Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull Content Pool

Scott Speed’s blog: Walking home a Red Bull GRC three-peat

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Editor’s note: Providing a behind the scenes take during his 2017 Red Bull Global Rallycross (GRC) season, Scott Speed, driver of the No. 41 Oberto Circle K Beetle GRC for Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross (VARX), will contribute to, giving readers his view from behind the visor.

In his final installment this season, Speed reflects on the road to his third consecutive series championship (preseason, post-Memphis).

Winning again this year comes down to a ‘yes’ on consistency and improvement in reliability, no question. The car took the necessary contact with others well all year, although I obviously limited that more than most people. But, inherently, you’re still going to contact other cars, which we did and had no failures there. I had no engine failures, no anything.

The only race that we didn’t podium on was the one that we didn’t start in Canada, because we weren’t able to make the semi-final round. So, missing that caused us to not be allowed to start in the final, which cost us (about) 60 points. So realistically, when you look at the championship, no one was going to beat us this year, basically.

We did have to monitor the points a little more because of all the extra points added from the heats and semifinals. For us, it didn’t change much because we were already at the sharp end of the grid anyway. But for people who had poor qualifying or had some trouble, it kinda always kept them in the mix, points-wise. I definitely feel like it artificially brought the lower half of the field closer to the front from a points standpoint. But, for us, it didn’t really have an effect.

Winning at Indy was definitely great. There was a lot of friends and family there that weekend, so that certainly was a good one to win. I guess if you had to pick one, it’s always great when you do well in front of your home people, so there’s no question. And obviously the same with Atlantic City. It’s probably the closest race to Volkswagen HQ, lots of people were there, so it’s important.”

Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull Content Pool

But, from a driver’s standpoint – from my standpoint – the job never changes. Whether there’s 50 people there or a million people there, it’s still the same job. And for me, I’m very singularly focused on the task at hand. The people who come to the races, and the hometown races, those are all great, but they’re not, let’s say, ‘in the focus.’

This year, I think it played out differently than the last two. I honestly thought that after Canada, there was no chance to come back from that many points (lost). We literally gave away over 60 points. And typically, you don’t get to recover from something like that. But, we started chipping away at that lead and then Tanner (Foust) sort of had his nuclear meltdown at Atlantic City and the next thing you know the roles were reversed and we were back with a very healthy points lead as we were going into Canada.

So, it was very different in the sense I really considered we weren’t going to have a shot at the championship given how many points we lost in Canada. And almost instantly, after Indy, we gained so many points back there and had so much momentum, it was like ‘Okay, we can really do this come back.’ And then one weekend later, it completely changed to ‘Okay, now this is basically our championship. We can walk this thing home.’

As an overall group with Volkswagen and Andretti Autosport, we’re all still gelling well. It’s all status quo, really, with Tanner and I. For the last two years, it’s been really similar. Obviously we have the same kind of working relationship, and all that is certainly a feather in our team’s cap. And I think the BFGoodrich Tires are so good that no one’s really had any problems with them at all. We certainly haven’t had any problems with them for the last two years, so I don’t think that changed at all for us personally, or really anybody else.

It was great doing more with Circle K and Oberto, as they have been an amazing partner this year. I think it was definitely a difference from last year, when there was a lot more change on the car throughout the year, and that’s sort of the stability we had and that relationship has grown strong throughout the year. Obviously winning them a championship is great, that’s the ideal situation. And that relationship, and that partnership in general, is just very healthy and natural.

Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull Content Pool

It’s something where, similar to Rockstar, it fits into my lifestyle very well, so it’s very easy for me to represent a company like Oberto, for example, that is very healthy in nature, very active demographic of guys, and a product I naturally use in my day-to-day, which makes it a ton easier to talk about and support, because I know the product and like the product.”

We have a really fantastic fit of partners right now. And that’s easier on me, because like I said, I can just be myself and everything comes out naturally, and I feel like I represent those products well because of that.

There’s no question it’s nice to feel comfortable where you are. And to have Volkwagen, Rockstar, Oberto, Circle K, Andretti…have all these partners in the mix that all feel very comfortable and natural –  it’s definitely a positive that as a family we enjoy. And we thrive.

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.