Nine multi-car Sprint Cup squads form Race Team Alliance

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Some of the biggest teams in the NASCAR garage have joined together in a “collaborative business association” known as the Race Team Alliance according to a release.

Nine teams in all have formed the RTA, which says in the release that “the purpose of the organization is to create an open forum for the teams to explore areas of common interest and to work collaboratively on initiatives to help preserve, promote, and grow the sport of stock car racing.”

The teams involved all field multi-car efforts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. They are: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske.

Together, those nine teams field 25 full-time Cup programs (Hendrick and SHR have the biggest camps in the RTA with four programs apiece). However, the release notes that the RTA will open up membership to all full-time Cup teams “in the very near future.”

MWR co-owner Rob Kauffman has been named as the RTA’s first chair.

“With the encouragement of NASCAR and the manufacturers, the teams have met in various forms and forums over the years to explore areas of common interest,” Kauffman says in the release. “This simply formalizes what was an informal group. The key word is ‘collaboration’. We all have vested interests in the success and popularity of stock car racing.

“By working together and speaking with a single voice, it should be a simpler and smoother process to work with current and potential groups involved with the sport.

“Whether it be looking for industry-wide travel partners or collaborating on technical issues – the idea is to work together to increase revenue, spend more efficiently, and deliver more value to our partners.”

If this happens to sound like a union to you, you may not be alone in that sentiment. However, in comments this morning to Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press, Kauffman insisted that was not the case:

Shortly after the RTA put out its release, NASCAR issued a statement of their own through the sanctioning body’s vice president and chief communications officer, Brett Jewkes:

“We are aware of the alliance concept the team owners have announced, but have very few specifics on its structure or purpose. It is apparently still in development and we’re still learning about the details so it would be inappropriate to comment right now. NASCAR’s mission, as it has always been, is to create a fair playing field where anyone can come and compete. Our job is to support and strengthen all of the teams, large and small, across all of our series and we’ll continue to do that. NASCAR is a unique community with hundreds of stakeholders. They all have a voice and always will.”

Open-wheel racing has had several major instances of teams joining forces in associations.

In 1978, a group of dissatisfied USAC car owners, spurred on by Dan Gurney’s famous “White Paper,” formed CART, which eventually took over and held control of American open-wheel racing until Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George formed the Indy Racing League (now the Verizon IndyCar Series) in 1994. Additionally, the Champ Car World Series that was born after CART’s demise at the end of 2003 was also headed up by an ownership group at the time.

This second split took a major toll on the sport, and while it reunified under the IndyCar banner in 2008, its former glory has yet to be recovered.

Over in Formula One, a group known as the Formula One Teams Association was formed in 2008 in order to work with the FIA and F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone. But while FOTA was able to help stop a possible collapse of the sport in 2009, it ultimately lost most of its political power and then went under completely.

These days, the F1 Strategy Group is the closest thing to a teams’ body in the series. However, only six of the bigger teams are involved in the Group – Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes, Red Bull, Williams and Lotus.

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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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.