almost collided with Marco Andretti in Turn 1. The Colombian was forced to avoid Andretti by sticking the left-side tires of his No. 26 Chevrolet in the grass.

With a scare attained — and thankfully, nothing else — Munoz called the matter a “misunderstanding” afterwards.

“Inside the turn, I went into the dirt; it was close,” said Munoz, who notched the third-quickest time on Saturday after passing his Rookie Orientation Program. “In the race, I’m going to have those situations. I had two tires in the grass, so I was lucky to continue. After that, I was more comfortable behind the guys.”

Hunter-Reay, the reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion, considered Sunday a day to get back into a rhythm with the Brickyard.

“This place is so special for so many reasons,” the American said. “It really drives like no other racetrack. It was good to get back in it, shake a little rust off at Indy and get ready for the week.”

730 laps were turned by 23 drivers this afternoon at IMS despite cool and gusty weather that made the notoriously tricky 2.5-mile oval even trickier. The weather team at Indianapolis’ NBC affiliate, WTHR-13, is forecasting temperatures in the low 60s for tomorrow, but more ideal conditions should arrive mid-week for the drivers and teams as highs soar into the 80s.

On tap for tomorrow: More practice, the expected arrival of A.J. Foyt Racing rookie Conor Daly for his own ROP session, and a scheduled “refresher test” for Dale Coyne Racing’s third driver this month, Pippa Mann.

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.