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Milestone win part of Scott Dixon’s latest IndyCar surge

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Scott Dixon is looking for just a bit more consistency from start to finish on race weekends, even if he hasn’t placed out of the top 5 in more than a month.

Imagine what Dixon could accomplish the rest of this IndyCar season once he really feels like he’s in a groove behind the wheel of the No. 9 Honda.

It’s the kind of mindset that has helped make Dixon a four-time series champion. He won his 42nd IndyCar race last weekend to pull into a tie for third with Michael Andretti on the career list behind only A.J. Foyt (67) and Mario Andretti (52).

“For me, still being deep in it right now, it’s something I hope to reflect on when I get out of the sport,” Dixon said. “But just being on the short list right now with Andretti and Foyt is pretty crazy when you really look back and take a step back.”

The 37-year-old driver from New Zealand feels like there is room for improvement, though.

“It’s been a little tricky,” Dixon said about his season so far. “We’ve had some really good speeds, but we’ve probably lacked a little bit on consistency.”

He points to a few mistakes in qualifying runs. A second-place finish at the IndyCar Grand Prix on May 12 came after starting 18th on the grid.

The 16-year IndyCar veteran followed with a third-place finish at the Indianapolis 500. Dixon took the checkered flag in the opening race last weekend at Belle Isle and finished fourth in the second race.

Dixon is second in the points race behind Indy 500 winner Will Power, with fresh momentum heading into each of the next two stops on the schedule: this weekend at Fort Worth and June 24 at Road America in Wisconsin.

“Yeah, the last 3-4 weeks we’ve made a lot of points, which is good to see,” Dixon said.

“But it’s time to knuckle down,” he added. “We’ve definitely got to make the most of these summer-month races and try to get some good points.”

Dixon is in his 17th season with Chip Ganassi Racing, the longest tenure for a driver in team history. Ganassi managing director Mike Hull likened the Detroit win to Dixon’s first victory with Ganassi at Homestead in 2003.

“What Scott does so well is that he represents the culture of Chip Ganassi Racing,” Hull said after Belle Isle. “It’s something that you’ll look back on and say, ‘Man, that was awesome to be a part of.’ But for today and now, we’re happy to come home with the win.”

This season brought a new set of adjustments for Dixon, with Ganassi dropping from four teams to two and 23-year-old Ed Jones joining the fold as his new teammate.

Dixon said the transition has been easy with Jones, who he describes as “super laid-back, a really good kid, a lot of fun to work with.”

Last week, Jones tied a career best by finishing third in the second race at Belle Isle. It seems like he’s putting any advice that he has received from Dixon to good use.

“Scott winning the race (Saturday) and then me on the podium … we’re just aiming to bring the team forward,” Jones said then.

One noticeable difference for Dixon related to the Ganassi changes is that it’s not as noisy at the trailers with former teammate Tony Kanaan now with A.J. Foyt Racing.

“I think the thing I’ve commented on the most is probably how quiet it’s been without TK. He’s a huge character and we had a ton of laughs with him around,” Dixon said.

He also liked the luxury of being able to study the volumes of data that came with having three teammates. It was especially helpful over longer, three-day weekends at road and street courses, or at Indianapolis, when there is more time to prepare.

Still, the adjustment to a two-car team seems to be going just fine for the steady Dixon.

“It’s just a different approach. I actually enjoyed the fact that you had so much stuff to look at, which has changed now some,” he said. “But yeah, I love the teammates I had for the last two, three, four years, and it’s a bit of a change now, but I’m really enjoying working with Ed.”

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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