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INDYCAR Preview – DXC Technology 600

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As hard as it is to believe, the Verizon IndyCar Series is about to enter the second half of the 2018 season. And the back half of 2018 kicks off with the annual visit to the high banks of Texas Motor Speedway for the DXC Technology 600.

Last year’s Texas outing was a demolition derby of sorts. Nine cautions were flown, seven of which were for on-track incidents, and only six cars ended the race without any damage – seventh and eighth place finishers Conor Daly and Max Chilton were running at the end, but suffered damage in a late crash with Scott Dixon and Takuma Sato. Ed Carpenter and JR Hildebrand were also running at the end, but several laps down after getting caught up in a Lap 152 crash.

Texas always has a habit of being the most frantic and frenetic event of the year, and some are thankful it is the only high-banked 1.5-mile oval remaining on the schedule.

Talking points ahead of Saturday night’s 600-kilometer outing in Texas are below.

High-Speed Oval Gives Chevrolet a Chance to Bounce Back

The 2018 universal aero kits mean that the manufacturer battle between Honda and Chevrolet is entirely down to engine performance. And the race winners for each indicate a pretty even fight – Honda and Chevy have four winners apiece.

However, Honda currently holds a fairly decisive advantage – 103 points to be exact – in the manufacturer’s championship. This is in thanks to races like the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, where Honda swept the top six, and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, where they had five of the top six, and the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, where they also had five of the six (though Chevy driver Josef Newgarden won that day).

Some are of the belief that Honda has a little better torque, and point to last weekend’s Chevrolet Dual in Detroit as evidence of that advantage. Hondas swept the top six in Saturday’s Race 1, and had five of the top six in Race 2, with race winners Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay completing a dominant weekend for the Japanese manufacturer.

Yet, Chevy appeared to have a top-end speed advantage at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, evidenced by seven of the top nine qualifiers coming from the Chevy camp, and 150 of the 200 laps were led by Chevy drivers – Will Power and Ed Carpenter also completed a Chevy 1-2.

If such an advantage exists, Texas presents the Chevy teams with a golden opportunity to rebound from Honda’s domination of them in Detroit.

Will Texas Be a Pack Race, or Will Indy-Style Handling Be the Priority?

Last year’s carnage-filled night in Texas was in part a product of a pack race that saw the 22-car field unable to effectively gap each other. Hence, the close quarters caused a number of accidents, and when a crash happened – such as the contact between James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan that sparked the Lap 152 crash – it left drivers with little time to react.

If the Indianapolis 500 was any indication, however, a pack race may not be likely, as handling was paramount that day, especially because of the conditions – the Indy 500 saw a near-record high ambient temperature of 91 degrees.

And Texas figures to be another scorcher, with the predicted highs nearing 100 degrees.

As such, the effect of the aero kits is a complete unknown ahead of the weekend. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal discussed as much, asserting that the package’s performance in Texas may not necessarily have much in common with its performance in Indy.

“I think the new aero kit is going to behave quite differently than it did at Indy, but I also think that when we show up it’s going to be a real work in progress,” Rahal explained. “I’m sure that from an aerodynamic perspective, INDYCAR is going to have to keep doing some work to get it right. If you look at the way the aero package is set up currently, I think that it’s going to be very difficult to run together but I did not test there so I’m not a great judge of that because I haven’t had any laps there yet. But I definitely think it’s going to be a work in progress and the folks at INDYCAR are ready, willing and able to adjust if we need to, to make the show great.”

Between 2012 and 2015, Texas did not produce pack racing, but rather put a premium on mechanical grip and managing tire wear – this was a result of the DW-12 and manufacturer aero kit packages. Though the 2016 and 2017 outings saw pack-racing return, it stands within reason to think that mechanical grip and tire wear will again be the priorities this time around.

Misc.

  • Zachary Claman De Melo returns to the No. 19 Paysafe Honda for Dale Coyne Racing, and this will be his first ever start at Texas Motor Speedway – the Firestone Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship does not run at Texas.
  • Masked by last year’s race of carnage was a dominant performance by Team Penske’s Will Power, who led 180 of 248 laps. Given his recent prowess on ovals, the 2018 Indy 500 winner may enter Texas as the man to beat.
  • Detroit winners Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon look to reverse a recent run of misfortune at Texas. Dixon won in 2015, but has been crashed out in the last two Texas races – in 2016 and 2017. Hunter-Reay, meanwhile, has not finished in the top 10 at Texas since a second-place effort in 2013. Both have the speed to reverse such fortune, and if luck is on their side, they’ll be contenders on Saturday night.

The Final Word…

From defending race winner, Will Power:

“I’m really looking forward to going back to Texas. The team has really been on a roll with a lot of success in the past month and we are ready to keep doing that. The No. 12 Verizon Chevy team brought home a win last year at Texas and we feel strongly that we have another good shot at it. The fans are always a lot of fun there and really seem to enjoy the type of racing we get to do there. I’m really excited to go back there.”

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule:

At-track schedule (all times local):
Friday, June 8
11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. (12:30 to 2:00 p.m. ET): Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
3:00 p.m. (4:00 p.m. ET): Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (single car/cumulative time of two laps), Live on NBCSN
6:15. – 7:15 p.m. (7:15 to 8:15 p.m. ET): Verizon IndyCar Series final practice, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)

Saturday, June 9
7:00p.m. (8:00 p.m. ET) – NBCSN broadcast window begins
7:45 p.m. (8:45 p.m. ET) – DXC Technology 600 (248 laps/357.12 miles), NBCSN (Live)

Here’s last year’s top 10: 

1. Will Power
2. Tony Kanaan
3. Simon Pagenaud
4. Graham Rahal
5. Gabby Chaves
6. Marco Andretti
7. Conor Daly
8. Max Chilton
9. Scott Dixon
10. Takuma Sato

 

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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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