MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: Hungarian GP

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As Formula 1 gets set to embark on its summer break and shutdown, we head to Hungary for the last race until the beginning of fall. The Hungarian Grand Prix has been a mainstay on the F1 calendar since 1986, and is a favorite among the drivers, teams and fans.

It’s also a particular favorite for Lewis Hamilton, who has won at the Hungaroring on four occasions. With victory this weekend, he would surpass Michael Schumacher as being the most successful driver to have raced in Hungary – not to mention that he would cut the gap to Nico Rosberg in the drivers’ standings.

F1 might be about to say school’s out for summer, but it certainly isn’t for MotorSportsTalk. Silly season is set to dominate the headlines during the break with Fernando Alonso appearing to be the king pin.

For the time being, let’s get back to this weekend. Here is the MST writing team’s predictions for the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Lewis appears to have a taste for goulash, as Hungary always is a happy hunting ground for him. The Briton knows that victory here will cut Rosberg’s lead by at least half, and he should become the first driver to win the Hungarian Grand Prix five times.

Surprising finish: Sebastian Vettel. Saying Seb will get on the podium may not seem surprising, but I’m going for Red Bull to be a damn sight closer to Mercedes this weekend than in Germany. Perhaps we won’t see the 20-second wins that we’ve been used to so far this year.

Most to prove: Nico Rosberg. Am I being harsh here? Probably. Nico needs to prove that he can match Hamilton for pure race pace, so keeping his teammate in sight this weekend would be a good achievement. This title race hinges on momentum: Nico needs it heading into the summer break.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Traditionally strong at Hungary, defending race winner and needs the win to avoid losing ground to Rosberg. Needs to make things easier for himself after his qualifying accident last week and having to drive back to third.

Surprising finish: Felipe Massa. Nearly won here in his near-title-winning 2008 season and Williams teammate Bottas can’t have all the luck. Here’s to Massa breaking his duck of late and finally getting on the podium in a car that’s quickly become the second best in the field.

Most to prove: Kimi Raikkonen. Nondescript weekend after nondescript weekend for Kimi this year. It would be nice to see the 2007 World Champion turn in some form of success.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. The twisty Hungaroring could make Red Bull a bigger threat, but I think it’s still Mercedes’ race to lose. I’ll go with Hamilton, the two-time defending champion of this race. After teammate Nico Rosberg won on home ground last weekend in Germany, Hamilton needs a W here to keep pace in their championship duel.

Surprising finish: Jenson Button. With a lack of high-speed corners, Hungary should provide Button with an opportunity to get into the upper reaches of the points. The track has been good to him in the past: It’s where he got his inaugural Grand Prix victory in 2006 and he won there again in 2011 during his 200th Grand Prix start.

Most to prove: Felipe Massa. So now Claire Williams is holding out hope that her squad can catch Red Bull for P2 in the constructors’ championship. If that’s going to happen, she needs Valtteri Bottas to keep doing what he’s been doing. But more importantly, she needs Massa to shake off the bad luck that’s bitten him lately.

Jerry Bonkowski (@JerryBonkowski)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Having won the last two times in Hungary and three of the last five races there, it’s hard to pick against Hamilton, especially with him needing to rally to overtake teammate Nico Rosberg for the F1 points lead.

Surprising finish: Nico Rosberg. Rosberg has been dominant this season, but he won’t be in Hungary, especially with teammate Lewis Hamilton breathing down his neck. The pressure will get to the German. Look for him to have one of his worst outings of the season.

Most to prove: Jenson Button. Sitting in eighth place in the standings and nearly 120 points behind points leader Rosberg is not a place that Jenson is familiar with, nor should he be in. Obviously, a rough start has left him behind the eight ball, but there’s still plenty of time for him to rally for a top-five season finish (although that will admittedly be a longshot, no doubt).

INDYCAR Preview – KOHLER Grand Prix

Photo: IndyCar
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One of the great road courses in the United States, Road America, plays host to the next round of the Verizon IndyCar Series – the KOHLER Grand Prix (Sunday June 24, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

A staple of IndyCar between 1982 and 2007, IndyCar returned to Road America amidst great fanfare in 2016. And the two visits since its return have not disappointed.

Will Power held off a hard-charging Tony Kanaan to win in 2016, while Graham Rahal survived a thrilling battle for third to round out the podium. And last year, Scott Dixon made an outstanding outside pass on Josef Newgarden in Turn 1 to take the lead on a late-race restart, and he held on to win from there – it was also his only victory of 2017.

And if the previous road and street courses are any indication, Sunday’s race could be another thriller on the 4.048-mile road course.

Major talking points ahead of the KOHLER Grand Prix are below.

The Rise of Dixon

Scott Dixon celebrates victory in the DXC Technology 600. Photo: IndyCar

The 2018 IndyCar season is beginning look a lot like a Scott Dixon year.

After a somewhat slow start to his season, Dixon caught fire in the month of May. He finished second at the INDYCAR Grand Prix, then third at the Indianapolis 500.

He followed that up with a ferocious first two weeks of June, winning Race 1 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit and finishing fourth in Race 2. He followed that up by dominating the second half of the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway to take his second win of the season, and his second in three races.

That stretch has put Dixon into the championship lead for the first time this season. And he is also the defending winner of the KOHLER Grand Prix, after passing then leader Josef Newgarden on a late-race restart, so he likely enters the weekend as the favorite.

“Obviously I’m happy with where the team has been running these past few weekends, but we’ve been there the whole season. We just haven’t shown the results for one reason or another,” Dixon explained. “While most had the weekend off, we had the opportunity to compete again at Le Mans, which is a very special deal. So now we’re back, and after a few short days at home, it’s Road America. We had a great car here last year picking up the win for the No. 9 team, and I’m hoping we can do it again this weekend with the PNC Bank car.”

Dixon won’t go nearly as far as to talk anything championship-related at the moment, but a fifth championship is most certainly possible.

Road America Could Become Very Tire-some

Tire strategy will likely be at the forefront in Road America. Photo: IndyCar

The primary “black” and alternate “red” Firestone tires have created genuinely intriguing racing in recent weeks.

The difference in grip levels between them saw Will Power and Robert Wickens engage in a fantastic and tactical mid-race duel at the INDYCAR Grand Prix, and it created a lot of drama across both races in Belle Isle, culminating in Ryan Hunter-Reay’s charge to victory in Race 2.

And last year’s KOHLER Grand Prix ultimately came down to tire strategy. The aforementioned Dixon passed Newgarden because he was on the alternate “red” tires, while Newgarden was on the primary “blacks” – Newgarden also took the lead earlier in the race using the same tactic, getting onto reds when other leaders were on blacks, which helped him pass Helio Castroneves for the lead.

It’s within reason to think this weekend at Road America will be more of the same.

Newgarden’s Season Slipping Away?

Josef Newgarden. Photo: IndyCar

Josef Newgarden entered the month of May on a hot streak, having won two of the opening four races to lead the championship as the series headed to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The wheels have metaphorically come off a bit since then. He finished 11th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix after spinning late in the race, eighth at the Indy 500, ninth and 15th in Detroit, and 13th at Texas Motor Speedway.

That stretch has dropped him from the championship lead to fifth in the standings, 68 points off Dixon for the title lead.

If he is to get himself back into title contention, he’ll need to get back on the podium this weekend. And fortunately for Newgarden, the Road America circuit ranks at the top of his personal favorites.

“I’m not shy on saying that Road America is probably my favorite track. I really love racing there. It’s a fun road course with a lot of great INDYCAR fans, so what’s not to love?” Newgarden asserted. “These cars with the new aero kit have been super exciting on road courses and this weekend will be no different. The entire No. 1 Verizon Chevy team and I are pumped to get on track there. I thought we were strong at Texas after not living up to our standards at Detroit, but we just ran out of luck. Myself and the entire team are ready to really come back strong to gain more points to continue our hunt for another championship.”

Misc.

  • Ryan Hunter-Reay is quietly beginning to put together a title-contending year. Outside of a 20th at Long Beach, and 18th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix, Hunter-Reay’s worst finish is fifth (three times), and he three podiums to his name, including his Detroit Race 2 victory. He sits 49 points behind Dixon, well within striking distance. This is about the time of the year when he started his title run back in 2012, which culminated in a series championship for him, and 2018 could be headed in that direction.
  • Graham Rahal sits sixth in the standings, 107 points back. His crash in Detroit Race 1 undoubtedly hurt his title chances, but he has been incredibly consistent outside of that, finishing inside the Top 10 at every other race. However, he’ll need some victories later in the year if he is to put himself back in the title picture.
  • Juncos Racing returns to the grid, with Alfonso Celis making his IndyCar debut. A standout and race winner in World Series Formula V8 3.5, he previously raced with Juncos in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires at Barber Motorsports Park, where he finished seventh and eighth.

The Final Word…

From Robert Wickens, who made his IndyCar debut in Friday practice last year at Road America – he subbed for Mikhail Aleshin, who was delayed in arriving at Road America following the 24 Hours of Le Mans:

“I’m really looking forward to Road America. I think, in the last few races, we’ve shown our potential. We’ve shown that we’re quick. Now we need to try to get back on the podium. Road America is always a fun track, and it’s where I got my first taste of INDYCAR with SPM so I can’t wait to actually race the Lucas Oil car here.”

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule:

At-track schedule (all times local):

Friday, June 22
11:00-11:45 a.m. (12:00-12:45 p.m. ET) – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
3:15-4:15 p.m. (4:15-5:15 p.m. ET) – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #2, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)

Saturday, June 23
11:00-11:45 a.m. (12:00-12:45 p.m. ET) – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #3, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
3:00 p.m. (4:00 p.m. ET) – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (three rounds of knockout qualifying), NBCSN (5:30 p.m. same-day delay)

Sunday, June 24
11:30 a.m. (12:30 p.m. ET) – NBCSN on-air
12:05 p.m. (1:05 p.m. ET) – KOHLER Grand Prix (55 laps/220.77 miles), NBCSN (Live)

Here’s last year’s Top 10:

1. Scott Dixon
2. Josef Newgarden
3. Helio Castroneves
4. Simon Pagenaud
5. Will Power
6. Charlie Kimball
7. Ed Jones
8. Graham Rahal
9. Max Chilton
10. Mikhail Aleshin

Here’s last year’s Firestone Fast Six:

1. Helio Castroneves
2. Will Power
3. Josef Newgarden
4. Simon Pagenaud
5. Scott Dixon
6. Graham Rahal

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