What to watch for: IndyCar at Milwaukee

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– This is “Big Three” country: As noted earlier this week, all Indy Racing League/INDYCAR-sanctioned races at the Milwaukee Mile have been won by drivers from the stables of Team Penske, Andretti Autosport and Target Chip Ganassi Racing. All four Andretti pilots (including pole sitter Marco Andretti) and Penske’s Will Power have locked out the Top 5 starting positions for today’s grid, but don’t count out TCGR’s Scott Dixon (starting 11th), who was roaring to the front last year at Milwaukee until a mistaken restart penalty ruined his race. His teammate, Dario Franchitti, has also been traditionally stout here, too (two wins, five podiums in IRL/IndyCar competition).

– Damn this traffic jam: It’s a fact of life on short ovals like Milwaukee (as well as next week’s track, the 7/8-mile Iowa Speedway) – you’re gonna deal with lapped traffic on a regular basis. Leaders must dispose of back-markers quickly lest they get caught behind them and allow their pursuers to catch up; a car that’s capable of performing well around others will be important to have this afternoon.

– Keep your eye on Kanaan: If you’re doing the fantasy racing thing (and you’re smart about it), then you’ve likely already put the Indianapolis 500 champ on your team this weekend for Milwaukee. Tony Kanaan has two wins at the Mile (2006, 2007) and was runner-up last year to Ryan Hunter-Reay. In his last eight starts at the Mile, he’s finished no worse than fourth in six of them. Don’t be surprised if he’s the guy that leads the group outside of those aforementioned “Big Three” squads.

– More people in the stands?: Michael Andretti and his group worked their butts off to keep racing alive at the Mile, and they were rewarded last season with a solid turnout estimated at 25,000. This year, they’re hoping for a bigger crowd that can help continue their efforts to cement the Mile’s place on the schedule. We’ll see if the race fans in Milwaukee come through and help their own cause; the Mile is an open-wheel cornerstone that’s held in high regard by longtime followers of the sport. It’d be nice to see it on the docket for years to come.

IZOD IndyCar Series – Milwaukee IndyFest
Starting Grid

Row 1
25-Marco Andretti
27-James Hinchcliffe

Row 2
12-Will Power
1-Ryan Hunter-Reay

Row 3
5-E.J. Viso
6-Sebastian Saavedra

Row 4
11-Tony Kanaan
67-Josef Newgarden

Row 5
77-Simon Pagenaud
55-Tristan Vautier

Row 6
9-Scott Dixon
16-James Jakes

Row 7
19-Justin Wilson
7-Sebastien Bourdais

Row 8
14-Takuma Sato
98-Alex Tagliani

Row 9
3-Helio Castroneves
4-Ryan Briscoe

Row 10
18-Ana Beatriz
20-Ed Carpenter

Row 11
83-Charlie Kimball
78-Simona de Silvestro

Row 12
10-Dario Franchitti (penalized, engine)
15-Graham Rahal (penalized, engine)

Watch today’s Milwaukee IndyFest online and on your mobile device.

F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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