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James Davison set to fill in for Bourdais at Indy 500

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INDIANAPOLIS – James Davison is set to replace Sebastien Bourdais in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, it has emerged Sunday morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, via multiple sources to NBC Sports and also via Trackside Online.

Dale Coyne Racing is expected to make a formal confirmation of the selection later today, as the process of building up a backup car to replace Bourdais’ trashed primary car continues.

“First off, my thoughts are with Sebastien and Claire Bourdais. This is never the way a driver wants to secure an opportunity. But, of course, it’s the tough game we’re in,” Davison told NBC Sports about subbing for Bourdais. “I certainly am appreciative of getting the call up. I’ve done the “500,” last with (Dale Coyne Racing) two years ago and we had a competitive run, which no doubt helped secure this opportunity.”

Dale Coyne Racing now faces an uphill challenge to prepare its backup car, which is still in road course trim, and Davison was careful not to set any expectations. “We’re in a compromised situation with what time and equipment we have to work with now. But, we’re just going to do the best we can as a team and secure the best result for Sebastien and our sponsors, GEICO, Vibra Healthcare, and Cruz Associates,” he added.

Dale Coyne Racing team manager Darren Crouser confirmed to NBC Sports that Davison has a seat made and will bring it to Indianapolis from the team’s Illinois-based shop.

The Australian driver has made two prior Indianapolis 500 starts with KV Racing Technology in 2014 and with Coyne in 2015, both in partnership with Always Evolving Racing, with his most recent start with Coyne coming under similar abnormal circumstances that year.

Tristan Vautier qualified Davison’s No. 19 Always Evolving Racing Honda that year while Davison was competing in Pirelli World Challenge competition away from the IMS race both on qualifying weekend and the Saturday before the race.

However, a bizarre series of circumstances occurred whereby Vautier also got to race. Carlos Huertas was not medically cleared to drive and Vautier, who qualified one car, was moved over to the other car, the No. 18 car while Davison raced the No. 19 car. The bizarre situation continued when the two cars then collided in the pits together on race day.

This leaves Stefan Wilson high and dry, the Englishman having emerged as the sentimental favorite for the seat at a team where his late brother Justin Wilson achieved so much success and the team’s first win at Watkins Glen in 2009. The younger Wilson was en route to the Coyne garage.

Others such as Matthew Brabham were seen in Gasoline Alley this morning.

This story, like Davison’s sponsor in recent years, is always evolving.

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.