Carlos Munoz returns Andretti Autosport to top of Indy 500 practice

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After a day where Dario Franchitti interrupted, the Andretti Autosport contingent returned to the top of the timesheets in Thursday’s practice for the Indianapolis 500. Temperatures were cooler than Wednesday, in the 70s (ambient) and 100s (track) throughout the day.

Carlos Munoz, the rookie in the No. 26 Electric Energy Straws Chevrolet, put in the month’s fastest lap of 225.163 on his 60th of 70 laps turned. Ryan Hunter-Reay was second in the No. 1 DHL Chevrolet, at 225.006. Both laps came during the final hour of the day when the track was at its busiest and tows were frequent.

Marco Andretti (Andretti), Scott Dixon (Target Ganassi), Helio Castroneves (Penske) and E.J. Viso (Andretti) made it a “power team” dominated top six on the last day of running before IndyCar increases the boost pressure from 130 kPa to 140 kPA.

The boost increase is expected to provide 40 more horsepower, and roughly 4-5 mph per lap increase. Pole speeds are projected in either the high 229 mph range or potentially the low 230s.

JR Hildebrand (Panther), Ed Carpenter (ECR), Oriol Servia (Panther DRR) and Takuma Sato (Foyt) completed the top 10.

Thirty of the 32 drivers who ran full laps eclipsed the 220 mph barrier, with Ana Beatriz (Coyne) and Michel Jourdain Jr. (RLL) the only two who didn’t.

The thirty-third entrant, 1996 Indianapolis 500 champion Buddy Lazier in the family owned and operated No. 91 Lazier Partners Racing Chevrolet, finally made it on track for three installation laps and systems checks.

A.J. Foyt Racing rookie Conor Daly had the month’s first accident but emerged uninjured. Justin Wilson ran the most laps (100), and excluding Lazier’s three, Alex Tagliani (16) turned in the fewest total of the day.

“Fast Friday” is tomorrow with pole qualifying scheduled for Saturday.

You can see qualifying on Saturday on the NBC Sports Network at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. ET, and Sunday at noon ET. Qualifying will also be live streamed on NBC Sports Live Extra for mobile devices. 

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”