IndyCar: Bourdais says tire management remains critical at Texas

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Verizon IndyCar Series squads will have the option to add as much as 300 pounds of downforce to their cars this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, but Sebastien Bourdais believes that tire degradation will still be a major factor.

“This place abuses tires really badly,” Bourdais said after this morning’s first IndyCar practice session on the 1.5-mile oval. “Even though we have more downforce, it’s not huge. We’re still running around with a low amount of downforce compared to what we’re used to running around here.

“It’s definitely taking its toll on tires and it’s all about average speed over the course of the stint. That’s what we’ve been trying to focus on, but in the meantime, you need balance. It’s kind of a mix between max speed and then average speed and the shift between on your own and in traffic as far as balance is concerned.”

The aero package for this weekend was worked out during an April test session at TMS. Firestone is using the same tire spec and construction as it did last year at both Texas and Auto Club Speedway (two-mile oval) in California.

Per the series, the use of tools to reach that higher downforce level would result in an additional 50 pounds of drag – slowing the car but perhaps easing some of the tire degradation issues through fuel runs.

But no matter the amount of additional downforce that teams may use, Texas remains a stiff challenge.

“It’s definitely not a place where it’s easy to find your way around,” Bourdais said. “It’s bumpy. It’s fast. There’s a lot of banking and traffic makes a big incidence in the balance of the car. It’s not easy and it’s always the same thing.

“We came here for the test and the conditions were really, really complicated. There was a lot of wind and it was difficult to get some reads and you show up here and you have two sets of tires to figure the car out.

“It’s very complicated to do everything. You have 75 minutes to finish your race car and one shot at trying to sort out your qualifying car. We’ll see how close we can get it.”

Qualifying for the Firestone 600 will air tonight on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra at 6:30 p.m. ET.

F1: Red Bull Racing confirms switch to Honda engines next season

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Honda will become Red Bull’s engine supplier from next season after the Formula One team confirmed its anticipated split with Renault on Tuesday.

The Japanese manufacturer will supply engines for 2019 and 2020, and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner hailed the deal as “an exciting new phase” in the bid to return to the top of F1.

“After careful consideration and evaluation, we are certain this partnership with Honda is the right direction for the team,” Horner said in a team statement. “We have been impressed by Honda’s commitment to F1, by the rapid steps they have made in recent times with our (feeder) team Toro Rosso.”

It is a boost for Honda, which was unceremoniously dumped by McLaren at the end of last year.

Honda has started this season brightly as engine provider for Toro Rosso, and this may have been a key factor in Red Bull finally ditching Renault.

“Honda’s alignment with both Red Bull Formula One teams provides enormous potential,” Horner said. “Honda will have access to a wealth of data from both outfits, with Aston Martin Red Bull Racing leading the way, and the opportunities for faster, more effective and more competitive development are doubled.”

The deal brings to an end Red Bull’s 12-year partnership with Renault.

Although relations became increasingly strained between the two parties in recent years, it was once a dream partnership as Red Bull and Renault won four straight drivers’ and constructors’ championships with Sebastian Vettel behind the wheel from 2010-13.

During that glory era, Vettel and teammate Mark Webber won 47 grand prix. Since 2013, results have somewhat dried up and there have been only 10 race wins.

“We have sometimes had our differences but Renault has always worked tirelessly and to the best of its ability to provide us with a competitive power unit,” Horner said.

He was not always quite so complimentary about Renault. He has regularly and publicly criticized Renault’s reliability in recent years – although it has been hard to judge sometimes.

Red Bull showed good speed toward the end of last season when Max Verstappen won two races, and teammate Daniel Ricciardo won this season’s Chinese GP with a brilliant drive. The difference in speed between Red Bull and Mercedes appears less than before, although Ferrari remains noticeably quicker.

Verstappen’s form has picked up after a poor start to 2018, marred by crashes, and he has taken third place in two of the past three races.

Meanwhile, McLaren’s partnership with Renault has not been as successful as they anticipated after dropping Honda following three fruitless seasons together.

Two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso has failed to finish the past two races and has yet to place higher than fifth. Renault teammate Nico Hulkenberg has a best finish of fourth place.