Daly in 2013. Photo: Getty Images

Reports: Daly, Jones set for Foyt, Coyne 2017 confirmations

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Before the U.S. Presidential Election went down on Tuesday night, the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series silly season burst open again in the hours before it.

First up was A.J. Foyt Enterprises, where Conor Daly had always been in the frame for one of the two seats but without hedging his bets of being too confident, looks set to secure the second seat there (via Motorsport.com, later via RACER.com).

Daly made his IndyCar debut with Foyt in the 2013 Indianapolis 500 before driving a partial season with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Dale Coyne Racing in 2015, and a full season with Coyne in 2016.

Foyt has not yet confirmed its impending switch from Honda to Chevrolet engines and aero kits – nor either driver – but it would be set for a major upheaval of change provided the i’s get dotted and t’s get crossed once contracts are signed and things become official.

In a sentence, Foyt would go from Honda/Takuma Sato/Jack Hawksworth to Chevrolet/likely Carlos Munoz/Conor Daly as a package, and that’s before you get into engineering and other team personnel there. Interesting times ahead.

Coyne, meanwhile, said during an October conference call after Sebastien Bourdais’ confirmation that he was hoping to have both his seats finalized by November.

It doesn’t appear he was kidding.

“Yes. We announced last year earlier than ever in the 18 car,” Coyne said on October 12. “We’re working very close to some programs with all the usual suspects to get something done here by the end of this month so we’ll know both of our drivers going into November.

“We have more tests planned. I should add that this is a two-year program with Sebastien. This is not just a one-year program. It’s two years and possibly more. So we’re excited about that. Especially next year with the equalizer coming in 2018 with an aero kit the same for everyone, I think that will really help us.

“But not sure which car number Sebastien will be in yet. We’re still working on lots of sponsorship programs. Depending on how that comes out, that will determine whether it’s the 18 or the 19. We got a lot of things going and are very excited to be in this position this early.”

That second driver looks set to be Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion Ed Jones, which isn’t the Indy Lights graduate many folks pegged for the seat alongside Bourdais. Following a string of three impressive end-of-year outings, RC Enerson had raised his stock and figured to get a good look in a full-season role there.

However, RACER.com has now pegged Jones in the second car. The Dubai-based Brit admitted to NBC Sports in the days after securing his Indy Lights title he’d had conversations with multiple teams and hoped to get a deal done within the month.

The question was always whether he’d be able to stretch his confirmed three races via winning the $1 million Mazda advancement scholarship into a full-season opportunity with the necessary budget to do so.

Neither seat has yet been confirmed by the respective teams, as noted, but these two fillings would reduce the already dwindling number of available slots left in the 2017 field.

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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