Graham Rahal returns to podium with Detroit Dual 1 runner-up

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Buoyed by the addition of the National Guard as a main sponsor, Graham Rahal and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team expected to contend coming into the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Instead, the first five races all ended with poor results – none worse than the Indianapolis 500, which saw Rahal finish 33rd and dead last after an early electrical failure.

But today in Detroit’s Belle Isle Park, Rahal finally broke through for a second-place finish in a Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit Race 1 that shifted repeatedly with various strategy calls.

Rahal moved up and down the pylon himself but was in the Top 5 when a caution with 15 laps to go turned the race into an all-out sprint. After the restart, Ryan Briscoe pitted from the lead with eight to go, leaving Will Power up front and Rahal right behind him.

As the laps ticked away, Power stretched his lead to almost one second before Rahal was able to mount one last charge toward the Australian. Unfortunately for him, he fell just three-tenths of a second short.

“I thought I was finally going to get the monkey off my back today,” said Rahal, who has not won in the Verizon IndyCar Series since doing so in his first-ever series start at St. Petersburg six years ago.

“I knew I had a car that was as quick as his. I knew I had one opportunity and that was on the restart [with 11 laps to go], and he blocked me – which I would have done too, so I don’t blame him.

“But that last run, I thought we put on a charge, we caught him, and started to fade a little bit. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but all of a sudden it came to us, and this National Guard car went right to the front.”

Rahal, who hit the podium for the first time since finishing second last year at Long Beach, said that despite the different strategies, he remained confident in his car’s abilities to make up ground.

“I knew I was one of the few guys that could really drive by a lot of people today,” he said. “So after I saw myself in 13th place after our bad run on the reds, I said, ‘This isn’t over. I can still pass these guys.'”

Now comes the matter of continuing the momentum from today’s result. After Rahal’s Long Beach podium in 2013, he only posted one more Top-5 finish at Iowa for the remainder of that season.

But Rahal, energized with confidence, believes that his No. 15 National Guard team will eventually claim victory – perhaps as soon as tomorrow, which brings Race 2 of the Motor City doubleheader.

“My guys have done a phenomenal job, and I said after Indy, that this was a team made up of champions,” he said. “It was going to come in time, and we’re going to win one. We’re going to do it. I can promise you that.”

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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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.