Ganassi, Penske camps look ahead to Indy 500 qualifying

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Indianapolis 500 qualifying could do much more than set the field for next weekend’s Greatest Spectacle in Racing. It could also help determine a series champion.

As part of the new ‘500’ qualifying format, Verizon IndyCar Series championship points will be on the line both tomorrow and Sunday.

33 points will go to tomorrow’s fastest qualifier with the points then descending by one per starting position, and the winner of Sunday’s Fast Nine shootout for the pole will earn nine additional points.

It makes up a good chunk of the maximum total of 145 points that a driver can earn from the ‘500.’  That particular bounty also includes the 100 points for the race win (remember, the ‘500’ is a double-points event), one point for a lap led, and two points for most laps led.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske figure to play heavily into this weekend’s events, but TCGR managing director Mike Hull would not be drawn into revealing a specific strategy for his team going in.

“The way that we’ll approach tomorrow is the way that we’re going to approach today,” Hull said today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“We’re going to get the most out of it. That’s the way that we work. That’s really the simple answer. The strategy is developed simply from there. Yeah, we’ll have a very defined strategy internally for us. But we work really, really hard to get the most out of the day we have in front of us.”

Hull’s boss, Chip Ganassi, didn’t add much to that save for his team being ready to “play every card” they had tomorrow.

As for the view from the Penske camp, Roger Penske and his drivers – Helio Castroneves, Will Power, and Juan Pablo Montoya – mentioned the importance of putting themselves into the Top 9 on Saturday to ensure their place in Sunday’s shootout.

But in Power’s eyes, the points scenario could force him and his teammates to take a risk on a second qualifying run and try to get higher up the pylon.

“This point spread is really close between positions,” he said. “You would expect all the championship contenders would be pretty close anyway.

“I’m sure if you were the one with the fast cars at the front competing for the championship, you would definitely go back out to gain some points.”

After finishing eighth in last weekend’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Power’s lead in the IndyCar championship is down to one point over Ryan Hunter-Reay and six points over GP of Indy winner Simon Pagenaud.

Castroneves and defending series champion Scott Dixon are tied for fourth and farther back at 47 points behind Power.

F1 2017 driver review: Esteban Ocon

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Esteban Ocon

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 31
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P5 (Spain, Mexico)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 87
Championship Position: 8th

A shining star in Mercedes’ junior programme, Esteban Ocon vaulted fellow youngster Pascal Wehrlein in the pecking order to secure a seat at Force India for 2017 – and boy, did he live up to the hype.

Ocon arrived at Force India with half a season of racing under his belt after his outings with Manor late in 2016, but wasted little time in settling in, scoring points on debut in Australia after winning a thrilling three-way fight with Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso.

The Frenchman spent much of the year close to teammate Sergio Perez – even if things did get a little too close in Canada, Baku and, finally, Spa, prompting the team to introduce team orders – and impressed the entire paddock with his displays.

While no podium was forthcoming, Ocon was often leading the midfield fight, enjoying three straight finishes ahead of Perez from Japan to Mexico. Given how well Perez is rated on-track in the paddock, to have convincingly beaten him in such fashion did a lot for Ocon’s reputation.

The term ‘Oconsistency’ also came into F1’s dictionary as he set a new record for consecutive finishes from his first race, with his retirement in Brazil ending the streak at 27 grands prix. It was also his first retirement in a single-seater race since the 2014 Macau Grand Prix.

The highlight moment arguably came at Monza, though, when Ocon stuck his Force India third on the grid through torrential rain in qualifying. While he would drop to P6 at the checkered flag, the display nevertheless cemented his place as one of F1’s rising stars.

Mercedes rates Ocon very highly, and with Valtteri Bottas’ future beyond 2018 already being questioned by the paddock, a good season could see the youngster move on up to the top table of F1 for 2019. His progression in the next 12 months will be fascinating to keep track of.

Season High: Lining up P3 on the grid at Monza after a rainy qualifying.

Season Low: Clashing with Perez in Baku, costing Force India a possible podium.