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IndyCar focus shifts to Detroit, and remainder of 2017

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With the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil now in everyone’s rearview mirror, the Verizon IndyCar Series shifts its focus to the remainder of the season. And while every race is vital in the championship picture, the next several races, starting with this weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader, mark a pivotal point in the calendar for a driver looking to make a championship push.

Consider last year. Simon Pagenaud left the Indianapolis 500 leading the championship with 292 points to his name. Teammate Will Power was mired down in 11th at the time, sitting on 178 points, 114 away from the championship lead.

Power’s finishes over the next seven races went as follows: 20, 1, 1, 2, 1,2, 1. After a weird first race in Detroit, Power then went on a surreal run of four wins and two second-place finishes in the next six races. At the end of the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, the seventh race in that stretch, Power had vaulted all the way up to second in the standings with 477 points. Teammate Pagenaud was still in the championship lead, but with 497 points, he only led Power by 20. In summary, Power made up 94 points over those seven races to put himself within reach of the championship lead.

Heading into this year’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear, it’s another Team Penske driver atop the standings. Helio Castroneves currently sits on 245 points, 11 ahead of a three-way tie for second between Simon Pagenaud, Takuma Sato, and Scott Dixon. Any one of those four could emerge from Race 1 as the championship leader.

Helio Castroneves currently leads the Verizon IndyCar Series championship. Photo: IndyCar

Behind them sit Alexander Rossi (190 points), Tony Kanaan (188 points), Will Power and Josef Newgarden (186 points apiece), Ed Jones (185 points) and James Hinchcliffe and Max Chilton (170 points apiece). Even Ryan Hunter-Reay, 11th with 152 points, is within the 94 points Power made up last year.

Quite simply, this championship is still up for the taking, and Detroit’s unique challenge of two races in one weekend can easily flip the tables, as Scott Dixon detailed.

“You put so much time and effort into Indianapolis, but you have to also keep your attention on the bigger picture in terms of the championship, and that continues right away in Detroit this weekend,” he explained. “Two races in two days and two qualifiers in two days can really affect the championship race, and we’re hoping we can take advantage of the points on the table this weekend.”

And of course, as a street circuit, Detroit is infamous for its bumpy surface, perhaps the bumpiest of any street circuit the series visits. Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato highlighted the bumps in talking about the challenges of the event.

“Detroit will be completely different from the Indy 500,” he asserted. “It’s going back to a street course – very bumpy track, a lot of braking and tight corners. Usually Detroit is a very exciting track and quite challenging. I personally have a good memory (finishing second in Race 2 in 2015) as well as the team has a strong record, so I’m looking forward to going back to the street course.”

Sato will be looking to avoid the now seemingly traditional post-Indianapolis 500 winner slump in the Detroit doubleheader.

Since the race was introduced as a doubleheader in 2013, here’s been the ‘500 winner’s results in Detroit:

  • 2013: Tony Kanaan: Race 1, Started 19th, Finished 13th; Race 2, Started 19th, Finished 12th
  • 2014: Ryan Hunter-Reay: Race 1, 21st/16th (Accident); Race 2, 21st/19th (Electrical)
  • 2015: Juan Pablo Montoya: Race 1, 3rd/10th; Race 2, 1st/10th
  • 2016: Alexander Rossi, Race 1, 17th/10th; Race 2, 18th/12th

Practice for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix begins on Friday June 2 at 10:20 a.m. ET.

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

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.