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Daly gets result, Enerson gets noticed on debut, for Coyne at Mid-Ohio

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – Dale Coyne Racing can afford to chalk up the Honda Indy 200 weekend as a pretty good one for its team with its pair of young, hungry American drivers.

Much like Conor Daly delivered arguably the best 17th place finish in recent memory at Long Beach in 2015, RC Enerson turned in arguably the best 19th place result in recent times on Sunday.

Meanwhile Daly, who’d had a tough weekend by comparison to the Verizon IndyCar Series debutante who was taking up reins as the third different driver of the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda this year (Luca Filippi, Gabby Chaves), wound up nailing his strategy in his No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda and using excellent late race pace courtesy of a brake bias adjustment to bank another top-10 result in sixth.

For Daly, considering his U.S. junior series experience, it seemed surprising to note that Sunday marked his Mid-Ohio race debut.

Both drivers moved into the top 11 after pitting prior to the first caution on Lap 16, when Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves collided going into the Keyhole.

By Lap 27, Daly and Enerson were running sixth and seventh. Daly pitted for a second time on Lap 36 (first stop was Lap 9) and Enerson uncorked a flier on Lap 37, 1:05.7385 around the 2.258-mile road course, which stood for that moment as the fastest race lap and held as the third fastest lap of the race.

Sadly for Enerson, the lap was almost too fast. He pitted on Lap 38 and his race went downhill from there – the combination of a fuel meter error coupled with an aggressive pit call ruined his race. Having lost fuel pressure in pit lane, the crew had issues restarting the car and the 19-year-old wound up 21st, two laps down following his lengthy stop.

So that took him out of the running even though he eventually got one of those two laps back, and ended as noted in 19th.

Shifting to Daly, his strategy got compromised as early pit stop occurred on Lap 57 due to a flat spotted tire. The early stop meant that Daly was about seven laps short of making it to finish, barring a long caution period.

Daly picked up the lead on Lap 63, under a full course caution for Jack Hawksworth going off course at Turn 1. Following the restart, knowing that he didn’t have enough fuel to make it to the end, he built a gap of nearly 10 seconds before entering pit lane for a splash of fuel with five laps remaining.

The American exited the pits in ninth place and took the checkered flag in sixth, his third sixth place finish this season.

Daly. Photo: IndyCar
Daly. Photo: IndyCar

“Yeah, man, even during the race, it was going horribly,” Daly told NBC Sports post-race. “We took the start real easily and from the start we called a no-start and all of a sudden I was way behind. I thought we weren’t starting. I just figured out the car in the middle of the race. All it took was rear brake bias. We kept locking up the front so easily and I just go sailing off. And even during the race, I’d just go sailing off again. But as soon as I sorted the brake bias, the car was amazing. It was beautiful.

“We were like seven laps short,” he added. “It’s worked out for us in the past, a short fill and stay on the same tires. We pulled a really good gap so we thought why not just keep going. I just tried to nail every single lap. I think we had a good enough car to kind of stay up front and pull the gap we needed. I think sixth was probably as good as we could have done in that scenario. I was just happy to pull away and to lead a stint like that. These guys kept the faith in me because I had driven the car off-course all weekend. I’m just glad we could have a good finish and end up the weekend.”

Enerson. Photo: IndyCar
Enerson. Photo: IndyCar

Enerson, who’d had a massively impressive Friday and was probably unlucky to only qualify 18th – he had the pace on the first set of Firestone red tires in Q1 before traffic and a mistake resigned him to ninth in his group – was perhaps disappointed with 19th because generally speaking he was in the seventh to 12th range most of the weekend, and a finish in that ballpark was possible.

“Yeah, we had a good stop on the first one and we were just one lap too short, I had the low fuel pop on coming out of Turn 1,” he told NBC Sports post-race. “Didn’t quite make it around, but we made it in, got it refired and was only two laps down and we were able to get one (lap) back. We were kind of hoping for another yellow to see if we could get another lap back, but that’s how it goes.

“For my debut, it couldn’t really have gone any better. Of course, we’d have liked to have finished further up, but we were turning quick times, had a strong car and we just need to execute it better.”

Although he isn’t confirmed yet, the 19-year-old’s performance this weekend will have gone a long way to raising the chances we’ll see him back in the No. 19 car for the Watkins Glen and Sonoma races. Chaves will resume at Texas and so it leaves Pocono the remaining question mark for “who’s TBA.”

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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