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What Drivers Are Saying After Friday at the DXC Technology 600

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Here’s what drivers are saying about the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway after Friday practice and qualifying (courtesy INDYCAR Media Relations):

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “I think (starting from pole here) helps a lot. It’s very warm. I don’t think I saw a person not sweating outside. We’re dealing with the heat. I think this is a big boost for us particularly coming off of Detroit. It was a tough weekend for us on the No. 1 car side. I don’t think it was the best weekend as a whole for Team Penske. We fought all weekend. To come here and have speed in all the race cars is really nice. I think it comes down to a lot of things – the team, the personnel we have. We have some of the best people in the paddock. You can see that. When you have cars go 1-2-3, it shows the competitiveness of all the cars. That’s the thing that impresses me most about the team, is how competitive they make each car they have. They’re really, really good at that. It’s a big credit to Team Penske and Team Chevy as well, if you look at the speed we’ve had during the month of May, the 500. It helped us secure the pole today. That’s a big part of it. Now that we have good speed, we have to figure out how to make the car last on tires. That is definitely the big deal tomorrow night. If we can do that, we’re going to be just fine, find ourselves back in victory lane.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “It’s a pretty difficult track, to be honest, not that easy. Really just trying to go step by step. I think we have a great car here and I look forward to the race tomorrow. I know it’s going to be a long race and it’s been a tough one the past few years, so hopefully, we will have a good one.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “We don’t run in track conditions like this any other time of the weekend, so the only time you’re running with 130 plus degree temps is when you’ve peeled all the downforce off and you’re going for broke in qualifying. That’s the toughest part – the unknowns. I don’t think we did the best job in the Arrow Electronics car today, unfortunately. We’ll do what we can in the race tomorrow, and like it’s been said, you can win from anywhere here. With this new aero kit, passing seems to be a little bit trickier than it has in years past. We’ve driven up through up the field here before, and hopefully, we can do it again tomorrow.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “Every day in INDYCAR is a new adventure, but we keep coming to each weekend with great cars. I think today is the perfect example. I’m definitely not comfortable on a superspeedway yet, but everyone on the Lucas Oil car are doing a good job. We were quick in practice, and now we’re starting fourth – can’t complain about that.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “The PNC Bank car was great earlier today and wasn’t bad in the afternoon, we just missed a little bit on the balance. But I’m not worried too much, as it really doesn’t matter where you qualify here because you can win about from any starting position. The car just had a bit of understeer so we had to lift. Not a bit deal and we’ll be ready to race tomorrow night for sure.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Honda): “The race this year will be a bit different with the change in the amount of downforce we have on the car. So that will be interesting. The conditions here today are a little difficult, but I’m happy with our NTT DATA car. We just missed the balance a little in qualifying, but we should be in the top half of the field and in a good place to go racing for the win here tomorrow night in Texas.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “A good run. I didn’t think we were going to have it for the pole anyway, so I think if we’re in the top six, it’s a good spot to start and a great way to start the weekend. I think we have a good car for the race. I think we’re improving as a team every weekend, so hopefully this will be a turnaround. Our best finish was last weekend, so we’ll try to do a lot better than seventh.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Fleet Cost & Care Honda): “We’re not as good as we should be on these superspeedways right now. It’s kind of been our weakness over the last handful of years. This team has been good everywhere else, but we struggle on this type of track. The out lap was super loose. I had a lot of understeer on the first lap and the second lap was better. It was just an inconsistent balance, which is the same as I had this morning. Takuma (Sato) is doing a good job, but I am just unhappy with the car. We didn’t have a great practice and it just carried over to qualifying. We’ll see what practice brings tonight and try to bounce back Saturday night.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): 
“Overall, it was a pretty good day. The SealMaster Honda No. 18 was good this morning in practice and it was good in qualifying. It’s very hot, so the car wasn’t as stuck as it was in practice. We lost a lot of grip because the track was so much hotter, close to 140 (degrees), but it’s the same for everyone. The guys gave me a good car. I was pretty comfortable with the balance. I had a little understeer, but I knew what I was going to get before the qualifying run. A good run, so pretty happy.

ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “The first half of practice earlier, I felt like we were really good. Then as people starting doing (qualifying simulations), we kind of fell behind. We took a little bit of a swing at it there in qualifying and just missed the balance. Ultimately, I think the speed is there. I wasn’t flat, I was lifting in (Turn) 1 and 2 for understeer. However, I thought the car was really good on long runs. I’ve struggled here in qualifying and gotten to the front before, that’s what we will do tomorrow.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “It’s definitely a lot harder to drive here today in these conditions than it was in the tests. We had a little bit too much understeer in (Turns) 1 and 2 that made me have to get out of the throttle. We’re going to have our work cut out for us tomorrow night, but hopefully, we’ll make good progress in tonight’s final practice.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet): “We (Team Penske) seem to qualify (on the) front row pretty much every oval. We missed the pole on three ovals so far by a little bit. It was a fantastic effort from the whole No. 22 team. We had a bit of a tough practice this morning. We managed to make the right changes for this afternoon qualifying. I held my breath for those two laps – managed to keep the pedal to the floor the whole time. The handling was really good. Thanks to my engineer for sorting that out. Obviously, it’s super important for us to do well this weekend for DXC. It’s an incredible partner we have…they do all the data and analytics for the race team, basically get all the information from the cars, the other teammates for us as soon as possible to be successful on the racetrack. They’re obviously a leader in their industry, just like Team Penske. Having these two together is a dream team. We couldn’t be happier to have them onboard and be here as the title sponsor, as well.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “I’m pretty confident and happy with that qualifying run from the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet. We had a couple of issues on our qualifying sims this morning in practice, just with traffic and things like that, but overall, I’m just really proud of the Carlin guys. We unloaded here at Texas with a very stable car, and I’ve got to say that with how intimidating this place can be for both drivers and teams alike, that’s pretty impressive. It’s going to be a long race tomorrow night – it’s going to be hot and slippery. I honestly think that whoever takes care of their tires the longest during the race will end up the best.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Relay Group 1001 Honda): “We just missed the tools the first lap. Obviously, you don’t know what you’re getting until you get out there. This being my first time here, I was a little conservative on the first lap and that hurt us. You should be flat through (Turn) 1, I tried to keep it flat as long as I could, but the front end took off on me. I’m kind of kicking myself because the second lap is what the first lap should have also been.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “I don’t think we had enough for the front row, but maybe a Row 2. We just had quite a bit of understeer that built pretty dramatically on the first lap. That’s the way it goes. I think it’s more important to have a car that’s strong. We were pretty happy with the NAPA car this morning and have another practice session tonight. It’s going to be a long night tomorrow night, and it will be about staying out of trouble.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “We just have to keep the momentum going – last weekend was a huge weekend for us, but we’ve got to keep it rolling. The points are going to be so valuable, the competition is so close, the competition is so tight that you can’t really afford to give up much as the season rolls along. Hopefully, we can put it together here in tonight’s practice – tonight’s practice is going to be so important. We’re starting 10th, and we can absolutely do it from there with a strong car.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 ABeam Consulting Honda): “It was a little sketchy in Turns 1 and 2 and I had to lift a little bit because the car was sliding over the bumps; it was a little bit too neutral. But in Turns 3 and 4, I was happy certainly after today’s practice session, I am happy with the speed I achieved. I’m happy that qualifying went extremely well with the No. 30 car under the circumstances. For the race, we are way over 400 pounds down on downforce from last year, so obviously, you can expect that the pack will be a little bit stretched out and it will be very difficult to follow as you observed in the Indy 500. With the banking here, typically Texas is a good two-wide race. Once the sun sets, I think you will be able to use the second lane and it will still be an exciting race.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “We had a problem with the throttle body this morning, so we were only able to do about 10 laps of pushing. We’ve had no testing here as a new team and going into a qualifying session in this heat is just extremely difficult for any team, but especially a new team. We just did the job we needed to do with the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet. At the end of the day, at a track like Texas Motor Speedway, you can qualify last and still come back and win the race.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “The car felt fantastic today. The guys have been full throttle for so long and I’m happy with the car they gave me, so I know we’ll be able to get it to the front during the race tomorrow. Texas is one of my favorite tracks because I’ve had some of my best results here, so we’ll see how everything pans out.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda): “I don’t think we had enough for pole, but fortunately, it’s 248 laps – a long night tomorrow night. This is a big home race for U.S. Concrete, and we’re proud to carry their colors and look forward to, hopefully, getting them into victory circle tomorrow.”

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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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