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Conor Daly fitting in nicely with A.J. Foyt Racing

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The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season will be Conor Daly’s first full campaign with A.J. Foyt Racing, but that does not mean he is walking into unfamiliar territory, as he explained during IndyCar Media Day back on January 18th.

“I’ve had a great relationship with Larry (Foyt) and A.J,” Daly said. “They gave me a shot for my first IndyCar test at Sebring before the 2013 season. I love A.J., he’s the man. Larry and everybody down there is just super stoked to get this year going.”

That aforementioned test eventually led to an Indianapolis 500 effort, Daly’s first start in the series, that year, where they finished a modest 22nd. However, it marked a one-and-done at the moment, with Daly focusing much of his career in Europe at the time.

Upon returning to the U.S. in 2015, Daly completed a handful of races for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and one race for Dale Coyne Racing, before Coyne hired him for a full season effort in 2016.

While an 18th place finish in the overall standings may seem inauspicious, Daly expressed enthusiasm about the campaign.

“2016 was fun,” said the 25-year-old, who led 56 laps during the season and finished a career-best second during Race 1 of the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit. “It was the first chance to do all the events, so it was a big learning experience. A lot of highs and a lot of lows, but generally, I kept progressing through the season.”

Now back under Foyt’s umbrella, Daly joins a completely revamped organization, one that overhauled its engineering staff,  brought on Will Phillips as technical director, changed both drivers, and switched manufacturers from Honda to Chevrolet.

Among the more striking changes, however, is that the team will split its entries in two locations. Munoz’s No. 14 entry will be based out of a Waller, Texas facility while Daly’s No. 4 will be in a brand new Speedway, Indiana shop. While out of the ordinary, the arrangement does not seem to bother Daly, who sees a potential benefit as the season progresses. “I can see both cars (in Speedway) for a considerable amount of time when the races are in the Midwest. I think economically it makes sense and logistically it makes sense, as well, so it could be a real good deal for us.”

Such a litany of changes mean it may take time for everything to gel and strong results may not be immediate. However, Daly expressed great confidence in the team’s preparation and sees good things on the horizon. “Their level of preparation and organization is really impressive,” he said of the team’s off-season work. “As they say, they’re going for quality and not quantity this year, so hopefully we can give them some quality finishes.”

And while A.J. Foyt is not technically running the team anymore, his mere presence serves as more than enough motivation. “It’s cool to have him on our side, I’d say,” Daly said of Foyt’s influence. “It really makes you want to win things for him. You see all these trophies and pictures and all these wonderful pieces of history of racing, and I say, ‘Man, I want to add to this cool trophy box or basically the entire shop of history.”

Foyt is recognized as a no-nonsense personality, yet his influence has not impacted Daly’s sense of humor, as evidenced when he discussed a possible career outside of racing. “I’m trying to start my bid to be on Dancing With the Stars, so I’m wearing shiny shoes. I really want to be on the show,” he quipped, referencing roommate and friend James Hinchcliffe’s stint on the ABC dance competition.

A.J. Foyt Racing completed a private test at Sebring International Raceway and will head to Phoenix Raceway this week for INDYCAR’s first open test of 2017.

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.