Roller coaster days for Dixon, Wilson, RHR Sunday at Long Beach

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As part of a Teen Cancer America press conference Sunday morning in Long Beach, Honda Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Justin Wilson and Ryan Hunter-Reay were joined by ex-Honda man and defending series champion Scott Dixon as they were all set to support the Roger Daltrey’s organization.

Good times, a good cause, and happy quotes:

Wilson: “I think we have some pretty excited team owners. I know that for sure. Dale is quite excited to have Teen Cancer America on the car for this event. It means a lot to everyone. I think it’s a fantastic cause. We were all talking about it earlier and it’s definitely something we can work on and it’s an understanding. The more we understand, the more we can do.”

Dixon: “It’s an honor to meet someone like Roger (Daltrey) but I think it’s more of an honor to see a person like him become interested and lend his support for such a great cause. For me, I’ve been working with CANTeen in New Zealand for so many years and there’s a gap in the healthcare system. There are so many changes going on for teens with their hormones and trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. Cancer is something that is pretty tough for anyone fighting it is something that we believe in. Cancer as a whole is horrible and there are so many causes that are fighting it.”

Hunter-Reay: “It’s great to have everyone here and pushing in the same direction in the fight against cancer.  It’s great to have Roger at a Verizon IndyCar Series event and to get Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on the front stage. He doesn’t have to be here. He’s here on his own accord pushing the fight against cancer and the promotion to help these people who face such an ugly fight. We’re all here doing the same thing.”’

And then the race happened. Dixon contacted Wilson going into Turn 8, and RHR’s passing attempt on Newgarden at Turn 4 made emotions run high. Here’s the polite version of the official post-race quotes, as distributed by INDYCAR:

Dixon: “It was a tough situation for the Target team to be in there leading at the end and not make it. We ended up being about a half of a lap short on fuel and didn’t get a break with a yellow flag. We could have stayed out and tried it but then we would have risked running out of fuel and wrecking the field. I feel bad for the accident with Justin Wilson. I didn’t expect him to be there on the outside so I will go talk to him. Not the day we wanted but we’ll regroup and be ready for Barber.”’

Wilson: “The team did a fantastic job all day, had great pit stops, we had the fuel to make it to the end, we were making great fuel mileage under the yellows and great fuel mileage on track, and had a fantastic restart. I had a couple of looks, tried to go down the inside in turn one and got blocked, which is fine, he moved first, I went to the outside and got squeezed on the outside. I was like ‘hang on a minute.’ Then coming out of five the same thing happened. He [Dixon] chose the inside so I took the outside and nearly got put in the wall then so I did the old switchback out of six climbing the hill to seven and then to eight Scott had the inside but he wanted the outside as well and I got sandwiched between him and the wall, bent both sides of the car and the end of our day. I just feel for the Boy Scouts of America guys. We worked so hard, had fantastic strategy. We gambled and could make the mileage and we should have been at least on the podium. I think we are there and we have got what it takes. We have some great people and the car runs flawlessly and we are out there trying to win races. It is just frustrating when something like this is taken away from you.”

Hunter-Reay: “We had a strong car and (Josef) Newgarden came out of pit lane and I knew he was on cold tires. He was really struggling to get up to speed through Turn 1, and then through Turn 3 he had some wheel spin so I went for it. I started to back out because he was closing the door – I could have waited a little later, maybe that’s my fault but at the same time I had at least a half a car up along sides of him so I went for it. If we had given each other a little bit of room we both maybe would have gotten through there. It’s down to me to make the pass I guess, I’m not sure… a lot of people say that was my fault. I made the decision at that split second, when he had some wheel spin, to go for it knowing that I was on hot tires. That’s the type of driver I am, I go for it. I feel bad for everybody involved. Obviously it was a bit of a bottle neck there, and it got others involved that didn’t deserve to be involved and that’s what I feel really bad about. But thank you to DHL and Honda; the 28 car was so strong today… just very, very disappointed. I’ll look at it again, but a racing driver, when he’s in the moment, and he sees a chance to go for it… I went for it because I want to win the race.”

Wilson was more candid to Autosport’s Mark Glendenning, dropping expletives to describe the move. Considering Wilson is one of the nicest drivers in the paddock, for him to go off the deep end as he did in this piece speaks volumes about the level of frustration he was feeling.

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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