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.

F1 drivers relishing Silverstone, Suzuka races in new-style cars

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Formula 1 drivers Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas are all relishing the challenge of high-speed tracks such as Silverstone and Suzuka after enjoying their first races in the new-style 2017 cars last weekend.

This season has seen the introduction of revised cars under the new technical regulations that are capable of lapping multiple seconds per lap faster than their predecessors, aided by greater downforce and wider tires.

The new cars raced together for the first time last Sunday in Australia, with the pace difference around the tight confines of the Albert Park street course still notable.

All of the drivers have been impressed by what the new cars are capable of, finding them more fun and rewarding to drive, but it is when F1 hits the classic, high-speed tracks on the calendar that they will really come into their own.

When asked what track they were most looking forward to racing on this year, the top three finishers in Australia gave similar answers.

“Probably Silverstone. I think with that amount of grip and downforce,” Vettel said.

“Probably Suzuka as well later on in the year. Also I guess the cars will be even faster from what they are now.

“So, yeah, I think that would be quite nice. I’m looking forward to that.”

Hamilton added: “Yes, Silverstone, I agree” before Mercedes teammate Bottas echoed his peers’ thoughts.

“I think all the quick ones: Spa; Suzuka; Silverstone will be nice,” Bottas said.

“But I think even street circuits will be a bit more challenging I think – not that it wasn’t challenging before, but with these cars it will be nice.”

One of the biggest changes for 2017 has been the extra physicality of the cars, but Hamilton said he felt no major issues following the race in Australia.

“It was more physical but it was no problem for me and doesn’t look like it was for these guys either,” he said.

Vettel added: “It’s not the most physical circuit in the year. I think later on it will be very interesting. Here is very technical. So, first couple of laps, at least for me, were very intense.

“Obviously it’s easy to have an error, get something wrong under braking, go a bit wide etc. Later on I had a bit of a gap and I could control it, and therefore it was a bit easier.”

Chinese Grand Prix kicks off heavy April F1 stretch on NBCSN

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After an interesting kickoff to the 2017 Formula 1 season on NBCSN with the Australian Grand Prix last week, in just over a week the series will be back in action with the second round of the season, the Chinese Grand Prix from the Shanghai International Circuit. It’s the first of three F1 races in April with the Bahrain and Russian Grands Prix occurring later in the month.

Last year saw Nico Rosberg win in Shanghai over Sebastian Vettel and Daniil Kvyat, the last two having had a coming together at the start of the race before Vettel, now of Ferrari, beat his successor at Red Bull, Kvyat. Lewis Hamilton, meanwhile, only finished seventh after starting 22nd and last, missing qualifying with a mechanical issue.

Vettel enters China on the heels of his victory in Melbourne, but not having won in Shanghai since 2009, when he won for Red Bull for the first time. Mercedes has won the last three Chinese Grands Prix, Rosberg winning last year while Hamilton won in 2014 and 2015. Ferrari last won here in 2013, with Fernando Alonso.

Will Vettel continue with a second straight win to open the season, or will Mercedes reassume its place up top and continue its win streak in Shanghai? Can Red Bull reassert itself and who in the midfield will emerge?

All sessions will be live streamed on NBC Sports or via the NBC Sports App. FP2, qualifying and the race also will air on NBCSN. Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett are on the call with Will Buxton reporting from the pits and paddock. As in Melbourne, qualifying and race run during the late hours of the evening on the East Coast, and a bit earlier for those on the West Coast.

Here’s the schedule with where to watch on TV on digital platforms.

  • Practice 1: Thursday, April 6, 10 p.m.-11:30 p.m. ET (digital only)
  • Practice 2: Friday, April 7, 2 a.m.-3:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 3: Saturday, April 8, 12 a.m.-1 a.m. ET (digital only)
  • Qualifying: Saturday, April 8, 3 a.m.-4:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race: Sunday, April 9, 1 a.m.-4:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

The next race is the Bahrain Grand Prix, on April 16.

United Fiber & Data back, again, for Marco Andretti’s car

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The continued relationship between United Fiber & Data and Andretti Autosport rolls into 2017, although not in the way that was probably planned for either party.

UFD, which served as a major associate sponsor in 2013, primary sponsor for James Hinchcliffe’s No. 27 car in 2014 and a co-primary sponsor for Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz last year, has now been confirmed for “select races” taking over as primary sponsor of Andretti’s No. 27 Honda this year, starting with next week’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

This decision comes in the wake of hhgregg’s ongoing business situation, where per media reports (one from USA Today here as a recent example) the electronics retailer plans to close a number of stores and was close to filing for bankruptcy.

“We are strategically exiting markets and stores that are not financially profitable for us,” hhgregg CEO Robert Riesbeck said in a statement in early March, via USA Today. “This is a proactive decision to streamline our store footprint in the markets where we have been, and will continue to be, important to our customers, vendor partners and communities.”

The sponsor had been announced as a multi-year, co-primary sponsor in August. A release from the Andretti Autosport team today didn’t confirm hhgregg’s exit from the team, nor did it state how many races UFD plans to be the primary sponsor. However, it would probably be a surprise to see hhgregg return later this year.

In the release, the team stated: “The rebranding comes as a result of the current issues being faced by hhgregg, leading Andretti Autosport to the decision of transitioning the branding on the No. 27 Indy car piloted by Marco Andretti.”

“We’d like to wish Bob (Riesbeck) and the entire hhgregg family luck as they work through the current situation,” said Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti. “We are blessed to have such loyal and dedicated partners; and while this is an unfortunate situation for hhgregg, we are pleased to have such a strong relationship remaining with United Fiber & Data.”

“We are proud of our longstanding partnership with Andretti Autosport, and we are equally pleased to continue this partnership by serving as a primary sponsor for select IndyCar races this season,” added Bill Hynes, Founder & CEO of United Fiber & Data (UFD). “We look forward to once again bringing the signature colors of the UFD livery to IndyCar tracks across the country.”

Finishing in Australia the ‘first milestone’ for Vandoorne, McLaren

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Stoffel Vandoorne says that getting to the finish of last Sunday’s Formula 1 season-opening Australian Grand Prix was the “first milestone” for McLaren after a difficult winter.

McLaren entered the new year looking to build on a quietly impressive 2016 campaign that saw engine partner Honda make big gains, lifting the team to sixth in the constructors’ championship.

Honda tried to cut the gap to pace-setter Mercedes by revising the layout of its power unit, only for a number of issues to arise through pre-season that left Vandoorne and teammate Fernando Alonso frustrated on the sidelines for much of testing.

McLaren arrived in Australia unsure about its chances, but Alonso was able to fight for P10 through the race before retiring late on due to a suspension issue.

Vandoorne did reach the checkered flag, albeit two laps down after having to complete a power cycle on his car mid-race. The Belgian was eventually classified 13th.

“It was a difficult race, but we knew that before coming here. We have to look at the positives, we finished the race, even with some issues we had,” Vandoorne told NBCSN.

“It was very busy behind the steering wheel doing a lot of changes on the toys and really trying to bring the car home. We even had to come in the pit lane and do a full power cycle of the car. At some point I lost the dash as well so didn’t really know what was going on.”

Despite the issues, Vandoorne said McLaren could take plenty of positives from the race, admitting that he did not expect to even finish the first round in Australia.

“I think it’s the first milestone to finish the race already. After Barcelona we didn’t expect this,” Vandoorne said.

“As a total package, we’re definitely not there. We don’t have the pace yet to compete with the cars ahead, that’s for sure. We need a big push.

“Hopefully China shows another step for us.”