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.

Saavedra returns to SPM, again, for upcoming races

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Following the mutual parting of ways between Mikhail Aleshin and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for the rest of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Sebastian Saavedra will once again be back in the team’s No. 7 Honda for the next two oval races at Pocono Raceway and Gateway Motorsports Park.

The Colombian impressed in a surprise one-off appearance in the No. 7 Lucas Oil SPM Honda at Toronto, as Aleshin was sat down for one race. Saavedra ran as high as seventh and finished 11th after improving from 20th on the grid.

“I am very excited to be back with the SPM organization,” Saavedra said in a release. “It’s another late call to jump in, but I take it with pride after a promising start of our relationship in Toronto. Looking forward to a challenging event as the Tricky Triangle can be, and support (James) Hinchcliffe in his pursuit of championship points. I’m thankful to my sponsors and my continued relationship with AFS Inc.”

“Delighted to have Sebastian back with the SPM team following what was a very encouraging performance at the Toronto event,” added Piers Phillips, General Manager of SPM. “He is experienced and competent, and I have no doubt he will contribute to the overall performance of the team. We’re heading to Pocono full of confidence as a team and we’re looking forward to hopefully seeing Sebastian and James at the front of the pack.”

The likable 27-year-old driver has enjoyed longtime support from Gary Peterson of AFS Racing throughout a stop-start IndyCar career since 2010, with more than 60 career starts and just a handful of top-10 finishes.

It remains to be seen what Saavedra and Peterson put together for 2018; at Mid-Ohio, Peterson indicated he was working towards an IMSA Prototype program next year.

As for the final two road course races this year at Watkins Glen and Sonoma, SPM has not yet announced that plan.

Robert Wickens, who filled in for Aleshin temporarily on the Friday of Road America weekend, made his case on Tuesday to “stir the pot” a bit in a social media post.

The Canadian doesn’t have any DTM conflicts either weekend and would be a popular selection if he does get the call.

Two upcoming oval races provide great win chances for ECR

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Ed Carpenter Racing, surprisingly, has only four races left to extend its run of winning at least one race in a Verizon IndyCar Series season to four straight years.

Mike Conway brought Carpenter two wins on the streets of Long Beach and Toronto in 2014, while Carpenter won his most recent race at Texas. Then with Josef Newgarden winning twice at Barber and Toronto in 2015, under the CFH Racing banner, before the team reverted back to ECR last year, Newgarden won again in Iowa last year in dominant, beat-down fashion.

As a team that’s been a consistent thorn in the side of the more established “big three” teams, Penske, Ganassi and Andretti, Carpenter’s team has been close on a couple occasions to continuing its winning pedigree this year but come up short. Short oval races that got away from JR Hildebrand at Iowa and both Hildebrand and Carpenter at Phoenix loom large.

Still, Hildebrand is keen to note how he and new engineer Justin Taylor have meshed this year – and how this two-week break in the schedule has allowed for a full reset.

“The only thing (that’s bad) with the schedule for the series is that it’s pretty rapid fire,” Hildebrand told NBC Sports. “So sometimes it’s hard to feel like you’ve fully analyzed everything you do on a weekend, before shifting gears to the next thing. You have to look at making ‘base hits’ through the season. You don’t have time to make really dramatic changes without the time between races.

“It’s definitely been fast paced just across the board. You’re going from a couple races and testing to being back in the saddle, full blast is an adjustment. Overall it’s a really good group of guys we have. It’s been fun working with Justin. He’s done a good job, and that makes all the little differences.”

Hildebrand lamented the late-race loss at Iowa; he got balked a bit in traffic but was still happy to finish second, particularly after an accident in practice that forced the ECR team to need to make repairs to his primary No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.

“It was obviously frustrating to have a situation like that. The race was so much different from that perspective. That more than anything I what’s irritating. Something like that wouldn’t have happened a year ago with the tire being a little different, track temps being under control,” Hildebrand explained about the changes in temperatures and Firestone’s year-on-year tire difference.

“At the end of the day – particularly given the season we’ve had with the ups and downs – so for me I can kind of look at that and feel some relief we executed at a high level all weekend,” he said. “The Iowa weekend was not super easy with the change in tire; we knew from the test day that the car was different, so we working so hard to find the bit of magic from the previous year. The way it all worked out, I felt like that we got as much out of it as we could.

“We could have won that race. But we came back from an accident in practice to get to the outside front row. I’ll end up looking back at that and felt, ‘Well that could have been my first IndyCar win,’ but over the course of the midst of the season, I felt good about bringing it home on podium. We know that we’ve had cars that are good circumstances play out over time.”

While Pocono could play to ECR’s benefit – Carpenter qualified second and Hildebrand sixth at the Indianapolis 500 before falling back to unrepresentative finishes – it’s Gateway where the team also looks to break through considering its short oval prowess this season.

Said Hildebrand, “St. Louis should be good; we’ve been at our best from a competitiveness standpoint at short ovals. Again it’s a bit of an unknown, in terms of what to expect from the new surface. But with the track grip coming up and us as good as we were at Phoenix, that should bode well.”

Carpenter, who’s finished 12th or better in each of his four starts this season, now has his first and only chance to race consecutive events all season.

“I have always really enjoyed racing an Indy car at Pocono,” Carpenter said heading into the weekend. “It’s such a challenging track that requires a lot of work to get the right setup on the car. While we’ve had good cars there in the past, good results have eluded us. It’s my second-to-last race of the year, so I’m hopeful we can get the finish we have been working towards!”

Newgarden was fourth at Pocono last year; Carpenter’s best finish at Pocono is ninth in 2013 while Hildebrand makes his first Pocono start this weekend.

Dane Cameron’s ‘Penske perfect’ arrival comes at just right time

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A friendly exchange with Dane Cameron yesterday in the immediate aftermath of his confirmation for the Team Penske and Acura Motorsports sports car program centered on the fact that somehow, he’s still only 28 years old.

This seems hard to believe considering all that Cameron has accomplished in the North American sports car landscape, but yet still hasn’t quite received the major notoriety within the national racing consciousness beyond the hardcore followers of the sport.

Cameron could well have been an open-wheel star but like many others in the mid-to-late 2000s, was a victim of terrible timing. After cleaning up in the 2007 Star Mazda championship (now Pro Mazda) with JDC Motorsports, Cameron’s reward was graduating into Formula Atlantic in 2008… the same year Champ Car folded and its assets were absorbed by INDYCAR.

Nonetheless Cameron, the son of longtime winning racing engineer Rick Cameron, was always high on speed and potential and showed it in a variety of sports car outings over the years to come.

He raced primarily the screaming, rotary-powered Mazda RX-8s in GRAND-AM, then raced a variety of prototypes in the following years before landing his first major drive within the merged sports car championship, at Turner Motorsport in 2014 with a BMW Z4 GT3 – and promptly won the GT Daytona class title.

A move to Action Express Racing was the next step in his career growth, joining the established Daytona Prototype championship-winning outfit with Eric Curran and Whelen Engineering in the team’s second car. That team took time to grow but still won quickly and contended for the title in its first year, prior to breaking through and winning last year’s title.

Cameron’s 2017 season has been an exercise in frustration as the landscape of the merged IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship has changed. Expected to defend the title, Cameron and Curran have instead struggled for the same level of metronomic consistency of the last two years and Cameron, who’s still blindingly quick, has often been playing catchup in the more aero dependent Cadillac as the Action Express team has worked to understand the baseline Dallara chassis that lies underneath the Cadillac DPi bodywork. Coming from a period of success with Coyote, that chassis change for the team shouldn’t be overlooked.

Arguably the flashpoint of Cameron’s 2017 campaign came early on at Long Beach, with a rare unforced error trying to close the gap after going in too deep into the tight, tricky 90-degree right-hander. It wrote off a car and forced the team into a scramble drill prior to the next round at Circuit of The Americas.

Just three races into the season, it also left Cameron and Curran 26 points back of the Taylor brothers – a near insurmountable gap to overcome over seven races given IMSA’s points system makes it difficult to gain more than a handful of points per race. As it sits now, they’re 31 points back, five races later and with only two more to go.

Was a change of scenery inevitable for Cameron? Given the timing and opportunity available here, Cameron was always a natural fit. Although the Cameron/Curran pairing won last year’s title, few seasoned paddock observers will have rated it as the top one on the grid.

Much like Josef Newgarden in IndyCar or Ryan Blaney in NASCAR, Cameron is that 2017 type of “Penske perfect” type of driver – still under 30, with a lot of his future ahead of him, but enough experience built up to add his name to the Penske file now.

He’s business-first, with the clean-cut look, who is all business on the track but does have a sneaky sense of humor beneath the surface. Cameron, who’s married to wife Sarah and has two kids, chooses his words carefully; brevity is one of his skill sets, as he’s always careful of what he says and how he says it. He already lives in North Carolina, so that means he’s already close to the shop.

One of the cool things Penske can provide is a cross-promotional platform between its other series. And sure, you don’t expect to see Cameron racing in NASCAR, IndyCar or V8 Supercars anytime soon – though he’d probably excel in any opportunity if given the chance with the variety of cars he’s already raced – but the brand exposure for him can get built up here in the years to come, especially as he’s paired with a known name in teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, who was winning titles in the 1990s when Cameron had only just reached double digits in age. Add him to the “Penske Games” social media video series next year, and it’ll be interesting to see what side of his personality emerges.

For Cameron, while this deal appears to have come together quickly even though as rumors of his name being with Penske have percolated for months, the timing still seems just right.

“It’s all really come together pretty quickly in the last couple days really, to be honest, to get it done,” he said. “That being said, I really only signed the contract last night (Monday). It’s kind of escalated pretty quickly.

“I’m really excited about a tremendous opportunity to represent Acura and to work with everyone here at Team Penske. I haven’t seen much yet so far, but been getting around, shaking a couple hands, been really impressed so far.  Quite excited with what lies ahead.”

Cameron’s experience with Action Express these last three years will be key for Penske, Acura and Montoya to draw upon for 2018. For Cameron, having the stability of a long-term home there was key after the aforementioned five years between 2009 and 2013 when he raced a number of different series and cars but rarely stayed with the same team and/or in the same car for more than two consecutive years.

“It’s been a terrifically successful three‑year stretch, to win a bunch of races, to win a title. I really enjoyed myself there, and I really want to thank everyone at Actions Express and Whelen Engineering for not only the opportunity to go there in the first place, but then for great cars and teams and great results,” he said.

“It wasn’t an easy decision at all to come to this point. It’s been a good home for me there. Yeah, it was not easy, but an opportunity to work closely with Acura and to join Team Penske was a little too good for me to pass up.

“I’m looking forward to the future, but also remaining focused and committed to having a strong couple races here to close out the current IMSA season.”

The testing for Cameron will begin shortly after Motul Petit Le Mans, Oct. 5-7, when he enters officially into the Acura ARX-05 – which by that point, Montoya will have put through its paces. It will be a busy build-up period over the winter before the Rolex 24 at Daytona, but Cameron will be key to getting the car to the starting line, then excelling once 2018 hits.

“It will be fun to be a part of the early stages of the program and try to contribute as best I can,” he said

“Obviously, Team Penske is what it is because of the people that are in place, as well as Acura and the engine that’s going to be part of the program. I think it’s pretty well‑sorted.

“I don’t think anyone who is involved with this program is doing it for any other reason except to win races and championships and pole positions.  I think as a driver you always have that expectation for yourself.

“I don’t think anyone expects more out of ourselves than Juan and I will. I don’t see any reason why we can’t come out of the gate strong at Daytona.”

Bourdais cleared to drive; return date still TBA

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Sebastien Bourdais was in Indianapolis on Tuesday and for good reason – not even three months after his devastating accident in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, he received medical clearance that he is cleared to return to racing action.

Bourdais posted late Tuesday night he’d had his final appointment with his doctor and has been cleared to return to action. He’d targeted mid-August as the date to get this clearance, and this lives up to that target. He sustained pelvic and hip fractures in the accident in qualifying.

The Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT team welcomed Bourdais back to the Indianapolis shop on Woodland Drive on Tuesday, in anticipation for what would be Bourdais’ return to sports car competition at the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale, Motul Petit Le Mans, Oct. 5-7.

As for his day job, back in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, the team is yet to reveal when Bourdais will be back racing. Bourdais has set Watkins Glen as a target on Labor Day weekend, following the next two races on ovals at Pocono Raceway (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and Gateway Motorsports Park.

Provided the Coyne team can get through these two oval races cleanly with the rookie pair of Esteban Gutierrez and Ed Jones, that would increase the likelihood of a Bourdais return at Watkins Glen.

Bourdais tested at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course the Monday after that race, which was a huge step towards his formal comeback. He spoke to NBCSN contributor Robin Miller during the Honda Indy 200 race telecast.