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IndyCar: Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Recap

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As the lone double-header on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar, the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit always has a habit of leaving an impression.

This can often be literal – the bumpy Raceway at Belle Isle street circuit has been known to leave “impressions” (i.e. blisters) on drivers’ hands afterward – but the event itself has also become a landmark event of sorts.

Since Roger Penske helped reinvigorate the event ahead of the 2012 season, the track and facility have been improved year and after year, and it’s become a genuinely first-class event. Oh, and the racing has been pretty good too.

The current contract is up after this year, so the future of the event is uncertain – a report in the Detroit News detailed that no contact is currently in place for next year and beyond.

Regardless, this year’s event was nothing short of a thriller across both races.

A look back at talking points to emerge from the weekend in Detroit are below.

Dixon, Hunter-Reay Put Sublime Skills on Full Display

Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay were models of driving perfection in the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit. Photo: IndyCar

Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay are undoubtedly two of the best drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series. And with different styles as well – Dixon the calculated, cerebral type who, while unassuming, can easily seize control of any race, while Hunter-Reay is a hard-charger who seems to especially thrive when he’s in maximum attack mode.

And their skills were perfectly on display all weekend in Detroit.

Dixon’s Race 1 victory was classic Dixon. He leapfrogged early leader Marco Andretti during their first cycle of pit stops, and assumed the actual race lead once Hunter-Reay, on a different strategy, pitted on Lap 32, and he only surrendered the lead on subsequent rounds of pit stops, controlling the entire second half of the race.

And a pair of late-race restarts unsurprisingly failed to phase the driver nicknamed “The Iceman,” who came through for his first win of 2018 in Race 1.

Though unassuming, Dixon’s drive was methodical, calculated, and impeccable. And it netted him his 42nd career win, tying him with Michael Andretti for third on the all-time list.

“It’s always nice (to win),” Dixon said after the Race 1 triumph. “I think right now, with the competition in the Verizon IndyCar Series, it’s just through the roof. If you look back a few years, you can sort of run off five or six victories in a season, and it seems those days are pretty much gone. I’m super proud of everybody at Chip Ganassi Racing, and obviously PNC Bank’s first victory.”

Hunter-Reay, who charged to second on a three-stop strategy, enjoyed an equally strong race, but just came up one spot short. Race 2, however, delivered the outcome he desired.

Hunter-Reay’s hard-charging style was perfectly on display again in Race 2. Starting 10th, he committed early to a three-stop strategy – he pitted on Lap 11 – and proceeded to run a race full of qualifying laps.

And that’s not an exaggeration. Hunter-Reay’s fastest lap in Race 2, at 1:15.059, would have qualified him second for Race 1 (note: Race 2 qualifying was held in the wet), and was one of several laps in the 1:15 bracket. In fact, that 1:15.059 lap was faster than his Race 1 qualifying lap, a 1:15.494.

And it produced a genuine thriller, as Hunter-Reay reeled in teammate Alexander Rossi in the closing laps. A duel for the win was cut short when Rossi locked up the brakes and went into the Turn 3 runoff area, but as fast as Hunter-Reay was, nothing may have gotten in his way.

Ryan Hunter-Reay had one of the best drivers of his career in Race 2 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit. photo: IndyCar

“I mean, it was — we were at times lapping, I think, a second and a half faster than anybody on the track, and that car definitely ended the race where it should be, and that’s in Victory Lane,” Hunter-Reay asserted afterward. “So really proud of the 28 DHL Honda team. These guys have worked really hard, but they gave me a great race car, the engineering side. I’m just really proud of what they’ve done.”

And the races they didn’t win this weekend were nothing to sneeze at either. Hunter-Reay was second in Race 1, while Dixon came home fourth in Race 2.

As it stands, they rank second and fourth in the championship – Dixon trails Will power by five points, while Hunter-Reay is 31 out of the lead. Each of these former champions could go on a title run as we near the second half of the season, so watch out of them.

Honda Sweeps Chevy’s Home Race…Again

Graham Rahal’s sweep of last year’s Detroit event was also a sweep for Honda, and Honda drivers Dixon and Hunter-Reay made it back-to-back Honda sweeps over the weekend.

And this year’s outing was particularly dominating for the Honda teams. They had the top six finishers from Race 1, and seven of the top 10, and six of the top 10 from Race 2, including five of the first six finishers.

Add in a GT Daytona victory for Meyer Shank Racing in Saturday’s Chevrolet Sports Car Classic for the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship, and it proved to be a banner weekend for the Honda bunch.

“This is a great way to cap off a weekend of wins for Honda and Acura,” said Honda Performance Development president Art St. Cyr. “To come away with two IndyCar victories, and taking five of the six podium positions (in Race 2), speaks to the strengths of our IndyCar program. In addition, we’re celebrating another victory for our Acura NSX GT3, a double-podium finish for our ARX-05 prototype and a win for Honda at the Baja 500 (desert truck race). Congratulations to Scott for Saturday’s win, the 42nd of his career, and to Ryan for his ‘pure pace’ victory (on Sunday).”

Given that Chevy/Penske driver Josef Newgarden a won a Honda-sponsored event earlier this year – the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama – Detroit proved to be sweet revenge for Honda.

Championship Beginning to Take Shape

Yet another close championship fight could be brewing for IndyCar in 2018 if you look at the standings as the series leaves Detroit.

As previously described, Power leads Dixon by five points. Alexander Rossi sits third, 11 points behind Power. Hunter-Reay is fourth, 31 markers back, with Josef Newgarden fifth, 39 points back.

That’s 39 points separating the top five, a scant amount given how quickly things can change. Sixth-place Robert Wickens is even within striking distance, at 77 points back. Graham Rahal sits seventh, 88 points out of the lead.

That’s seven drivers separated by less than 100 points.

And with double-points again on the docket at the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, no one looks poised to run away with it.

Misc.

  • The pair of races over the weekend were stereotypical Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Race 1 – Dr. Jekyll – was relatively routine, with Dixon commanding the pace in the second half. And though a pair of late-cautions created some late drama, the victory was never genuinely in doubt.
  • Race 2 – Mr. Hyde – was quite a bit more dramatic. A pace car crash delayed the start by over 30 minutes. Spencer Pigot spun on Lap 1, while Sebastien Bourdais suffered a cut tire. Santino Ferrucci spun on Lap 22. Bourdais spun on lap 38. And, of course, there was the late-race dramatics between Rossi and Hunter-Reay. It continued a trend of double-headers in which one race is routine, while the other is the exact opposite.
  • Ed Jones had a much needed strong weekend after finishes of 20th, 22nd, and 31st since his third-place effort in Long Beach. Jones was sixth in Race 1, and third in Race 2 – his second podium of 2018. He now sits 28 points behind 10th place Simon Pagenaud.
  • Josef Newgarden had his first “off” weekend all year. He qualified 14th and 19th in each race (he even crashed in qualifying for Race 2), and while he salvaged ninth in Race 1 – albeit quietly – Race 2 was a small disaster that saw him finish 15th. It was the first time this year the defending champ seemed to lack pace, and it stands within reason to think of it as a blip on the radar. Nonetheless, it will be a weekend he’ll look to put behind him.
  • Sebastien Bourdais put on a show in Race 2, and his charge from the back of field after the aforementioned cut tire was a thing of beauty. That it ended with a spin and a bent toe-link, the repairs for which put him 21st and three laps down at the end, was thoroughly undeserved.

The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to oval-track action this weekend, and high-banked oval track action at that, with the the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway (Saturday June 9, 8:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

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F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

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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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