Special: A Family Affair for di Resta, Franchittis

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Editor’s Note: Two of racing’s biggest events take place on Sunday – the Monaco Grand Prix, which airs live on NBC Sunday at 7:30 a.m. ET, and the Indianapolis 500. One family has a particular interest in both races. They will be the squads that form the Franchitti/di Resta clan.

Guest contributor Andy Hallbery, a former editor for both Autosport and RACER magazines, had the opportunity to speak to Force India’s Paul di Resta over the weekend, and files this report. Image to the right is courtesy of Sutton Images.

Paul di Resta, fresh off the back of fourth place in Bahrain for the Grand Prix, heads to Monaco – where he now calls home – aiming for his first F1 podium. Meanwhile across the ‘Pond’, his cousin Dario Franchitti will be preparing for the Indy 500. A win would be his fourth at the hallowed track, and place him well within the list of Indy legends.

“I would say we speak at least once a week, maybe twice,” says di Resta. “It will either be a conversation or a series of dodgy emails flying backwards and forwards!

“We have more of a brother relationship than a cousin,” he adds. “It’s a shame that he lives the other side of the water, but the relationship is obviously very close. He’s been very supportive of my career as I have to his, and it’s nice to have that. But essentially when we’re actually together we don’t speak about racing because it’s family. It’s a completely different conversation.”

Paul is feeling his years, despite only being 27. It’s Bump Day at Indy, but he has other things on his mind. (“I must speak with Dario today. He turns 40!”)

“I’ve not actually been to an IndyCar race,” he admits. “The last time I went it was a CART race. That was 11 years ago, so I was 16. That’s a long time ago, but that’s what happens when you get racing yourself and how it pans out. I was trying to get to Detroit this year.  It’s just so difficult to schedule. But he finishes a lot earlier than us this year, so I think he should come to our races more.”

Despite his advancing years, Franchitti shows absolutely no sign of stopping racing, and it doesn’t take much of an imagination to see him, his brother Marino, and cousin Paul taking on Le Mans. One day…

“That would be nice, but where we all are at the moment, it’s difficult to do. Obviously Marino’s into the sportscars, and Dario’s coming to that bit of his life – he’s been quite open. He’s succeeded with what he wanted to do in America. So he needs to back it off a little bit. And I’m obviously a few years away from that, but if the right opportunity arose, I think we’d probably do something.”

As for Paul following his cousin Dario’s footsteps to America, well, don’t hold your breath. “I would have a go at a street track,” he says, before adding. “I have got no interest in ovals. They scare me a bit. Until I got to Formula 1 I was quite open about it because of what Dario had done. But a few things set that back… When Dario stops – and that’s no time soon I think – there will be a kind of relief from us. That’s not something we talk about.”

The Monaco Grand Prix airs live on NBC at 7:30 a.m. ET, with pre- and post-race coverage on the NBC Sports Network. Meanwhile across the pond, the Indy 500 telecast begins at 11 a.m. ET, with the race at noon ET, on ABC.

Red Bull rising into the form expected when the season began

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Young “Mad Max” Verstappen had plenty to be angry about for the first half of the Formula One season. After his breakout season in 2016, this year had been little more than a rash of retirements, crashes and clashes with other drivers.

But a late burst over the last two races delivered his second career victory and a second-place. Those results have Red Bull rising and looking more like the fast and muscular team it was expected to be.

Verstappen and teammate Daniel Ricciardo now look primed to keep pushing for the front over the final four races of 2017, starting this week at the U.S. Grand Prix. Do that and the prospects for a 2018 title fight grow brighter.

“We’re definitely going the way we need to be going,” Ricciardo said. “If we start on the front foot, I genuinely believe we can fight for the title if we start closer. That’s what we’re aiming for.”

Verstappen’s win in Malaysia demonstrated a perfect marriage of the young Dutchman’s driving skill and his improving car when he beat Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton with a head-to-head pass early. He was on the podium again a week later in Japan. The champagne spray at both races was a tasty but dry reminder that Red Bull wanted – and expected – so much more this season.

While Ricciardo has been a workhorse with nine podiums and one victory, Verstappen’s season was crippled by reliability issues with his car or crashes.

“There were so many races this year when he was in a fantastic position to achieve big results,” team principal Christian Horner said this week. “Credit to him that at such a young age he hasn’t let frustration boil over … when it comes right for him, it’s going to come right in a big way. And that’s exactly what happened in Malaysia. He drove a great race there, with no issues.”

Some of the “issues” created internal tension.

The first lap of the Hungarian Grand Prix was a disaster for Red Bull. Verstappen tried to overtake Ricciardo and hit him, knocking Ricciardo out of the race while Verstappen finished fifth. Ricciardo lashed out at Verstappen as “immature” and criticized the “amateur” maneuver.

Verstappen said he can’t think about what happened early in the season.

“That frustration I put behind me,” Verstappen said. “It happened. You can’t change it anymore. You’re just happy that it’s going well again and we had some good results.”

Ricciardo has carried Red Bull to the podium time and again but his broad smile hasn’t beamed from the top spot since Azerbaijan in June. Despite his run of strong finishes, he’s stuck at fourth in the driver’s standings and needs a boost to overtake Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas for third.

The Circuit of the Americas has been good for both Red Bull drivers in the past. Ricciardo finished third here in 2014 and 2016. Verstappen had an attention-getting drive in 2015 when he finished fourth in his Toro Rosso after sloshing his way through the field on a wet track.

Verstappen had a wild race in 2016 when he challenged for the lead early, came in for a pit stop when the crew wasn’t ready and yelled to his garage: “I’m not here to finish fourth!” He didn’t finish at all when his car was knocked out with a gearbox problem on lap 32.

Verstappen was 17 when he joined the F1 grid as the youngest driver in series history and he still jokes about his age. Austin is known for its live music and nightlife, but he’s limited as to how much he can party away from the track.

“I’m only 20. I can’t drink,” Verstappen said. “If I’m on the podium (Sunday) I won’t care.”