Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull Content Pool

Red Bull GRC: Drivers pumped for Indy debut (Sunday at 8p ET, NBCSN)

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Red Bull Global Rallycross heads to Lucas Oil Raceway just outside Indianapolis in Clermont, Ind. this weekend for a return to some normalcy – a single-race weekend in a market pretty close to some of its teams.

This comes after a tough stretch of back-to-back doubleheader races in Thompson, Conn. and Ottawa, Ontario in June. That quartet of races brought the 12-race season to its halfway point.

Race coverage of Round 7 of Red Bull GRC 2017 airs at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, following live coverage of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Iowa Corn 300 from Iowa Speedway.

A midseason report is pretty simple to encapsulate in the marquee Supercars class: Variety has ruled the roost through the first six races.

Tanner Foust and Scott Speed have won three of the first six races, Foust having scored his second win of the year last time out at Ottawa race two. But while the dueling Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross pair have half the wins this year, they haven’t been as thoroughly dominant as their last two years.

Steve Arpin’s been the most consistent threat, with his privateer Loenbro Ford winning twice and right in contention.

Sebastian Eriksson delivered Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE’s first win for the new Honda Civic Coupe at Louisville in a dramatic photo finish over Arpin, but it’s been full-season rookie Mitchell deJong who’s been OMSE’s most consistent contender. The past GRC Lites champion has six top-five finishes in as many races, including three third-places from his last four starts.

Foust leads the standings with 418 points heading to Indianapolis this weekend, while the next three behind him are all in striking distance. Arpin has 391, Speed 381 and DeJong 372. Eriksson is fifth on 330 points and risks falling out of the title hunt if he can’t gain some points this weekend.

GRC Lites has been Cyril Raymond’s land of dominance so far. The French driver has taken multiple victories for Olsbergs MSE X Forces and leads that championship on 407 points over Conner Martell (DirtFish Motorsports) on 344 and sports car veteran Colin Braun (CORE autosport) on 333. Braun will drop back in the standings as he’ll miss the GRC Lites this weekend to focus on his IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship commitments at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

Indianapolis seems a natural venue for GRC to debut and it’s with a bit of excitement it does this weekend.

The 0.767-mile layout at Lucas Oil Raceway runs on most of the oval before cutting inside for the dirt section. The full track details are below:

Track length: .767 miles
Turns: 6
Pavement: 69.2%
Dirt: 30.8%
Joker Lap: Shortcut before Turn 1; .589 miles

Here’s some of the driver comments heading into the weekend.

“True to rallycross form, we’re bringing the racing to a whole new group of fans with the new tour stop in Indianapolis,” Foust said. “It’s a town very familiar with racing, but it will be the first time fans in Indy will see rallycross live. I always love when racing fans see rallycross for the first time, because they’re always so shocked at the excitement and speed of the cars.

“This event has a bit of a different vibe though, since it’s the home of Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross. Our teams of mechanics and engineers will have family and friends present, so I’ll get to see the kids and families we’ve heard a lot about and signed autographs for over the past few years.”

“This track will be the fastest of the year,” deJong said. “The most challenging part of the circuit may be the long arching corners, because they will demand so much focus and attention to detail from the drivers.”

Added Austin Dyne, of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, “It’s pretty cool to be racing in Indy. I have never raced here before except in a charity karting race. I’ve been coming here as a little kid to watch the Indy 500 and back when F1 came here.”

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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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.