Photo courtesy of IMSA

Jeff Gordon back at Daytona, has slight mishap early on in Rolex 24 stint

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It’s been 10 years since Jeff Gordon’s last and only prior appearance in the Rolex 24 (2007), one of the biggest sports car races in the world.

But even with all the changes in sports car racing design and technology over the last decade, it’s clear that the retired four-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion hasn’t lost much.

Gordon was the second driver for Wayne Taylor Racing to take the track Saturday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway. Gordon replaced race starter Ricky Taylor at approximately 1 hour, 48 minutes into the 24-hour event. Taylor ran the first three scheduled stints behind the wheel until yielding to Gordon.

It was especially fortuitous that Gordon’s stint in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R began when it did – Taylor was leading the Prototype class at the time.

Gordon and Taylor made the quickest pit stop and driver exchange of the Prototype cars on that particular stop.

However, Gordon was only about 10 minutes into his run when he made contact with the No. 70 Mazda of Tom Long, which was attempting to transition back onto the racetrack after pitting. The contact forced Long into the grass, but he was able to recover once the field passed him. Gordon, meanwhile, had just minor cosmetic damage to the left front end of his Cadillac.

The incident caused Gordon to fall back slightly to third-place, where he ran just before the two-hour, 30-minute mark. Shortly after that, and with pit stops by several other teams, Gordon climbed back into first place. Gordon then came onto pit road for service about 2 hours, 36 minutes into the race and resumed his place in third position behind class leader Seb Morris and second-place Christian Fittipaldi.

Gordon drove two stints and exited the car at about 3 hours, 11 minutes, yielding to veteran Max Angelelli. The 50-year-old veteran Italian driver is making his final career appearance in the Rolex 24.

“These restarts are crazier than NASCAR restarts,” Gordon told Fox Sports about the incident with Long. “I wanted to be cautious because I was on cold tires. The tires were sliding around pretty good when I got into Turn 3. I feel sorry I got into him and spun him. … I hope they put me back in there again because I had so much fun.”

Gordon is expected to drive in at least one more stint before the endurance race completes at 2:30 pm ET on Sunday (he’ll most likely drive again Saturday evening). For the team to get full credit points-wise, Gordon has to drive a minimum of at least two hours within that 24-hour period.

In Gordon’s only other Rolex 24 appearance, he was part of the SunTrust Racing team in 2007, which started second and finished third.

Gordon, who filled in eight races for Dale Earnhardt Jr. last season, in what was originally supposed to be his first retirement year from NASCAR, has been looking forward to his return to Daytona in a sports car.

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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.