Looking back on IndyCar’s 2014 street races before 2 in Toronto

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It’s barely mid-July, but the condensed nature of the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule means we’re now starting to get into the first “lasts” of the year.

Next weekend, that’s the Honda Indy 2 in Toronto from the streets of Exhibition Place. The doubleheader wraps the eight-race street race schedule for the year.

Here’s a recap of the year on the streets thus far:

ST. PETERSBURG: Will Power opens the year on top after a pass of polesitter Takuma Sato, but causes minor stir with restart pace.

  • Podium: Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves
  • Firestone Fast Six: Takuma Sato, Tony Kanaan, Hunter-Reay, Power, Scott Dixon, Marco Andretti
  • Other details: 1.9475-second margin of victory, 2 cautions/10 laps, 20 finishers (18 on lead lap), 93.572 average speed

LONG BEACH: Mike Conway comes from 17th to score surprise win for Ed Carpenter Racing, aided in part by a multiple-car pileup triggered when Ryan Hunter-Reay contacts Josef Newgarden going for the lead at Turn 4.

  • Podium: Mike Conway, Power, Carlos Munoz
  • Firestone Fast Six: Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Sebastien Bourdais, Josef Newgarden, Jack Hawksworth, Simon Pagenaud
  • Other details: 0.9005 MOV, 4 FCY/18L, 16 finishers (12 lead lap), 82.363 avg. speed

DETROIT 1: Some slight contact between rivals Will Power and Simon Pagenaud early knocks the Frenchman out; the Australian puts on an otherwise clinical drive and holds off late pressure from Graham Rahal.

  • Podium: Power, Graham Rahal, Kanaan
  • Firestone Fast Six: Castroneves, Hinchcliffe, Hawksworth, Conway, Ryan Briscoe, Juan Pablo Montoya
  • Other details: 0.3308 MOV, 4 FCY/17L, 19 finishers (15 lead lap), 90.138 avg. speed

DETROIT 2: Simpler race sees Helio Castroneves’ weekend pace rewarded in a Penske 1-2 on the boss’ – and Chevrolet’s – home turf.

  • Podium: Castroneves, Power, Charlie Kimball
  • Top six qualifiers: Sato, Hinchcliffe, Castroneves, Conway, Briscoe, Munoz
  • Other details: 1.6836 MOV, 4 FCY/13L, 18 finishers (16 lead lap), 93.211 avg. speed

HOUSTON 1: Bizarre race starts wet, triggers penalty for Marco Andretti failing to heed race control call to pit, features contact between Mikhail Aleshin and Sato which leads to a cursing A.J. Foyt, yields varying strategies, sees Graham Rahal punt Tony Kanaan before the last restart was due to happen and Carlos Huertas score the win. Huertas’ fuel tank later found to be 0.1 of a gallon too big, but only minor fine issued.

  • Podium: Carlos Huertas, Montoya, Munoz
  • Firestone Fast Six: Pagenaud, Castroneves, Dixon, Luca Filippi, Hinchcliffe, Sato
  • Other details: Race ended under caution (no MOV), 6 FCY/24L, 16 finishers (13 lead lap), 70.389 avg. speed

HOUSTON 2: Hotter day sees a Schmidt Peterson Motorsports 1-2 led by Simon Pagenaud, with Jack Hawksworth scoring his first podium after holding off Juan Pablo Montoya and passing an ailing Will Power, who’d come from 18th to third, late in the race.

  • Podium: Pagenaud, Mikhail Aleshin, Hawksworth
  • Top six qualifiers: Castroneves, Aleshin, Pagenaud, Rahal, Bourdais, Justin Wilson
  • Other details: 7.2622 MOV, 5 FCY/21L, 18 finishers (11 lead lap), 78.981 avg. speed

So in six races, here’s what we’ve had from the streets:

  • Five different winners (Power 2, Castroneves, Huertas, Pagenaud 1 win apiece)
  • Four different Verizon P1 Award winners, none named Will Power (Sato 2, Castroneves 2, Hunter-Reay 1, Pagenaud 1)
  • 13 different podium finishers of 18 possible podium positions (Power 4, Castroneves 2, Munoz 2, Hunter-Reay, Conway, Rahal, Kanaan, Kimball, Huertas, Montoya, Pagenaud, Aleshin, Hawksworth all 1)
  • 20 different drivers who’ve qualified in the top six (Hinchcliffe 4, Castroneves 4, Sato 3, Pagenaud 3, Hunter-Reay, Dixon, Bourdais, Hawksworth, Conway, Briscoe all 2, Kanaan, Power, Andretti, Newgarden, Montoya, Munoz, Filippi, Aleshin, Rahal, Wilson all 1). Not all those 20 have made a Firestone Fast Six, as some have made the top six in the second qualifying session of a doubleheader weekend, set by groups.
  • 2.02 average margin of victory, average 4 cautions/17 laps
  • A still respectable 16 to 20 finishers of 22 or 23 starters in every race

All told, through six races, it’s fair to say the Verizon IndyCar Series on street courses, 2014, is completely unpredictable. You’re good picking a few random numbers out of a hat heading into a weekend.

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.