Some bits and pieces on this year’s Indy 500 field

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– If you’re into numerology, it would appear that the number four is playing a role in how this 97th Indianapolis 500 is playing out so far. The field for this year’s running features four former winners of the “500” (Dario Franchitti, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon and Buddy Lazier), four rookie drivers (Carlos Munoz, A.J. Allmendinger, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly), and four female drivers (Simona de Silvestro, Ana Beatriz, Pippa Mann, and Katherine Legge). One wonders if this bodes well for J.R. Hildebrand in the No. 4 Panther Racing Chevrolet. Or maybe it means good luck for the driver starting fourth on Sunday, Andretti Autosport’s E.J. Viso?

– There is a combined total of 144 Indianapolis 500 starts across this year’s field, up from the 103 years of combined experience in last year’s field. However, it’s a long way off from the race record of 260 years of experience, which has been set twice in 1987 and 1992.

– The oldest driver in the field also has the most previous starts of anyone in the field, too. Buddy Lazier, 45, managed to make his 17th Indy 500 this afternoon during Bump Day. But it’s likely safe to assume that Lazier will never get the record for most starts all-time, which belongs to four-time “500” winner and current IndyCar team owner A.J. Foyt. “Supertex” notched 35 Indy starts, all consecutive, from 1958 to 1992.

– This year’s field averaged a qualifying speed of 226.176 miles per hour, good enough to be the fourth-fastest field in “500” history. The fastest grid ever at Indy was the 2002 edition, which averaged 228.648 miles per hour.

– The starters will now be heading off across the continent to promote this year’s race. Here’s where they’ll be going for their respective media tours:

  • New York: Helio Castroneves and Dario Franchitti
  • Detroit: Will Power, Townsend Bell and Simona de Silvestro
  • Cincinnati: Ed Carpenter, Justin Wilson and Tony Kanaan
  • Philadelphia: Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe
  • Birmingham, Ala.: Josef Newgarden
  • Charlotte: A.J. Allmendinger
  • Columbus, Oh.: James Jakes
  • Chicago: Graham Rahal
  • Dallas: Marco Andretti
  • Dayton, Oh.: Buddy Lazier and Pippa Mann
  • Houston: Takuma Sato
  • Lafayette, Ind.: Ana Beatriz
  • Louisville, Ky.: Conor Daly and Katherine Legge
  • Los Angeles: J.R. Hildebrand
  • Miami: Carlos Munoz, Sebastian Saavedra, Oriol Servia, and E.J. Viso
  • Milwaukee: Simon Pagenaud and Charlie Kimball
  • Tampa Bay: Sebastien Bourdais and Tristan Vautier
  • Toronto: James Hinchcliffe and Alex Tagliani
  • Washington, DC: Ryan Hunter-Reay

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Remaining part-time drivers

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MotorSportsTalk wraps up its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017 with the remaining part-time drivers, after the 23 drivers who ran anywhere from six events to the full season.

There were 15 drivers who made four or fewer starts this season. Some overly impressed or drew major headlines in their limited opportunities.

They were, by start count:

  • Sebastian Saavedra (No. 17 Juncos Racing Chevrolet, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 4)
  • Gabby Chaves (No. 88 Harding Racing Chevrolet, 3)
  • Oriol Servia (No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, 3)
  • Jack Harvey (No. 50 MSR w/Andretti Autosport Honda, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 3)
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet, 2)
  • Zach Veach (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, No. 40 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet, 2)
  • Fernando Alonso (No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti Honda, 1)
  • Pippa Mann (No. 63 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Jay Howard (No. 77 Team One Cure/SPM Honda, 1)
  • Sage Karam (No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet, 1)
  • James Davison (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Tristan Vautier (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Buddy Lazier (No. 44 Lazier Racing Partners Chevrolet, 1)
  • Zachary Claman DeMelo (No. 13 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, 1)
  • Robert Wickens (No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, Practice Only)

Going through them, in terms of impact, Alonso’s one-off at the Indianapolis 500 easily resonated loudest. It was incredible to witness the amount of buzz, worldwide support and media attention that Alonso generated, and fueled a running joke that he was the only driver in this year’s race. It was capped off when he beat Ed Jones to race rookie-of-the-year honors, despite losing a Honda engine late while Jones dragged a broken Dale Coyne Racing car to third place.

Elsewhere, Chaves and Harding Racing’s debut was the most unexpected pleasant surprise from a driver and team standpoint. A solid ninth at Indianapolis was followed by an even more impressive fifth at Texas. Their three oval races laid the groundwork for a step-up to a full-time entry in 2018.

Montoya proved he still had it with a pair of top-10s in a fifth Team Penske car. He’ll be in Penske’s Acura prototype sports car program next year and the hope is that we haven’t seen the last of him in IndyCar.

Saavedra re-established himself on the scene after a year-plus hiatus. The likable Colombian overachieved given low expectations with two different teams. Whether it was enough to see him and longtime backer AFS Racing for further races in 2018 is unknown.

Harvey and Veach each came up to IndyCar for a cup of coffee, both rookies in the Indianapolis 500 alongside Alonso and Jones while also getting additional road course starts. Neither of them looked a world-beater in their road course outings owing to tough circumstances, but they logged key laps and miles to build for a brighter future from 2018 and beyond in recently announced multi-year programs (Harvey with Michael Shank Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and Veach with Andretti Autosport).

Of the rest, Servia’s results left a bit to be desired, a potential top-five fading in Indy when he and Davison collided to trigger a multi-car pileup. Davison and Vautier impressed in their lone starts of the year with their pace and aggression but were unable to parlay them into results.

Mann made her usual Indy 500 one-off entry and secured her best finish in six starts, but pressed through a challenging month that she’ll be keen to improve upon in 2018. Her day was significantly better than Howard’s and Lazier’s, who both ended their ‘500 bows in the wall, and with Howard having contributed to Scott Dixon’s savage accident when he crashed in Turn 1 and then came into Dixon’s path.

“ZCD” made his debut at Sonoma in a second RLL Racing entry and did rather well, competitive on lap times as the weekend progressed on a track that’s notoriously low-grip. Wickens never got that far. Despite a preseason ride swap with his close friend James Hinchcliffe that reignited his passion for open-wheel after several years, and with Mercedes announcing it would pull the plug on its DTM program after 2018, Wickens got only a practice day at Road America before Mikhail Aleshin sorted his visa issues. The circumstances evolved in Wickens’ favor at season’s end to see him get the second seat for 2018 at SPM after all.