Andretti Autosport comes up empty after dominant month of May

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They were the dominant team of this year’s month of May in Indianapolis. And yet, somehow, it all ended so empty for Andretti Autosport.

Colombian rookie Carlos Munoz repeated his heroics of qualifying as he finished second after starting there. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti finished just behind in third and fourth, but were out of position and firmly “in the wrong place at the wrong time” toward the end of the race. E.J. Viso had his best 500 appearance but ended only 18th after a pit stop stall, while James Hinchcliffe was the team’s only non-factor, with a near spin off Turn 2 and a disappointing 21st place result.

All five drivers combined to lead the race for a total of 81 laps (Andretti 31, Hunter-Reay 26, Munoz 12, Hinchcliffe 7 and Viso 5). But it was where Hunter-Reay, Munoz and Andretti were all stationed for the thrilling climax of the race that ultimately proved their demise.

On lap 197, Hunter-Reay restarted first ahead of eventual race winner Tony Kanaan, with Munoz third and Andretti fourth. Hunter-Reay was a sitting duck on the restart and Kanaan blew past, with Munoz following suit shortly thereafter.

“We were leading and the rest is history,” Hunter-Reay admitted. “When you’re up front leading, especially on a restart, you might as well be driving a bulldozer.  Everybody came on by. I’m actually happy we got third.  I figured with that restart, being first, we would have been shuffled back to fourth or so.”

Given the way the race had transpired, with lead changes happening nearly every lap, if not more than once during a lap, Hunter-Reay had reason to feel aggrieved.

He led 13 times for 26 laps and had it not been for the final caution when Dario Franchitti crashed, Hunter-Reay could have repassed Kanaan to take the lead back. All that said, Hunter-Reay was fine with the race ending under yellow, given the tradition of just 200 laps and 500 miles for Indianapolis.

“This is Indy, there’s a certain way things are done.  If tradition is tradition, we don’t materialize results, we don’t try to produce results out of green-white-checkereds.  It can be a bit gimmicky.”

Munoz, who ended best of all five drivers, was the month’s revelation. Showing the sign and grit of determination, he was actually disappointed with second – ironic given he didn’t mind ending fourth on Friday in the dramatic conclusion to the Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100!

“I really wanted to fight for the win, maybe I could win, maybe not, but I really wanted to fight,” Munoz said. “Hopefully in the future, I will be able to drink milk. Right now, I’m thirsty.”

Andretti, once again, seemed the presumptive favorite heading into Sunday. And once again, he came up short. A positive takeaway is that he now leads the points by 11 over Takuma Sato, but it was small consolation.

“It was unfortunate as I fell to the back late. It’s very frustrating,” he admitted to ABC post-race. “But if anyone deserves a win it’s him (Kanaan).”

Viso was another who had a shot but a stall on a lap 154 pit stop cost him any chance. Hinchcliffe’s dirt-tracking escapades around the halfway mark, where he caught the car on exit of Turn 2, was symptomatic of a rare day where his usually stellar GoDaddy crew just missed the setup.

The positive is that Michael Andretti’s team could afford to be disappointed with three of its cars in the top five. Of course, at Indy, winning is really the only thing that matters.

BREAKING: Wehrlein ruled out, Giovinazzi to sub at Australian GP

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After Friday’s practice sessions and after having been originally cleared to race for the Australian Grand Prix, it has been determined that Sauber F1 Team’s Pascal Wehrlein will not be able to continue in the rest of the weekend. He opted to rule himself out due to his fitness level.

“My fitness level is not as it should be for a full race distance because of my training deficit. I explained the situation to the team yesterday evening. Therefore, the Sauber F1 Team has decided not to take any risks. It is a pity, but the best decision for the team,” Wehrlein said in a release.

Wehrlein missed the opening test at Barcelona before resuming for the second test. He’d had a back injury sustained in an accident at the Race of Champions event in Miami in January.

As for that opening test, Antonio Giovinazzi, the Italian Ferrari reserve driver, will fill in for the German. This was meant to be Wehrlein’s first race with Sauber; instead, it will be Giovinazzi’s Grand Prix debut.

“We have great respect of Pascal’s openness and professionalism. This decision was definitely not an easy one for him, it underlines his qualities as a team player. The focus is now on his fitness level, and in such a situation we do not take any unnecessary risks. Pascal will be in China as planned,” team principal Monisha Kaltenborn added.

This isn’t the first injury fill-in to race in F1 in recent years; twice, Fernando Alonso has missed a race each of the last two years.

After a testing crash at Barcelona in 2015, Kevin Magnussen filled in in Alonso’s McLaren Honda, although was unable to start the race with a mechanical before the lights even went out. Meanwhile Alonso missed last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix after his accident at Melbourne, which opened the door for Stoffel Vandoorne to make his debut, and the Belgian promptly scored a point.

Giovinazzi has no prior experience at the Albert Park circuit and so will have to learn the track during FP3, which runs at 11 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports App. Qualifying takes place at 2 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

Here’s pics and notes from NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton, who is on the ground in Melbourne:

More races, more friction in the future for F1

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) The new owners of Formula One are planning to have more races and a greater presence in North America, and wouldn’t mind revving up the ratings with some extra friction among drivers.

Sean Bratches, the managing director of commercial operations for the Formula One Group – formerly Liberty Media – which took over the running of the sport in January, is already fielding offers from promotors wanting to buy in.

Lewis Hamilton has suggested Miami and Daniel Ricciardo picked Las Vegas as places they’d like to see new races, and Bratches told a news conference Friday that “there’s no dearth of interest in bringing Formula One to circuits, both track and street, around the world.”

Bratches said he’d had a “number of inquiries from cities, states, municipalities and countries around the world that are interested.”

There are 20 races on the 2017 calendar, starting with the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, and concluding with Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November. The debate over the number and location of races has been frequent over the last decade.

F1 racing returned in 2012 to the United States, where it is held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, in October. While the bulk of the races remain in Europe and Asia, there are also GPs in Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

“Our interest is in expanding the number of circuits in that marketplace, leveraging Austin – our incumbent and the benchmark in terms of what we’re doing in the States,” said Bratches, adding there was clear demand for it in North America. “We’re excited about all markets around the world, but the United States is going to be a focus.”

Three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and Ricciardo, an Australian who finished third on the season standings last year, are among the drivers who’d like to see more than 20 races in the F1 series. Veteran Fernando Alonso also doesn’t mind the idea of expansion, although maybe not for a few years.

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, who has won four world drivers’ titles, thinks 16 to 20 would be enough. All agreed that expansion was pointless unless it increases the level of competition. Hamilton and Mercedes dominated the last three seasons, and Red Bull was dominant for the four seasons before that.

There’s always been driver tension in F1, usually between teams but also involving teammates vying for championships. Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who edged Hamilton for the title last year and then retired, had an openly strained rivalry at Mercedes since 2013.

That’s something former ESPN executive Bratches doesn’t mind.

Responding to a question about the drivers being overly-managed by public relations people, Bratches said: “There’s a number of sports where there’s big personalities that allow sports to punch above their respective pay grades.”

He said the drivers were a big part of the fan engagement.

“Candidly, I would love it if more of the drivers had big personalities, there was more controversy among the drivers – and you kind of unleash them a little bit,” he said. “I think that’s good for all of us.”

Jolyon Palmer on the back foot in Australia after F1 practice crash

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Renault’s Jolyon Palmer has admitted that he is “on the back foot” heading into the remainder of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix after completing just 10 laps in Friday’s Formula 1 practice sessions.

F1 sophomore Palmer arrived in Australia looking to impress after enjoying a bold drive on debut at Albert Park 12 months ago, narrowly missing out on a points finish.

The Briton was the first driver to fall victim of F1’s more challenging cars in an official 2017 race weekend session, losing control through the final corner and slamming into the wall to bring his FP2 running to an early end.

This followed a problem earlier in the day that had limited his FP1 mileage, leaving Palmer with just 10 laps to his name from three hours of Friday running.

“Sadly it was a pretty short day for me in terms of time in the car. We had a minor technical issue in the first session then I had an off in FP2, which unlike FP1 required more than one part replacing,” Palmer explained.

“I’m not sure exactly what happened and we’ll be having a close look at the data. I feel for my crew as they have a decent amount of work to do.

“I’m hopeful of more track time tomorrow, but we’ll be on the back foot heading into qualifying after only 10 laps today.”

Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 2am ET on Saturday morning.

Indy 500 champ Rossi takes his shot with the Blackhawks (PHOTOS)

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There are many cool things you get to do after winning the Indianapolis 500. Visiting the grounds of one of the NHL’s most successful, Stanley Cup-winning teams is one of them.

Andretti-Herta Autosport’s Alexander Rossi visited Chicago this week to meet up with the Chicago Blackhawks, trading in his usual No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts Honda for a No. 98 jersey.

Usually it’s the ‘Hawks that are one of the top teams in the NHL and a usual Stanley Cup trophy winner – they’ve won in 2013 and 2015, recently – but it’s the Cubs that right now host a championship trophy having won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

Anyway, here’s a few photos and videos from Rossi’s trip to Chitown, which also included his own chance to shoot a puck.

Rossi took a photo with iconic Blackhawks singer Jim Cornelison:

Here’s Rossi with Marian Hossa:

Here’s a quick photo before practicing, then video of Rossi practicing:

Rossi paid a visit to WGN Radio:

And all told, Rossi was a fan: