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PREVIEW: Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear

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DETROIT – And so, the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series season begins this weekend. With the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear offering a chance at two races – it’s double the chance for success or failure in the frame of the rest of 2017.

Here’s some of the things to look for this weekend:

2017 Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear – Talking Points

Avoiding the “Detroit results hangover”

Takuma Sato is next up among those who head to Detroit after the whirlwind week of media since winning the Indianapolis 500. And since Detroit became a doubleheader weekend in 2013, it’s not gone well.

At the doubleheader weekends, these have been the results for the ‘500 champion:

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

Sato is now part of a three-way tie for second in points with Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon, 11 behind new points leader Helio Castroneves, who moved into the spot after the race.

If Sato can survive Detroit without losing too much ground, that’ll determine where he lands in the overall championship and whether he can fight for anything the rest of the way.

Seven for seven?

Sato’s win at Indianapolis also made him the sixth winner in as many races to kick off the year. A seventh winner this weekend would match the 2000 CART and IRL seasons.

Consider Scott Dixon is not among those six who have won, and there’s others such as Castroneves – winless since race two here in 2014 and who won his first race ever in that seventh race of the 2000 CART season – among others who are yet to win this year.

Even if a repeat winner of the five drivers who have won this year repeats this weekend, there’s still a chance for seven of eight, as the series looks to tie or eclipse the record mark of 11 winners in a year.

Championship shakeup

The top 14 drivers are within 100 points heading into this weekend, with 98 points separating Castroneves in the lead from Marco Andretti in 14th. Again, a strong two or bad two races this weekend could jumble that order.

Chevy vs. Honda in Chevy’s backyard

The wins are split this year, three each between Chevrolet and Honda. Honda currently leads the Manufacturer’s Championship, 480-471.

The breakdown of winners in the Chevrolet sponsored race, since it’s been a doubleheader, are broken down this way, with Chevrolet holding a 5-3 lead.

  • 2013: Mike Conway (Coyne Honda), Simon Pagenaud (SPHM Honda)
  • 2014: Will Power (Penske Chevrolet), Helio Castroneves (Penske Chevrolet)
  • 2015: Carlos Munoz (Andretti Honda), Sebastien Bourdais (KVSH Chevrolet)
  • 2016: Sebastien Bourdais (KVSH Chevrolet), Will Power (Penske Chevrolet)

Gutierrez’s debut; Jones’ beginning of rest of year one

Dale Coyne Racing is in the spotlight this weekend, as ever. Esteban Gutierrez makes a perhaps surprise debut in the team’s No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda, the Mexican driver making at least a one-weekend appearance as the latest new driver in the series.

Meanwhile for Ed Jones, in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, the weekend presents a fascinating case study into how his psyche will affect the rest of his year. Both in 2015 and 2016, Jones had a midsummer slump that hindered his eventual points total in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series, although last year he made up for it when he won by the end.

Jones has never raced at Detroit and with Sebastien Bourdais absent for the foreseeable future, the Dubai-based Brit now faces an interesting opportunity where he’ll assert the team leader role. Will he rise up to the challenge and continue his success of the opening six races of the year, as he currently sits ninth in points, just five behind fifth place? Or will hit the perhaps inevitable rookie year speed bumps?

The final words

Switching it up and going with two drivers this weekend, in both A.J. Foyt Racing drivers of the ABC Supply Co. Chevrolets. Why, you ask? Carlos Munoz explained the challenge of what it takes to prep for Detroit, while teammate Conor Daly has had his best IndyCar success at this track – he’s come sixth, second and sixth in his last three starts here.

Munoz, who won his first and thus far only race of his career thus far on these streets in 2015:  “Moving on from Indy to road courses makes for a really challenging week, because everyone is really tired — the mechanics, engineers and the drivers. And Detroit is a two-race event which makes it tough. Still, Detroit is where we’ve had a lot of success. We’ve qualified good, run good and I got my first win there in 2015. They’ve ground down the bumps on the backstretch, which will be nicer, but it’s still a challenging track. I’m looking forward to it.”

And from Daly: “I love Detroit. It’s always where I get my best finish. I was second last year, and I want to win this year. This track is a lot of fun for me and having a doubleheader is great. Two races are always better than one! Should be fun!”

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule:

At-track schedule (all times local):

Friday, June 2
10:20-11:05 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice 1
3:30-4:15 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice 2
4:20-4:35 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series pit stop practice

Saturday, June 3
10:05-10:35 a.m. – Race 1 qualifying for Verizon P1 Award (two groups/12 minutes each), (live)
3:03 p.m. – Driver introductions
3:43 p.m. – Command to start engines
3:50 p.m. – Chevrolet Dual in Detroit 1 (70 laps/164.5 miles), ABC (live)

Sunday, June 5
10:45-11:15 a.m. – Race 2 qualifying for Verizon P1 Award (two groups/12 minutes each), (live)
2:59 p.m. – Driver introductions
3:43 p.m. – Command to start engines
3:50 p.m. – Chevrolet Dual in Detroit 2 (70 laps/164.5 miles), ABC (live)

Here’s last year’s top 10: 

Race 1

1. Sebastien Bourdais
2. Conor Daly
3. Juan Pablo Montoya
4. Graham Rahal
5. Helio Castroneves
6. Carlos Munoz
7. Ryan Hunter-Reay
8. Charlie Kimball
9. Tony Kanaan
10. Alexander Rossi

Race 2

1. Will Power
2. Simon Pagenaud
3. Ryan Hunter-Reay
4. Josef Newgarden
5. Scott Dixon
6. Conor Daly
7. Tony Kanaan
8. Sebastien Bourdais
9. Marco Andretti
10. Takuma Sato

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.