Helio Castroneves delivers Detroit sweep for Penske with Dual 2 win

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In Saturday’s first race of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ doubleheader at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park, Helio Castroneves’ bid for victory was undone by a pit strategy that didn’t work out.

But in today’s 70-lapper on the unforgiving street circuit, Castroneves followed through on his strong pace throughout the weekend and withstood a couple of late restarts to claim his third career victory (CART – 2000, 2001) on the island in the Detroit River.

His triumph completed a Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit sweep for Team Penske, whose namesake, Roger Penske, was a driving force in bringing IndyCar racing back to Belle Isle starting in 2012. Penske teammate and Dual 1 winner Will Power overcame an early drive-through penalty for avoidable contact to finish second today.

“Yesterday, it was the frustration – it was great that Will won but it was frustration for our side because we knew what car we had,” an exuberant Castroneves told ESPN. “But we demonstrated that today.”

Last weekend, Castroneves suffered a narrow defeat at the Indianapolis 500 to Ryan Hunter-Reay, who denied him the chance to earn his fourth win in the world’s greatest race.

But according to the Brazilian, that loss proved motivational for himself and his Penske comrades.

“The Indy 500 – it just [made something click],” he said. “It made us hungry. And here I am, in Victory Circle. I wanted it so bad, and more than anything, I want this championship.

“It’s great to be back here in Victory Circle, especially in the place where I won my first race…I just can’t believe it. This is an awesome day! Whoo-hoo!”

Power and Castroneves both leap-frogged Hunter-Reay in the championship, with the Aussie now holding a 19-point edge going into the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway (Next Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

Hunter-Reay, the Indy winner, suffered a second disastrous result in as many days, when he bowed out after 61 laps with an electrical failure. He’s now 27 points behind Power.

As the second half of the race wore on, it appeared Castroneves would have a proper Sunday cruise to the champagne. But his 9.4-second lead over Power was erased when Sebastien Bourdais found the tire barriers in Turn 5 to bring out a race-changing caution with 12 laps to go.

Castroneves was able to get a perfect restart with seven laps left, but shortly after, Marco Andretti knocked Takuma Sato into those same Turn 5 tires to trigger another yellow and bunch up the field again.

That set the stage for one more restart with three to go, but Power didn’t get near Castroneves as the field headed for the green flag. Castroneves promptly pulled away and beat Power to the checkered flag by 1.7 seconds.

After the race, Power admitted that he decided to hang back late.

“Because of Roger, I definitely wasn’t going to race him hard,” he said. “Unless [Castroneves] made a mistake, I wasn’t going to go for a move unless I was close. But, it was a great day for Chevy, Roger at his home track and Chevy’s backyard. It’s just fantastic.”

Power was penalized for a bold move on Lap 1, when he attempted to get past Josef Newgarden on the inside at Turn 3. Instead, he hit Newgarden, who went into the tires and collected Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson with him.

Newgarden, Rahal, and Wilson all continued on, but Power didn’t escape the wrath of Race Control and was tagged for avoidable contact. However, as Power’s aggressive driving in the remainder of the race proved, the penalty did not chasten him one iota.

“I went up the inside and I don’t think Josef saw me,” Power said about the incident. “It wasn’t a very hard hit and I have to see the replay to kind of comment on what the call was.”

Behind the two Penske pilots were two from their arch-rivals at Chip Ganassi Racing. Charlie Kimball and Scott Dixon both roared from the back of the grid to finish third and fourth, respectively; for Kimball, it’s his first IndyCar podium since winning last year at Mid-Ohio.

Both men were able to get past Andretti Autosport’s James Hinchcliffe in the final three-lap dash, causing him to settle for fifth at the track he considers as sort of a second home due to his homeland of Canada being nearby.

VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES – CHEVROLET INDY DUAL IN DETROIT, RACE 2
Belle Isle Park
Unofficial Results in order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, team-engine, and reason out (if any):

1. (3) Helio Castroneves, Penske-Chevy
2. (8) Will Power, Penske-Chevy
3. (20) Charlie Kimball, Ganassi-Chevy
4. (22) Scott Dixon, Ganassi-Chevy
5. (2) James Hinchcliffe, Andretti-Honda
6. (7) Simon Pagenaud, SPM-Honda
7. (16) Mikhail Aleshin, SPM-Honda
8. (6) Carlos Munoz, Andretti-Honda
9. (17) Tony Kanaan, Ganassi-Chevy
10. (5) Ryan Briscoe, Ganassi-Chevy
11. (4) Mike Conway, Carpenter-Chevy
12. (13) Justin Wilson, Coyne-Honda
13. (15) Juan Pablo Montoya, Penske-Chevy
14. (19) Jack Hawksworth, Herta-Honda
15. (12) Carlos Huertas, Coyne-Honda
16. (18) Marco Andretti, Andretti-Honda
17. (10) Josef Newgarden, SFHR-Honda, -1 lap
18. (1) Takuma Sato, Foyt-Honda, -1 lap
19. (21) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti-Honda, Lap 61 – Electrical
20. (11) Sebastien Bourdais, KVSH-Chevy, Lap 58 – Contact
21. (14) Graham Rahal, RLL-Honda, Lap 43 – Contact
22. (9) Sebastian Saavedra, KV/AFS-Chevy, Lap 9 – Contact

Race Statistics: Winner’s average speed: 93.211 mph; Time of race: One hour, 45 minutes, 53.3410 seconds; Margin of victory: 1.6836 seconds; Cautions: 4 for 13 laps; Lead changes: 7 among 7 drivers.

Lap Leaders: Sato, 1-10; Hinchcliffe, 11-20; Conway, 21-24; Power, 25-26; Aleshin, 27; Castroneves, 28-33; Hawksworth, 34; Castroneves, 35-70.

Point Standings: Power 326, Castroneves 307, Hunter-Reay 299, Pagenaud 247, Andretti 227, Munoz 210, Montoya 187, Dixon 184, Wilson 173, Bourdais 170.

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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