Indy 500 driver-by-driver one-liners

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The deeper analysis of this year’s Indianapolis 500 has already occurred. Now, MotorSportsTalk’s IndyCar writers offer their final say on each of the 33 drivers ready to take the green flag at noon today. This year’s field is one of the deepest in recent memory, and it’s hard to be too high or low on anyone. So, without further adieu, our final take on the field of 33:

Row 1

20-Ed Carpenter (Ed Carpenter Racing/Chevrolet)

Tony DiZinno: He’ll be up front over the course of the race; for him, it comes down to positioning for the final 100 miles.

Chris Estrada: The Indiana native was a threat to win late last year, and if he can stay out of trouble, I see no reason why he can’t contend for at least a top five once more.

26-Carlos Munoz (Andretti Autosport/Chevrolet)

TDZ: With clean lines and a patient drive, a top-10 finish and perhaps Rookie-of-the-Year honors could follow.

CE: A Top-10 result would be a nice ending to a great month for the Colombian youngster, who has turned a lot of heads with his efforts.

25-Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport/Chevrolet)

TDZ: He’s never had a better chance to win, and his improved race focus and mentality should see him in contention until the end.

CE: The third-generation racer has grown considerably in maturity and in race craft, and he could definitely be in the mix for the win if he’s in position late.

Row 2

5-E.J. Viso (Andretti Autosport + HVM/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Viso is happier, cleaner and driving within himself, and should not be overlooked within the Andretti camp – a top-five would be a great result.

CE: Things have been coming together nicely for Viso this season, and his confidence should grow even more with a good finish.

2-A.J. Allmendinger (Team Penske/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Has everything to gain in terms of future full-time IndyCar prospects from a great race, and has the benefit of Roger Penske on his radio.

CE: I have the sense that ‘Dinger will be steady in his first ‘500’ and have a moment or two to really shine on Sunday. Give him credit for quickly embracing this race’s traditions.

12-Will Power (Team Penske/Chevrolet)

TDZ: In bizarro world, Power wins this year’s 500 to catapult himself back into title contention from the doldrums of the standings; in reality, his best case result is probably a solid top-10 finish.

CE: He could be the wild card in the Penske deck. He certainly has a chance with the team and talent he has, but hasn’t had the greatest luck here (or ovals, in general).

Row 3

1-Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport/Chevrolet)

TDZ: He’s too good a driver to have not had better results in Indy, and might have the strongest of the Andretti cars in race trim.

CE: That same thing about luck at Indy goes for the reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion, too. But like Power, he’s definitely aiming for the front.

3-Helio Castroneves (Team Penske/Chevrolet)

TDZ: He needs a comeback from the abyss of anonymity in the last three years, and he hasn’t looked particularly strong in race trim.

CE: Barring trouble on the track or in the pits, racing’s original “Spider-Man” stands a shot at joining some very illustrious company as a four-time ‘500’ winner.

27-James Hinchcliffe (Andretti Autosport/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Would be a popular winner, but more likely to finish from fifth through 10th given the level of competition around him.

CE: The Canadian has been part of a noteworthy month for Andretti Autosport, and he has the potential to be a dark horse late in the going.

Row 4

4-J.R. Hildebrand (Panther Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: A win – or being in the top-five late on merit – would do wonders to vault him into the spotlight for something other than his last lap accident in 2011.

CE: Few seem to be talking about the 2011 “500” runner-up, but his team has shown time and again that it knows the Brickyard very well. Watch that No. 4 car.

98-Alex Tagliani (Barracuda-BHA/Honda)

TDZ: As good a sleeper pick to win as you can make in this field – this team won two years ago and Tagliani has gotten everything and then some out of his Barracuda Honda this month.

CE: Outright speed hasn’t been a problem for Tagliani at Indianapolis, but he hasn’t been able to convert quality starts into really good finishes. Still, a top-10 is not out of the realm of possibility.

11-Tony Kanaan (KV Racing Technology/Chevrolet)

TDZ: The people’s champ, but he’s struggled to find a balance in race trim all month, and will need to rely on his usual passing and restart heroics to have a chance to win.

CE: A victory for TK at the Brickyard would trigger some of the loudest cheers this old track will ever hear. He can definitely have a say in how this race ends.

Row 5

22-Oriol Servia (Panther DRR/Chevrolet)

TDZ: He’s been Indy’s “ghost driver” in years past, coming from nowhere to contention in the dying stages, and will be extra motivated to do so again and potentially add more races to his 2013 schedule.

CE: The Spaniard has been sneaky quick in his last two tries at Indy, and charged from 27th to fourth last year. A steady car can put him in contention again.

19-Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing/Honda)

TDZ: He’s downplayed his chances but some other Honda runners like his car in race trim – Wilson should be a top-10, possible top-five finisher.

CE: Wilson also came from the back of the field to a Top-10 result last year. His overall work on the ovals has improved and another Top-10 could be in the cards for him.

7-Sebastien Bourdais (Dragon Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Despite a flashy chrome and red livery, Bourdais’ pace this month has not gotten the credit it deserves this month; the question is whether his team can keep him in contention for 500 miles.

CE: Nobody doubts the talent of the four-time Champ Car World Series champion but he has definitely been flying under the radar this May. Don’t be surprised if he makes his way toward the front on Sunday, however.

Row 6

9-Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Never rule him out, and if he isn’t in the top five going into the last 100 miles, it would be a surprise.

CE: Always there, always lurking. He’s won the “500” once before and if he has no issues, you can bet he’ll be fighting for a second victory at Indy.

10-Dario Franchitti (Target Chip Ganassi Racing/Honda)

TDZ: His team found something on Carb Day but otherwise has struggled this month – that said, like Dixon, he’ll be there at the end in some way, shape or form.

CE: Franchitti’s run at Indy over the last few years has been sensational. Remember, he was knocked to 28th last year after an early pit road incident and still came back and won. Never count this guy out.

14-Takuma Sato (A.J. Foyt Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Driving at the top of his game right now, and buoyed by the confidence of his run last year, should once again figure into the top five in the last 100 miles.

CE: His emergence this season has been one of the better stories from the IndyCar paddock. I can see him being up toward the front again at Indy like he was in 2012. Expect a lot of cheers if he is there.

Row 7

83-Charlie Kimball (Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Has finished 500 miles both of his first two starts, and another in the “sleeper top-10 finisher” category this time around, if not the outright fastest.

CE: He bagged a solid Top-10 finish last year in the “500,” but with this competitive of a field, a Top-15 may be the most likely target this time around for Kimball.

16-James Jakes (Rahal Letterman Lanigan/Honda)

TDZ: All I can say about Jakes is that no one expected Bertrand Baguette and Takuma Sato to be in the winning frame late for RLL the last two years, and if the team again plays the strategy cards right, this is your “über-sleeper.”

CE: The thing that strikes me about Jakesy is that he keeps out of trouble. That could play to his advantage if there’s a higher rate of attrition on Sunday.

77-Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports/Honda)

TDZ: Very strong in race trim, and with a year’s worth of oval experience behind him, Pagenaud has the confidence and team to contend for a top-10, perhaps top-five, run on Sunday.

CE: He was the fastest man on Carb Day and considering how wide-open the grid is, a top-10 finish is definitely doable for IndyCar’s reigning rookie of the year.

Row 8

60-Townsend Bell (Panther Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: If his pit crew can keep him in the frame for all 500 miles, Bell is the one of strongest of the Indy-only entries.

CE: The veteran driver has proven to be a steady and reliable one whenever he’s called upon. A top-10 finish would be far from unexpected for him.

8-Ryan Briscoe (Chip Ganassi Racing/Honda)

TDZ: He’ll have a fresh engine but hasn’t had the smoothest of months; in a one-off entry, it’s hard to see him doing much better than 10th.

CE: Last year’s “500” pole winner has had to deal with qualifying difficulties and a blown engine this month, but he’s had success here in the past. He could be a sleeper as the race plays out.

78-Simona de Silvestro (KV Racing Technology/Chevrolet)

TDZ: She needs race laps more than anything else, and a finish of any kind would be a boost after two challenging race days the last two years.

CE: The Brickyard hasn’t always treated her well – and that may be putting it mildly. But now that she has a competitive engine, expect her to come away with a finish better or close to her Indy best of 14th (2010).

Row 9

21-Josef Newgarden (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Another sleeper, Newgarden’s maturation process is noticeable from his first to second years, but he and the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team need to avoid reliability pitfalls.

CE: The social media maven can rise up the pylon on Sunday but with his starting position, he’ll definitely need a good car in traffic to do it.

15-Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan/Honda)

TDZ: Like Jakes, Graham has the benefit of RLL strategy in his camp, but has struggled for pace; most likely, a borderline top-10 finisher at best.

CE: A win from him would make the Rahals the second father-son combo to win the “500.” One wonders how that would make their rivals, the Andrettis, feel.

6-Sebastian Saavedra (Dragon Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Just finishing his third Indy 500 start would be a victory for the Colombian and his spiked hair; finishing ahead of Katherine Legge, whom he replaced at Dragon, would be a bonus.

CE: The most memorable moment of the month for Saavedra may wind up being his chrome silver and blue paint job literally going to pieces in a practice session.

Row 10

55-Tristan Vautier (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports/Honda)

TDZ: Given he’s the only full-season rookie in the field, just needs race laps and a finish from his first 500, with anything 15th or better a bonus.

CE: The Frenchman needs to show a lot of patience as he makes his way from Row 10. Finishing this race on the lead lap would be a good showing for him.

18-Ana Beatriz (Dale Coyne Racing/Honda)

TDZ: With three DNFs from the first four races, Beatriz is another in the “needs a finish first” camp, and would go a long way for her participation the rest of this season.

CE: Beatriz has had finishes of 21st, 21st and 23rd in her first three Indy appearances. That would appear to be right where she’ll likely be again.

63-Pippa Mann (Dale Coyne Racing/Honda)

TDZ: After her car had a vibration on Carb Day, Mann just needs to run 500 trouble-free miles this Sunday.

CE: The Englishwoman did a great job getting her car into the show, but she’s going to need a strong race car in order to keep from being lapped.

Row 11

41-Conor Daly (A.J. Foyt Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Good name, good genes, but a rough month for Foyt’s rookie; if he cracks the top-15, it’s a good result.

CE: The mission is simple: Run as many laps as you can, bring it back in one piece, enjoy the experience.

91-Buddy Lazier (Lazier Partners Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: He’s fit and his car looks sharp, but he’s unlikely to trouble the leaders at any point.

CE: Does the 1996 Indy winner have another good run left in him at the Speedway? Lord knows, he’ll try. Much like Kanaan, he’s a bulldog. A top 20 sounds right.

81-Katherine Legge (Schmidt Peterson Pelfrey Motorsports/Honda)

TDZ: There’s nothing to lose for her, with a car that was quick on Carb Day and wanting to again prove herself in her first IndyCar start of the year; she potentially could finish in the 10th-to-15th range.

CE: A nice showing on Carb Day (eighth-quickest) may indicate that she has something decent for the race.

Vettel ‘not looking for excuses’ after P4 in Baku qualifying

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Sebastian Vettel will start fourth for Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix (9 a.m. ET, NBCSN) with a thus far off the boil weekend for Scuderia Ferrari.

Vettel, who leads the Formula 1 championship by 12 points over Lewis Hamilton heading into Sunday’s race at the Baku City Circuit, had a pre-qualifying engine change and didn’t appear to have the pace of the Mercedes AMG Petronas pair this session.

But for Vettel, he didn’t seem too worried about the lack of pace today or the potential race pace differential between Ferrari and Mercedes on Sunday.

“I don’t want to look for excuses. We were not quick enough,” Vettel told NBCSN’s Will Buxton after qualifying.

“The gap to Mercedes was bigger than anyone expected. Us and Red Bull looked a good match all weekend.

“Overall they felt a little more confident and they found a bit more in the car. I wouldn’t worry too much. It’s not ideal. But the pace should be good for tomorrow’s race.”

Asked whether Mercedes’ pace was too much, Vettel replied, “Today they did, but not tomorrow!”

Vettel was second this race last year and is keen to go one step higher on Sunday. Although from fourth, he’ll have to get past the Finnish pair and proverbial sparring partners Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen to do so. Hamilton has the pole.

“Well, we start P4 – so if we improve by one that’s a podium,” Vettel deadpanned.

“Mercedes will be quick tomorrow, but I have no doubt we can be a match. Let’s see what we can do tomorrow.”

Hamilton: Baku F1 pole ‘one of the most exciting laps’ of the year

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Lewis Hamilton believes that his charge to Formula 1 pole in Azerbaijan on Saturday was “one of the most exciting laps” of the season as he headed up a front-row lock-out for Mercedes.

Hamilton bounced back from a mistake on his first Q3 run to take P1 by four-tenths of a second, moving clear of Ayrton Senna to sit second on the all-time record list with 66 pole positions to his name.

Hamilton struggled throughout the Baku weekend in 2016, and despite coming under pressure to overhaul Mercedes teammate and provisional pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas, the Briton was able to charge it into a stunning final lap.

“That was one of the most exciting laps I’ve had all year,” Hamilton said in parc ferme after qualifying.

“A lot of pressure obviously. The first lap I had the time but made a mistake in the last corner. We’d been struggling to get temps in the tires.

“It was all or nothing. The lap got better and better. I knew Valtteri ahead was on good lap. I came from last corner, saying: ‘Please be enough!’ I’m ecstatic!”

Hamilton made no secret of how much the result and lap meant to him, but he is still anticipating a tough race in Baku given the challenging nature of the high-speed street circuit.

“As I said, I’m so pumped with that. That’s how qualifying should be,” Hamilton said.

“I’m so thankful to put a lap together like that.

“Tomorrow will be a long hard race but today is in the best position to start.”

Hamilton dominates Azerbaijan F1 qualifying for 66th career pole

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Lewis Hamilton moved clear of racing hero Ayrton Senna in the all-time pole position record list by taking the 66th of his Formula 1 career in qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Saturday in Baku.

Hamilton banished the difficulties of his 2016 race in Baku to break the existing pole record time with a lap of 1:40.593, giving him pole by four-tenths of a second ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.

Despite clipping the barrier at Turn 8 with his right-rear tire, Bottas was able to lay down the initial benchmark in Q3, with his lap of 1:31.274 being one-tenth of a second faster than Hamilton’s best effort after the Briton ran wide in the final sector.

Hamilton began to work up a faster lap time, only for his charge to be halted by red flags with three minutes to go in the session when Daniel Ricciardo clipped the wall at Turn 6, sustaining a puncture in the process.

The stoppage left drivers with just three minutes to get back out on-track and get their tires up to temperature, with Hamilton managing to tame his Pirelli super-softs better than the rest.

Kimi Raikkonen led Ferrari’s charge in third place, but was a distant 1.1 seconds off Hamilton at the top. Teammate and F1 championship leader Sebastian Vettel was fourth ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

Force India’s impressive form of late continued as Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon qualified sixth and seventh respectively, while Lance Stroll took eighth for Williams, outqualifying teammate Felipe Massa for the first time. Ricciardo rounded out the top 10 after his shunt.

Toro Rosso suffered a double drop-out in Q2 as Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. struggled for straight-line speed, qualifying 11th and 12th respectively ahead of Haas driver Kevin Magnussen.

Nico Hulkenberg finished 14th for Renault, while Pascal Wehrlein led Sauber through to Q2 in P15 despite the current state of flux at the team following CEO Monisha Kaltenborn’s exit.

Already facing a combined grid drop of 75-places, McLaren-Honda drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne’s struggles continued as they were both eliminated in Q1, finishing 16th and 19th respectively as they failed to make up for the power deficit of the Honda engine.

While Haas got one car through to Q2 after a late lap from Magnussen, teammate Romain Grosjean’s struggles under braking continued as he ailed to P17 ahead of Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson.

Jolyon Palmer propped up the timesheets in P20 after failing to get out in qualifying due to the engine fire that sidelined him in final practice.

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Sunday.

Herta on pole for second Indy Lights race at Road America

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Colton Herta rebounded from a tough Friday dogged by persistent mechanical issues where he was barely on track, and a 13th place start for race one, to take the pole for Sunday’s race two (9 a.m. ET online on IndyCar.com; 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN) for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires at Road America.

The 17-year-old excelled in the cooler conditions this morning for qualifying in his No. 98 Andretti/Steinbrenner Racing Dallara IL-15 Mazda to post a time of 1:52.0034 for the top spot at the 4.014-mile circuit. He’ll start only 13th for today’s first race.

Freedom 100 winner Matheus Leist, who enjoyed his maiden IndyCar test here last week with Andretti-Herta Autosport, was back in his Carlin car and is second on the grid, just 0.0223 of a second off Herta’s time.

For Sunday, points leader Kyle Kaiser made it three teams in the top three for Juncos Racing, with Zachary Claman De Melo and Santiago Urrutia completing the top five on the grid.

Americans Neil Alberico and Aaron Telitz are sixth and seventh with Nico Jamin in eighth.

Leist’s pole time for today’s first race was 1:53.1760 with qualifying in warmer conditions, set yesterday afternoon.

Leist, Alberico and Ryan Norman will lead the field to green, which comes online today at noon CT and local time, 1 p.m. ET, online at IndyCar.com.

Weekend results are linked here.