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Hunter-Reay eager to build on big weekend

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Ryan Hunter-Reay has bigger goals than simply snapping a losing streak.

The 37-year-old Hunter-Reay had been running well this year, but his victory in Race 2 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit was his first IndyCar win since 2015. It capped an impressive weekend that also included a second-place finish on Saturday. He has six top-five finishes through eight races of the Verizon IndyCar Series the season, so perhaps it was only a matter of time before he ended his drought.

Now his mind is on the IndyCar standings. He’s in fourth place, 31 points behind leader Will Power.

“I have to just keep chipping away, chipping away,” he said. “If you keep finishing in the top three, top five, top three, top five, wins, that’s how you challenge for a championship, so that’s what we’re focused on doing.”

Hunter-Reay was the series champion in 2012 and won the Indianapolis 500 in 2014. From 2012-14, he won nine times, but after two more victories in 2015, the dry spell began. While he wasn’t irrelevant, he didn’t finish higher than third for the next two seasons.

Hunter-Reay led a combined 80 laps at the Indy 500 in 2016 and 2017 but finished out of the top 20 both times.

Now he’s off to a strong start this season, and IndyCar’s new race cars are to his liking.

“At times with the aero kit, the manufacturer aero kit, we might have struggled a little bit. Our team did, and we just weren’t firing on all cylinders for some reason,” he said. “But now again with a universal aero kit, we’re right back on a level playing field again, just like we left off in `12, `13 and `14.”

Hunter-Reay began the year with two top-five finishes, and he added a second-place showing in Alabama in April. He finished fifth at the Indy 500, then headed to Detroit.

In the first of two races at Belle Isle last weekend, Hunter-Reay came in second to Scott Dixon. It was a strong race for him, but the losing streak continued.

“It’s unfortunate,” he said. “We came up close.”

There was still another chance Sunday, and Hunter-Reay made the most of it, chasing down teammate Alexander Rossi late in the race and eventually passing him when Rossi went sliding toward the runoff area on a turn. From there, it was smooth sailing. Hunter-Reay won easily.

It was an impressive weekend for Andretti Autosport. Hunter-Reay, Rossi and Marco Andretti finished 2-3-4 in the first Belle Isle race, then Hunter-Reay overtook Rossi to win the second one. Hunter-Reay was asked where Sunday’s performance ranked in his career.

“To be that much faster than the rest of the field, yeah, it’s got to be one of my top races,” he said. “I mean, I’ll always put 2014 Indy 500 as my top one because going back every lap with Helio (Castroneves) like that, it’s a different type of race. This one was based on pure speed, not making any mistakes and going fast.”

It was an emphatic way to end the weekend – and perhaps send a message about the rest of the season.

“I know I have the talent to win the races, and just have to think positive. I’ve got the best job on earth, so I come and show up in the morning and there’s a yellow car there with my name on the side of it, and I go to work as an IndyCar car driver,” Hunter-Reay said. “I absolutely knew we could get back in Victory Lane, it’s just a matter of putting it all together.”

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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