Alonso brought Indy 500 car count up to 30. Photo: Getty Images

Recent run on Indy 500 entries brings confirmed cars up to 30

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About a month ago (March 7 was our first tracker) there were barely mid-20s in terms of Indianapolis 500 entries confirmed. And then the last five days happened.

Friday at Long Beach, Zach Veach was confirmed in a third AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. Then Sunday, Jack Harvey was added as a fifth Andretti Autosport Honda. Monday, Gabby Chaves’ ride with the new Harding Group Chevrolet was formally revealed.

Oh and Wednesday, there was a certain two-time Formula 1 World Champion announced in a sixth Andretti Autosport Honda, as McLaren and Fernando Alonso are set to tackle the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Harvey’s car was also announced to run under the Michael Shank Racing with Andretti banner in a joint entry.

The confirmations bring Honda’s total car count to its maximum 18 available leases and thus will leave it to Chevrolet to fill out the field.

Here’s the breakdown so far:

HONDA (18)

  • Andretti Autosport (6): 26-Takuma Sato, 28-Ryan Hunter-Reay-W, 27-Marco Andretti (Andretti with Lendium), 98-Alexander Rossi-W (Andretti-Herta Autosport), 50-Jack Harvey-R (Michael Shank Racing with Andretti), 29-Fernando Alonso-R (McLaren Honda Andretti)
  • Chip Ganassi Racing Teams (4): 8-Max Chilton, 9-Scott Dixon-W, 10-Tony Kanaan-W, 83-Charlie Kimball
  • Dale Coyne Racing (3): 18-Sebastien Bourdais, 19-Ed Jones-R, 63-Pippa Mann
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (3): 5-James Hinchcliffe, 7-Mikhail Aleshin, 77-Jay Howard (SPM with Team ONE Cure)
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2): 15-Graham Rahal, 16-Oriol Servia

CHEVROLET (12)

  • Team Penske (5): 1-Simon Pagenaud, 2-Josef Newgarden, 3-Helio Castroneves-W, 12-Will Power, 22-Juan Pablo Montoya-W
  • AJ Foyt Racing (3): 4-Conor Daly, 14-Carlos Munoz, 40-Zach Veach-R
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2): 20-Ed Carpenter, 21-JR Hildebrand
  • Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (1): 24-Sage Karam
  • Harding Racing (1): 88-Gabby Chaves

FILLING OUT THE FIELD

The expectation from here is Juncos Racing, Ricardo Juncos’ team, would be running two cars with Buddy Lazier and his family team joining in – all in Chevrolets – to bring the number up to 33.

For Juncos, the step up to IndyCar from its Mazda Road to Indy success understandably takes a bigger budget to make happen, and why announcements haven’t happened beyond its original reveal is solely down to that. It’s a matter of making the dollars work to see the new team on the grid for its first race.

Lazier’s team told IndyCar Radio at St. Petersburg they again plan to be in Indianapolis, as they have each of the last four years (failed to qualify in 2015 but have three starts in 2013, 2014 and 2016).

If one of these three cars would fail to materialize, another Chevrolet entry would have to emerge to make 33, and despite Carpenter’s wishes to the contrary from his planned two-car effort, that’d seem make the most sense as a logical replacement.

SO WHO’S STILL LEFT?

There’s still a number of drivers actively looking to be considered for those final couple seats. Here’s a quick primer on the likely five drivers vying for the final spots:

  • Spencer Pigot: At the moment, Pigot is sidelined by the double variable of ECR’s planned two-car entry and the fact most of the other entrenched one-off entries have been filled.
  • Matthew Brabham: Continues to make the rounds along with his management in the paddock, but finding budget remains the stumbling block.
  • Sebastian Saavedra: Saavedra and longtime supporter Gary Peterson were in Long Beach and they’ve run a chassis in this race several times over. The longer it gets before the entry deadline, the more likely Saavedra re-emerges once again.
  • James Davison: Like the other three above, the talented Australian was making himself available to team owners for meetings during Long Beach to try to finalize a program. Losing the 18th Honda engine lease potential did not help his prospects.
  • Gustavo Yacaman: Wasn’t at Long Beach but has been rumored for an opportunity, in what would be an IndyCar race debut, a different scenario from the other four.

At the moment, we’re not listing Stefan Wilson, Townsend Bell, Katherine Legge, RC Enerson and Kyle Kaiser among those drivers.

Wilson has publicly bowed out of a seat this year to forego his planned drive with Andretti to allow the Alonso opportunity to occur. If the racing gods are paying attention, the lanky, likable 27-year-old Brit is due karma in spades for making that tough decision.

Bell’s not said he won’t do Indy this year but after having his best chance to win last year fall short, he is smart enough to not take a likely bottom-of-the-field ride just to keep his start streak alive. He also has Le Mans to prep for, where he won last year in class with Scuderia Corsa.

Legge’s hopes likely rested on a Honda engine lease availability and with the Andretti possibility going away, her stint outside the ‘500 is set to continue as it’s highly doubtful you would see her in a Chevrolet.

Despite Enerson’s star turn with Dale Coyne Racing in his three-race cameo late 2016, things have quieted for his hopes, although he was known to be in contention for at least one of the now-filled vacancies.

Kaiser was perhaps the biggest slam dunk when Juncos’ arrival was announced, but we’ve heard in the last couple weeks that the team may not be inclined, and for that matter the driver may not be inclined, to be stretched so thin pulling off both an Indianapolis 500 and Freedom 100 double for Juncos’ planned IndyCar debut. Put this way – if the 21-year-old Californian does do both, it would be more of a surprise now than it was a month or so ago.

All told, the race to fill the final few spots on the 33-car grid is coming towards an end, and the next couple weeks will likely be pivotal in seeing who will make up the balance of 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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