2014 Indy 500 driver-by-driver one-liners

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My MotorSportsTalk colleague Chris Estrada and I break down the 33 drivers in this year’s 98th Indianapolis 500, hopefully as quickly as possible. For a comparison to last year’s, have a look at what we thought ahead of 2013.

Much of Sunday’s race, the fifth of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series, will be determined by temperature, fuel mileage and tire wear as well as how good each car “sucks up” in the tow effect.

Row 1

20-Ed Carpenter (Ed Carpenter Racing/Chevrolet)

Tony DiZinno: Indiana’s native son and the back-to-back polesitter is smart enough to know what didn’t work last year, and what he and his team can change this year to keep it P1 on race day. I don’t think he takes it, but a top-3 or top-5 is a good projection.

Chris Estrada: One of the top oval racers in the entire series, Carpenter is capable of an upset if he can keep his nose clean going into the final quarter of the race.

27-James Hinchcliffe (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: One of the series’ most popular drivers would make a popular winner, especially after suffering his concussion in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Hasn’t yet had a truly great Indy 500, though.

CE: Hinch’s luck at the ‘500’ has been mixed, but considering the equipment at his disposal, a Top-5 finish is not out of the question.

12-Will Power (Team Penske/Chevrolet)

TDZ: His Fontana win exorcised demons but I’m not convinced – yet, anyway – Power has enough to make it back-to-back 500-mile wins. Racing at Indy and racing at Fontana are two completely different animals.

CE: Power was victorious the last time IndyCars raced on an oval, and he can definitely have a say in the outcome starting from the front row.

Row 2

3-Helio Castroneves (Team Penske/Chevrolet)

TDZ: I think this is your guy, or pretty dang close. Everything about the Pennzoil throwback livery, Rick Mears helmet and overcoming the struggles of the last several years points to him saying, “Hey, I’m freaking due for No. 4.”

CE: After leading just four laps in the last four Indy 500s, three-time winner Castroneves needs to summon his past magic.

77-Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports/Honda)

TDZ: Put him in the top tier of win contenders. In year three of his oval development, with a rocket of a car and a Senna tribute helmet, could well make it a month of May double at IMS.

CE: If GP of Indy winner Pagenaud takes the ‘500,’ you’d hope that IMS quietly wires him a bit of bonus money for sweeping the New Month of May.

25-Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: A popular pick; he always runs well at Indy and just needs that final bit of luck to match his consistent race craft.

CE: Marco’s been a threat in recent years, and a win from sixth on the grid would trigger some of the loudest cheers ever heard at 16th and Georgetown.

Row 3

34-Carlos Munoz (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: Perhaps it was because he was such a revelation last year, but I don’t think the sequel’s gonna be as good as the original for Munoz.

CE: After his explosive charge to second last year, Munoz cannot be counted out. But it just feels like a replication of that feat is a tick too much to ask.

67-Josef Newgarden (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing/Honda)

TDZ: The rising American star needs a good ‘500 after two trying ones, and has the pace to contend. A solid top-10 would be a good result for him.

CE: What an arrival on the national stage it would be for the gregarious American if he can come through for the small Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team.

21-JR Hildebrand (Ed Carpenter Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: The 2011 “he walled it on the last turn” narrative is tired. He needs a new chapter of his career, and is the best one-off challenger with Ed Carpenter Racing.

CE: One driver with a big chip on his shoulder + one team that’s proven itself on speedways = legitimate dark horse.

Row 4

2-Juan Pablo Montoya (Penske Motorsports/Chevrolet)

TDZ: The Penske “wild card.” He’s either going to be mixing it with the leaders or falling back due to the lack of balance, but I think he’ll stay within the top five most of the day.

CE: Montoya will be a force to be reckoned with once he fully comes to grips with the DW12, but right now, a Top-10 would be a solid day’s work.

9-Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Dixon’s race pace is better than we all thought (myself included). He knows how to handle this race, save fuel and will contend for his second win.

CE: The Target cars should be a threat in race trim, and after several near-misses, it feels like Dixon’s due to get his mug on the Borg-Warner for a second time.

26-Kurt Busch (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: One of the race’s biggest stories, but it would be a better story for IndyCar if he only ends top-five at best, and not in victory lane.

CE: You have to admire the former NASCAR champion for being a quick study with the IndyCar, but it seems that a Top-10/Top-15 showing is the ceiling for him.

Row 5

98-Jack Hawksworth (BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian/Honda)

TDZ: Admitted to me he has no idea where he’ll end up, but his street course pace from earlier this year has translated nicely to IMS. Must be considered a rookie-of-the-year contender.

CE: The Hawk has shown that he’s a gasser, but it will be interesting to see if he can play things steady in his first ‘500.’

19-Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Indy’s best “under the radar” driver in recent years is a potential win contender if the balance is right, but the pit stops must be spot-on throughout the day. One last year cost him dearly.

CE: Be prepared to say ‘Where’d Wilson come from?’ again; he’s pretty good at making people do that.

7-Mikhail Aleshin (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports/Honda)

TDZ: Fast and fearless is a dangerous combo at Indy. The Russian rookie could run the gamut from a top-five or crashing for the first time this month in a blaze of glory.

CE: The pedal-to-the-metal Aleshin will either stun the heck out of everyone like Munoz did last year or be one of the first in the fence; a “tweener,” he isn’t.

Row 6

10-Tony Kanaan (Target Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: The car’s good. The team’s good. He’s the defending champ and has nothing to lose. Watch his restarts and expect him in the top-five late battling for his second straight win.

CE: A Top-5 is doable for the defending ‘500’ champion, but I’m not sure he can be the first repeat Indy winner in over a decade.

11-Sebastien Bourdais (KVSH Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Erratic form this month in vacillating between quick and nowhere. Hasn’t found the balance or ultimate pace; I don’t think he’ll be a major contender.

CE: Running with the team that brought Kanaan his ‘500’ win could give Bourdais an opportunity, but IMS hasn’t been one of his better tracks (2 DNFs in 3 starts, average finish of 20.3).

16-Oriol Servia (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Not especially quick this month but I’d be surprised if he and the RLL crew aren’t in the top half dozen or so the last 20 laps.

CE: Like Wilson, Servia has the tendency to quietly put together good drives. How far his car will let him sneak up the pylon is the question.

Row 7

28-Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: One of the best cars in race trim, RHR is a definite win contender, probably Andretti’s most complete driver.

CE: A tough qualifying session has Hunter-Reay right in the middle of the pack. One wonders if that will mean an aggressive approach from him at the start…

15-Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Has all the elements to succeed, but other than a third place in 2011 hasn’t really put it all together at Indy.

CE: Rahal seems to be perpetually under the radar at the Brickyard, but a strong performance on Sunday would mean a lot for his team and the National Guard this Memorial Day weekend.

18-Carlos Huertas (Dale Coyne Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Relatively quiet rookie who doesn’t make mistakes and seeks a trouble-free 500 miles.

CE: Huertas has one job: Get the car home in one piece. Consider the usual attrition factor at Indy, and a Top-15 would be a nice effort.

Row 8

63-Pippa Mann (Dale Coyne Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Good cause, good car, good crew and improved confidence. If the balance is right, a top-15 is more than possible.

CE: Here’s hoping that Mann can run the full distance and raise more money for the Susan G. Komen foundation. That said, she’s probably heading for a mid-pack run.

14-Takuma Sato (A.J. Foyt Enterprises/Honda)

TDZ: He nearly won 2012 and entered 2013 as points leader, but has been under the radar this year. Still seeks first ‘500 top-10.

CE: Sato was a non-descript 13th in last year’s race, and it doesn’t seem like he’ll be anything else but non-descript in the 98th Running.

68-Alex Tagliani (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Has been all but anonymous this month, but I’d expect that to end on race day… either with a big result or a big moment.

CE: With solid pit work, Tagliani’s veteran savvy could have that second Sarah Fisher Hartman car sniffing a Top-10.

Row 9

6-Townsend Bell (KV Racing Technology/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Our NBCSN analyst ended Carb Day practice P3 and is with defending champion KV Racing Technology; his third career ‘500 top-10 is more than possible.

CE: Third-fastest in Friday’s final practice, Bell may turn some heads on Sunday – and not just because of that vivid color splash on his Robert Graham car.

83-Charlie Kimball (Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: One of three or four “sneaky good” guys here at the Speedway, and he seeks his third straight top-10 finish in the ‘500.

CE: Kimball has turned mid-pack starts into Top-10 finishes the last two years, but he’s got a long road ahead of him coming from 26th on the grid.

5-Jacques Villeneuve (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports/Honda)

TDZ: The legend is back, having a great time, but he likely won’t factor into the lead pack.

CE: Villeneuve’s return after a 19-year absence is perhaps a little odd, but it’s always good to have another ‘500’ champ on the grid.

Row 10

33-James Davison (KVRT/Always Evolving Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Has quietly impressed on a short engine program for KV Racing Technology, and his vibrant teal and white car has top-15 potential.

CE: A full 200 laps will feel like a win for Davo no matter where he ends up on the pylon.

41-Martin Plowman (A.J. Foyt Enterprises/Honda)

TDZ: Foyt’s second car has never been the best in the Indy 500 and the likeable English rookie just needs to bring it home in one piece, with somewhere between 16th and 20th a reasonable effort.

CE: Like Davison, Plowman needs to log as many laps as he can and keep it off the wall.

8-Ryan Briscoe (NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Seems decently happy with the car in race trim and is in a better spot now having had months with his crew, as opposed to being a one-off last year. Should end top-10 if he stays out of trouble.

CE: Briscoe converted an Indy pole into a Top-5 finish in 2012. Starting 30th this year, he’ll have to do a lot more work to get a similar result.

Row 11

22-Sage Karam (Dreyer & Reinbold Kingdom Racing with Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: A rookie with swagger, enough self-confidence and a good team to where he could steal top rookie honors from the last row. Must be patient, though.

CE: SK Money needs another year or two before he becomes “bankable” at the ‘500.’ See what I did there?

17-Sebastian Saavedra (KV/AFS Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Seeks an uneventful race after a seriously eventful month, but has kept his emotions in check through it all.

CE: After his GP of Indy pole turned into disaster, it’ll be interesting to see how Saavedra responds on the oval.

91-Buddy Lazier (Lazier Partners Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: With decent engineering and a solid Carb Day practice, could factor in for a top-15 if the temperature is right.

CE: The 1996 Indy champ probably isn’t a contender, but it’s not for a lack of trying from him or his family-run operation.

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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