Photo: Juncos Racing

Juncos Racing confirms its arrival into IndyCar, Indy 500

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Ricardo Juncos’ near-15-year dream to make it to the Verizon IndyCar Series with his team, Juncos Racing, is now officially a reality.

The team has grown from karting, progressed into a championship-winning outfit in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires and will now make its debut in IndyCar this season, having confirmed an entry into the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Driver and manufacturer announcements are expected at a later date. Kyle Kaiser and Nico Dapero have already been confirmed for Juncos’ full season in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

In December, the team relocated and opened a new 40,000-square foot building in Speedway, Ind., right in the shadows of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A plan to move into IndyCar has been percolating and developing for a bit of time, and is now formalized.

“I am so happy to officially announce our participation in the Verizon IndyCar Series,” Juncos said in a release. “This is a dream come true for me and my team. It’s been only two months since our grand opening of the new Juncos Technical Center, which was a huge moment for us. Now we are becoming a new team in the Verizon IndyCar Series and will run in ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,’ the Indianapolis 500. This is definitely one of the biggest moments in my life.

“It’s always hard to identify the right moment and right time to make a big move and make big decisions in motor racing, but I am confident the timing is right and that we will succeed as we did in the Mazda Road to Indy ladder series. I want to thank Mark Miles (Hulman & Co. CEO) and Jay Frye (INDYCAR president of competition and operations) from the Verizon IndyCar Series for all of their help and confidence they have had in me and my team.

“I also want to thank Mr. Kevin Kalkhoven from KV Racing Technology. He has been extremely helpful during this transition and, with his continued support and help with all of his experience in racing, we are confident going into this next level. Thank you to my family and my team for giving me massive support throughout the years, and to all of the fans, thank you!”

Both Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations, and Kevin Kalkhoven, co-owner of the now defunct KV Racing Technology, have helped instrumentally in the process and welcome Juncos with open arms.

“INDYCAR has been fortunate to have many drivers graduate from the Mazda Road to Indy program to the Verizon IndyCar Series, and those drivers have done a phenomenal job over the years,” Frye said. “Another goal of the Mazda Road to Indy program is to graduate teams and INDYCAR is working hard to help create opportunities for those teams to move up to the Verizon IndyCar Series. Ricardo and Juncos Racing have a great history of success, and we are proud to have them become a part of the Verizon IndyCar Series.”

“We are delighted Ricardo is developing a program to progress to the Indy 500 and beyond,” Kalkhoven added. “We are committed to helping him and his team with our experience, equipment and data to best ensure a successful entry.”

An introductory video to Ricardo Juncos and the team is linked below (main page at Juncos Racing website, linked here).

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.