IndyCar’s Dual in Detroit features another wide-open pair of races


At this weekend’s Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit Presented by Quicken Loans, part of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix weekend, the Verizon IndyCar Series points championship is likely to swing once more.

While the points standings didn’t change that dramatically coming out of the Indianapolis 500, despite the huge number of points on offer, what did change were the gaps.

Heading into the weekend, the top five were separated by only 47 points. Coming out, there’s now 63 covering the top four exiting with the top six now spread by 114.

The 500 champion, Ryan Hunter-Reay, has a 40-point lead over Will Power. Hunter-Reay secured his first Detroit podium with second last year in Race 1, behind Mike Conway, and also has a sixth and seventh place on his scorecard.

Power, meanwhile, has never finished on the podium in Detroit. Fourth in 2012 is best result on Belle Isle; a year ago, he was all of eighth and 20th, the latter after being caught up in an accident triggered by Sebastien Bourdais.

Bourdais and fellow-ex open-wheel champion Juan Pablo Montoya are two you could potentially see breaking out this weekend. Bourdais showed his first signs of life in the new DW12 chassis here in 2012, then driving for Dragon Racing, with a top-10 qualifying effort in his first race with a Chevrolet engine. He seeks to take the No. 11 Mistic KVSH Racing Chevrolet to his first podium of the year this weekend.

Same story applies for Montoya, who scored pole in both his trips to this circuit in 1999 and 2000. If Power can’t do it, you’d expect either of “JPM” or Helio Castroneves to want to deliver the Captain, Roger Penske, a win or two at the event he promotes.

The guy needing a big bounce back weekend is Scott Dixon, who enters the weekend ninth in points and already 142 points behind Hunter-Reay. These were weekends where Dixon and the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing team excelled more than anyone else in the field in 2013; armed with Chevrolet power in 2014, we’ll see if the Mike Hull-led team can finally threaten the lead, not just the top five.

As for the 2013 Detroit winners? Mike Conway and Simon Pagenaud were two unlikely victors a year ago and yet both are already in the win column in 2014, Conway having tasted victory on the series’ last street race in Long Beach and Pagenaud with a fuel-saving gamble to win the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

Pagenaud has two Firestone Fast Six appearances in the first four races but no front row starts, while Conway has yet to better 12th on the grid thus far this year. Both likeluy will need just a tick better performance in qualifying if they want to defend their turf.

Both Pagenaud and Tony Kanaan have new liveries this weekend, with Pagenaud having Oculus signage adorning the orange No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda and Kanaan in black and silver Energizer colors in the usual No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

Others to watch? Expect Justin Wilson to figure into play in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, as he’s a past Detroit winner and finished on the podium in Race 1 last year. The remaining Andretti Autosport drivers of Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz are both in the top-10 in points, and James Hinchcliffe made points strides after his great Indy qualifying effort.

Drivers needing big weekends are the pair from NTT Data and Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing, Ryan Briscoe and Charlie Kimball respectively. So too does Graham Rahal, last in the points, and no doubt looking for something to showcase in the No. 15 National Guard RLL Honda. He finished in the top-10 in both Detroit races a year ago and needs a result close to that to kickstart what’s been a frustrating season.

The two wild cards are rookies Jack Hawksworth and Mikhail Aleshin, who’ve never been to this circuit before.

Both races go green at 3:50 p.m. ET on Saturday and Sunday (check local listings).

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.