Live Blog for the 97th Indianapolis 500

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2:35 p.m. ET: It’s almost anyone’s race as the field completes its final round of pit stops. Less than 20 laps remain. Frankly, words don’t do this race justice at the moment.

2:20 p.m. ET: A.J. Allmendinger continues to impress in his Indy 500 debut and made his way back to the lead at Lap 137, just 25 laps after briefly going a lap down because of a loose seat belt. But ‘Dinger had to pit at Lap 143, handing the lead over to Marco Andretti, who leads the ‘500’ with 50 laps to go.

Andretti Autosport continues to be at the front of the pack, with Ryan Hunter-Reay trailing teammate Andretti in second and rookie pilot Carlos Munoz in fourth. However, Helio Castroneves has begun to make his presence known and now runs in third. Ed Carpenter and Tony Kanaan are also lurking around the fifth position, trying to get themselves ready to make a late run for the Borg-Warner Trophy.

2:00 P.M. ET: The fourth round of pit stops is in the books, with two more rounds likely to go to make the finish of this year’s Indianapolis 500. As of lap 129, there had been 38 lead changes, a record for the race surpassing the 34 of a year ago.

Andretti Autosport has placed four of its five cars in the top five past the 120-lap, and 300-mile mark. The only exception has been James Hinchcliffe.

Elsewhere AJ Allmendinger made a spirited run to the lead, but was forced to pit off sequence for a belt adjustment. Allmendinger has climbed back to eighth at lap 128 from 25th, and has been a revelation thus far in his Indianapolis 500 debut.

Others of note have been Tony Kanaan, Ed Carpenter, and Honda’s lone fighter Alex Tagliani, although Tagliani dropped outside the top 10 on the most recent pit stop sequence. Oriol Servia, in his last scheduled race for Panther DRR, has also cracked the top 10.

1:45 p.m. ET: Green flag pit stops took place shortly before the halfway point of the Indianapolis 500, with Tony Kanaan cycling back to the front of the field followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay and E.J. Viso. But Team Penske rookie A.J. Allmendinger has now charged all the way to the front, passing Kanaan at Lap 99 to be the leader at 100 of 200 laps. He is the ninth different leader of the race, which has 28 lead changes so far and appears sure to break the overall race record for lead changes (34, set last season).

Allmendinger fell back into the mid-pack earlier in the race, but has come alive in this recent stint. Kanaan currently runs second, with Hunter-Reay in third. Marco Andretti continues to run solidly and has peeled off fourth position from Viso.

Helio Castroneves still is within striking distance of the front, sitting in sixth position as he tries to bring home a fourth Indy 500 title. As for pole sitter Ed Carpenter, he has begun to fall back as of late and now sits in ninth position. Chevy continues to be the top engine manufacturer so far, with Alex Tagliani as the fastest Honda in 10th spot.

1:30 p.m. ET: More than 200 miles (80 laps) are complete in the Indianapolis 500. Chevrolets have dominated the leaderboard with Will Power, Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Ed Carpenter all having moments in the front of the field.

The issue for them at the moment is that leading will burn more fuel compared to running in the draft. Kanaan pitted on lap 29 in the first sequence, at least one and sometimes two to three laps ahead of the field.

At lap 80, Power led Kanaan, Hunter-Reay, Andretti, E.J. Viso, AJ Allmendinger, Carlos Munoz, Helio Castroneves, Alex Tagliani and Carpenter.

Top Honda has been Tagliani, who’s run anywhere between ninth and eleventh.  Fellow Honda runner Takuma Sato, who brought out the most recent caution, has climbed from 27th to 22nd.

Pippa Mann brushed the wall in Turn 4 and is out, and apparent fuel pressure issues have sidelined 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier; that takes two fan favorite underdogs out of the running. Josef Newgarden has also been to the pits with mechanical issues.

An oddity occurred earlier in the race when Rahal Letterman Lanigan teammates Graham Rahal and James Jakes’ teams were each fined $10,000 for blend line violations. The penalty was announced over the radio.

1:15 PM ET: Takuma Sato has brought out the yellow at the Indy 500 after losing control of his car coming out of Turn 2 at Lap 57. However, his No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Honda did not take any damage and was refired.

The spin brought out the yellow flag, and the majority of the field filed in for pit stops on Lap 58. Ryan Hunter-Reay gained two spots to lead Marco Andretti and Ed Carpenter off pit road and right now, they are your Top 3 drivers under caution.

1:05 P.M. ET: We are at 50 laps in the Indianapolis 500, with Ed Carpenter and Marco Andretti continuing their battle for the lead as a rhythm begins to be found on this stint. Andretti jumped Carpenter on the inside as the green flag came back out for a restart on Lap 43, but just two laps later, the pole sitter went back to the front.

Current IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay has been steady so far in these opening stages, moving from seventh to third. Helio Castroneves, chasing a fourth “500” victory, is running fourth, and crowd favorite Tony Kanaan runs fifth after fighting Carpenter and Andretti for the lead in the opening laps.

Takuma Sato has been making some noise and currently is the biggest mover of the race, jumping 11 spots from 18th to seventh behind E.J. Viso. Carlos Munoz, Will Power and Alex Tagliani round out the Top 10.

12:50 P.M. ET: James Jakes is the surprise leader at lap 36, under the second yellow flag period of the day when Sebastian Saavedra crashed in Turn 4. Saavedra pushed up the track in his Dragon Racing Chevrolet and damaged his right front suspension, coming to a stop on the front straight.

Jakes, Pippa Mann, Simona de Silvestro and Graham Rahal pitted on lap 5 and vaulted to the front of the field, the top four positions, when everyone else had completed their first pit stop cycle.

Net leader is Ed Carpenter in fifth, who stopped on lap 30. Hondas appear to have had a fuel mileage edge on the first cycle of stops.

Lead changes have been frequent, often between Carpenter, Marco Andretti and Tony Kanaan, with more than a dozen in the first 36 laps.

Katherine Legge had moved forward almost 10 spots from last on the grid but had a suspension issue that cost her seven laps.

Meanwhile, JR Hildebrand offered insight on what happened to him to the ABC broadcast: “Got a little loose in the middle of the corner, caught it and it snapped. I am really disappointed; we had a car to run up front. We were dialing things in. We were pretty aggressive with downforce levels. It was too light.”

12:25 p.m. ET: We are green for the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500, but already yellow on lap 4 for a heavy accident for Panther Racing’s JR Hildebrand.

The third-year driver lost control through Turn 1, where the back end of his No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet stepped out.

James Hinchcliffe was running right behind him at the time, and passed through the incident without being affected.

Polesitter Ed Carpenter led off the start with Marco Andretti and E.J. Viso jumping ahead of second-starting Carlos Munoz. Will Power runs fifth.

Big movers include Tony Kanaan (12th to seventh), Justin Wilson (14th to 10th), Ryan Briscoe (23rd to 17th), Townsend Bell (22nd to 18th) and Sebastian Saavedra (27th to 19th).

James Jakes, Graham Rahal, Simona de Silvestro, Katherine Legge and Pippa Mann all took the opportunity to pit at lap five, and Charlie Kimball pitted on lap six.

11:45 a.m. ET: Good morning from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the 97th Indianapolis 500 is set to take the green flag in under half an hour. Driver introductions have just taken place and many of the special pre-race traditions that go with the ‘500’ are currently taking place as we speak.

Let’s get to a couple of tidbits before the field of 33 takes the green at the Brickyard. Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing pilot Charlie Kimball, who starts 19th on the inside of Row 7, has been cleared for today’s race after suffering through what he termed “a fierce [virus]” according to The Indianapolis Star. Kimball was a no-show at yesterday’s public driver’s meeting and IPL 500 Festival Parade in downtown Indianapolis, but told the Star that he’s feeling better and didn’t need to take any IV fluids before the race.

Also, 1996 Indy winner Buddy Lazier and his Lazier Partners Racing team has officially dubbed their No. 91 Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet the “Spirit of Oklahoma” in honor of those impacted by last week’s devastating tornado that hit the town of Moore and took the lives of 24 people. The team is also hoping to draw awareness to the American Red Cross’ relief efforts in the Sooner State, to which fans can donate $10 by texting REDCROSS to 90999. Lazier starts 32nd on the grid today.

Keep watching this space as we’ll be providing updates from IMS throughout the race and, of course, after it here on MotorSportsTalk.

Matheus Leist scores pole for Indy Lights’ Freedom 100

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INDIANAPOLIS – Persistent rain threatened to halted all track activity Thursday for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, before efforts to dry the track came good later on Friday.

But once qualifying occurred, Matheus Leist secured the pole for the marquee race of the Indy Lights season, Friday’s Freedom 100 (live, 12 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The Freedom 100 has a knack for throwing up surprise polesitters – Ethan Ringel and Ken Losch immediately come to mind – and Leist, the Brazilian rookie in his first-ever oval start, now joins that list.

Leist, driver of the No. 26 Carlin Dallara IL-15 Mazda, looked a promising prospect after posting the first official lap over 200 mph in series history, a tow-assisted lap of 201.032 mph (44.7690 seconds), and also the best no-tow speed of 199.354.

He backed up with laps of 199.268 and 199.128, respectively, for a new two-lap record of 199.198 mph. The previous mark was held by Ringel, in the first year of the new car in 2015, at 197.684 mph.

Despite seven other drivers that took their shot to beat him, none did. Colton Herta came the closest with a two-lap average of 198.648 in the No. 98 Andretti/Steinbrenner Racing entry.

Two more of Herta’s Andretti Autosport teammates posted excellent qualifying runs. Dalton Kellett, who was third here last year in what stands as his best Indy Lights finish to date, will roll off from the same position in his teal-and-white No. 28 car, while rookie Ryan Norman will start alongside in the No. 48 Andretti Autosport entry, keeping up his strong weekend.

Zachary Claman De Melo completed the top five in the second of four Carlin entries, while Aaron Telitz upheld Belardi Auto Racing’s honor with sixth on the grid.

While Herta enters Friday’s race third in points, 18 behind the top two, neither Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing) nor Nico Jamin (Andretti Autosport), had good qualifying runs.

With speeds of 196.058 (Kaiser) and 195.661 (Jamin), they’ll roll off from positions 11 and 13 in the 14-car field.

Here are your qualifying speeds and provisional starting lineup for Friday.

Prior to qualifying, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway crew got the track dry in time for a 20-minute practice, which Leist also led.

As you can see below, drivers spent the rain delay trying to make due of things.

The points standings heading into tomorrow’s race are below:

1. 18-Kyle Kaiser, 139
2. 27-Nico Jamin, 126
3. 98-Colton Herta, 121
4. 22-Neil Alberico, 103
5. 9-Aaron Telitz, 97
6. 26-Matheus Leist, 89
7. 5-Santiago Urrutia, 87
8. 13-Zachary Claman De Melo, 87
9. 51-Shelby Blackstock, 80
10. 31-Nicolas Dapero, 75
11. 48-Ryan Norman, 71
12. 28-Dalton Kellett, 64
13. 2-Juan Piedrahita, 55
14. 11-Garth Rickards, 54

Hinchcliffe will donate brain to study race-related concussions to help safety of sport

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INDIANAPOLIS – James Hinchcliffe is well known throughout the Verizon IndyCar Series for his sense of humor.

He’s the kind of guy that keeps not just his own team loose, but also does the same for other teams and fans.

Even when he’s talking about a serious topic, he can usually be counted on interjecting at least one or two great one-liners.

Hinchcliffe was in his usual form during Thursday’s Indianapolis 500 Media Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But while he joked at times, the underlying message he tried to get across was very serious and very poignant to all forms of motorsports.

Namely, concussions and concussion research.

Hinchcliffe went so far as to say that when he passes away, he’s ready to donate his brain to science so it can be studied, particularly for some of the impacts and resulting concussions he’s endured throughout his racing career.

“Oh yeah, 100 percent, absolutely, it’s a done deal,” Hinchcliffe replied when asked if he’d ever consider donating his brain.

He then added with a whimsy but serious reality, “If it can help, if it can be put to use, I’ve got no need for it at that point. Absolutely, I’d donate it to the cause.”

Hinchcliffe said he’s studied the topic of racing-related concussions in all forms of motorsports, particularly IndyCar and NASCAR.

The Canadian driver, who sat on the pole for last year’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, said he’s thought on occasions about the ramifications of concussions upon race car drivers.

But it was NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s concussion that forced him to sit out the entire second half of last season that greatly increased the attention of a number of drivers across all forms of motorsports.

“Honestly, I think most guys would be in a similar situation,” Hinchcliffe said. “Dale’s (Earnhardt’s) situation, I think that was something that a lot of guys had never been asked.

“But as soon as it was brought up, it was a no-brainer.”

Hinchcliffe then grew embarrassed when he realized his verbal faux pas and apologized, but his message was still on-point.

“It’s a very easy decision for us,” Hinchcliffe said. “If we can do something now, especially with something we don’t need anymore (after dying) and it’s going to help benefit the future safety of our sport, then it’s an easy call.”

Hinchcliffe starts 17th in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda for Sunday’s race, a year after qualifying for the pole position.

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Vice President Mike Pence confirms Indy 500 visit

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INDIANAPOLIS – Vice President Mike Pence, the former Gov. of Indiana, will be “back home again” this weekend for the Indianapolis 500.

The slight difference, of course, is that his main residence is now in Washington, D.C. since the inauguration of President Donald Trump in January.

Pence is a longtime fan and visitor of the race, so while he confirmed he’ll attend on Thursday, it will not be in any official capacity.

“The Vice President is a Hoosier, grew up here, and tweeted some photos. He will be here as a fan. There will be no official role for him at the Indianapolis 500,” said Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles on Thursday.

Rumors percolated on Wednesday he’d be in attendance. On Wednesday, Boles said IMS was in the process of preparing for Pence’s arrival from security and operational protocols.

“We have heard, as have all of you, that there is a possibility the Vice President of United States,” Boles said Wednesday. “We are not in position yet to confirm or deny yet; however I can tell you we are preparing for it. As soon as we know, we hope to know by end of the day tomorrow, we’ll have another one of these briefings.”

Indeed they have on Thursday. The only major change announced was that there will be no pedestrian traffic at Gate 4.

“The Turn 2 suites, just South of those suites is what we call Gate 4. Gate 4 will be closed to pedestrian traffic beginning tomorrow,” Boles said.

Vettel not counting Mercedes out of Monaco F1 pole fight

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Sebastian Vettel is refusing to discount Mercedes from the fight for Formula 1 pole in Monaco this weekend despite the German marque’s quiet showing in Thursday’s practice sessions.

Vettel led Ferrari to the top of the timesheets in FP2 with the fastest-ever lap around the streets of Monaco, finishing almost half a second clear of the field.

Vettel’s F1 title rival Lewis Hamilton struggled through second practice, finishing over a second off the pace in eighth place for Mercedes as the team moved in the wrong direction on car setup.

Nevertheless, Vettel is refusing to discount Hamilton or teammate Valtteri Bottas from the fight for pole, believing Mercedes will find its feet again come Saturday’s qualifying session.

“I am not counting out Mercedes. They probably had a problem today, but I am sure they will be back to full force on Saturday,” Vettel said, as quoted by the official F1 website.

“It is Thursday so there is plenty of time for them to sort things out. My guess is that it will be very close – and that the five-tenths are not the reality.

“We have been able to put it together today and I am happy about that. It was a good start into the weekend. Now let’s let that sink in and see that we keep the tension until Sunday.”

Even with his own strong showing, Vettel is confident that more time can be found, particularly through the long runs that will prove critical in the race.

“The aim is to get faster. If it really works we will see,” Vettel said.

“What I can say right away that the single-lap pace is very promising, and how the long run will work is very difficult to predict, as you always run into traffic.

“My guess is that we still can get better in race trim. We will analyze every single corner and sector to see where we can find valuable time.”