Ryan Hunter-Reay goes for 4 straight in Andretti-promoted events

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This weekend’s Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT (2 p.m. EST, Sunday, NBCSN) is a pivotal one for several drivers, but particularly for defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay as he seeks to continue his quest for a repeat. He enters the weekend third in points, trailing championship leader Helio Castroneves by 62 points (479-417).

A year ago in Baltimore, a mix of an excellent strategy by Andretti Autosport team owner and strategist Michael Andretti, coupled with a perfect last restart to take the lead from Ryan Briscoe, propelled Hunter-Reay to his fourth win of 2012 and within 17 points of Will Power going into the championship-decider at Fontana.

A reader brought this to my attention yesterday, and reminded me Hunter-Reay has an interesting streak on the line heading into this weekend’s race. He and the team are a perfect 3-for-3 in races Andretti’s Andretti Sports Marketing group promotes. “RHR” has won both Milwaukee races, and Baltimore a year ago.

I’ll admit my Formula 1 and sporadic NASCAR picks have left something to be desired all year. But, my hints that Charlie Kimball and Will Power would win at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma have come to fruition in the last two IndyCar races… so I like Hunter-Reay’s chances this weekend.

If RHR doesn’t pull off the four-peat, I think there’s a very good chance IndyCar will have its record-tying 11th different winner in a season, and my odds-on pick in that group is Dario Franchitti, which would be Ganassi’s first win in Baltimore.

We’ll see how it all shakes out and whether the crystal ball proved clear or cloudy on Sunday.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.