Sao Paulo Indy 300 - Day 3

MotorSportsTalk’s IndyCar 2013 midseason review, Part 1

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Nine of 16 racing weekends, and 10 of 19 races are in the books in the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule. It’s a season thus far defined by parity, relative struggles by the long regarded top two teams in the series (Team Penske, Target Chip Ganassi Racing), and the emergence of several new stars.

In the first of our two-part midseason review (the second part, each of our top five stories this year, will be posted on Thursday), my MotorSportsTalk colleague Chris Estrada and I examine the bests and worsts of the first half of the season purely from an on-track standpoint. At this point, much of the off-track hand-wringing that always seems to pop up in some way, shape or form, has been relatively minor and in the background.

Without further adieu, our take thus far:

BEST DRIVER

TONY DIZINNO: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport. The champion has come out firing to dismiss suggestions his 2012 title was a “fluke,” with two wins, two poles, a 4.6 qualifying average through 10 races and just 9 points off Helio Castroneves.

CHRIS ESTRADA: Helio Castroneves, Team Penske. With just one finish outside the Top-10 this season (and a victory at Texas Motor Speedway), the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner is showing the consistency he’ll need to finally bring home that elusive series championship.

MOST DISAPPOINTING FIRST-HALF DRIVER

TDZ: Alex Tagliani, Barracuda Racing. I like Tag and I like the team. But via some mix of bad luck, bad timing, struggling to acclimate to the 2013 Firestone tires, either the pace or the results haven’t yet synced up on a weekend for the veteran Canadian this year. Through 10 races, I’m sure they expected a lot more than one top-10 finish and two top-10 starts.

CE: Alex Tagliani, Barracuda Racing. Graham Rahal was in this spot until his Top-5 run at Iowa last weekend. As a result, I have to go with Tagliani and Barracuda, who’ve led just one lap all year and have finished outside the Top 20 in the last six races (four of which ended in DNFs). If it wasn’t for bad luck, they’d have no luck at all.

MOST IMPROVED FIRST-HALF DRIVER

TDZ: James Jakes, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. E.J. Viso a close second here, but Viso’s had potential for years. Meanwhile Jakes has undoubtedly risen the most year-on-year, has taken nicely to RLL’s team and setup and starred on multiple occasions.

CE: E.J. Viso, Andretti Autosport. Some of us were thinking the well-sponsored Venezuelan was simply going to be the “money man” for the Andretti foursome. But Viso has taken advantage of his team’s plentiful resources and is putting together the most competitive season of his IndyCar career so far.

BEST FIRST-HALF RACE

TDZ: Brazil. With the level of passing and drama on the streets of Sao Paulo, ending with a last-lap, last-turn pass, it’s hard to say any race beat it – even Indianapolis despite its record 68 lead changes.

CE: Brazil. It was, quite simply, the best street race in IZOD IndyCar Series history and one of the best it’s had overall. James Hinchcliffe’s race-winning pass on the final corner gives this race the award over perhaps the most competitive Indianapolis 500 ever.

WORST HALF-RACE

TDZ: Texas. Thing is, it wasn’t that bad – it just was a combination of a package that had been slightly overdone and a presentation that left a little to be desired.

CE: Detroit, Race 2. The second doubleheader race around Belle Isle Park ended well enough with Simon Pagenaud getting his first victory, but getting there was brutal – with the low point being a 10-car pileup coming off a restart. For the series, it wasn’t the best way to follow up a thrilling Indy 500.

BEST OFF-TRACK STORY 

TDZ: For me, it’s Alex Zanardi attending the Indianapolis 500 and being presented with the car that he made “The Pass” – his legendary move on Bryan Herta at the 1996 CART race at Laguna Seca.

CE: INDYCAR is finally implementing a long-range plan to bring back technical innovation and ramp up the speeds. Fans that have been clamoring for something besides a spec product are hoping it comes off.

WORST OFF-TRACK STORY

TDZ: Aero kits. To me, they’ve been nothing short of a boondoggle since they were first announced in 2010. Now, INDYCAR has announced they’ll finally be implemented in 2015… allegedly. I’ll believe them when I see them, and I’m not sure if they’ll generate much buzz beyond the hardcore fans that are already there.

CE: Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles is certainly working hard trying to boost INDYCAR’s profile, but his apparent preference to end the season around Labor Day is worrisome. Unless he’s also trying to gain warm-weather events that can push the start of the season back into February, we’re looking at six months of nothing again. Not acceptable.

Alexander Rossi wins 100th Indy 500 in fuel mileage stunner

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 29:  Alexander Rossi, driver of the #98 NAPA Auto Parts Andretti Herta Autosport Honda celebrates after winning the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 29, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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INDIANAPOLIS – Alexander Rossi has won the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil following a stunning strategy gamble from Bryan Herta and the Andretti Herta Autosport team that came good.

It’s a stunning upset but an incredible run for the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda, having made it 36 laps home on fuel on the final stint of the race.

Rossi started 11th but his final lap of the race – the 14th he led on this day – was only at 179.784 mph to limp home on fuel.

Rossi is the first rookie to win since Helio Castroneves in 2001. The win is Andretti Autosport’s fifth as a team: the first as Forsythe/Green Racing in 1995 with second year driver Jacques Villeneuve, then Dan Wheldon in 2005, Dario Franchitti in 2007 (Andretti/Green Racing) and Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2014 (Andretti Autosport).

The Manor reserve driver in Formula 1 has moved to IndyCar this year for the full season, following a late move in the offseason when a sponsor fell through and sidelined Gabby Chaves.

But Rossi has been one of the pleasant surprises of the season, and his month at Indianapolis was close to flawless. He didn’t make a mistake all month, took to the track well, understood how to handle it and drove controlled all month.

The win with Herta follows up when Chaves won Rookie of the Year honors here last year with 16th place.

It might be one of the most incredible stories in Indy history… since the last time the ‘500 featured a 100 as part of its name.

The 100th anniversary race in 2011, the 95th running, saw Wheldon steal the win on the last lap – also driving for Herta – when J.R. Hildebrand crashed in Turn 4.

But this day, Rossi hung around – quietly – in the lower regions of the top 10

Had Rossi not been able to make it home, the win could have fallen to his teammate Carlos Munoz. The driver of the No. 26 United Fiber & Data Honda was flying in the final stages but, like most of the field, needed a late race splash as the race ran green for the final 32 laps.

The same story applied for Josef Newgarden, in the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Chevrolet, who led 14 laps and was in the top three most of the race. He ended a hard luck third.

Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball completed the top five, both having done a great job to move up quietly from sixth row starting positions for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams.

Hildebrand contacted Helio Castroneves late in the race, which dislodged Castroneves’ left rear wheel pod and forced a replacement for the three-time Indianapolis 500 champion. While Hildebrand ended sixth, Castroneves lost his hopes and ended 11th.

Polesitter James Hinchcliffe led 27 laps and finished seventh, with Scott Dixon an anonymous eighth. Sebastien Bourdais and Will Power completed the top 10.

Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal were non-factors in 13th and 14th.

Two more of Andretti Autosport’s bullets – Ryan Hunter-Reay and Townsend Bell – led a combined 64 laps (Bell 12, RHR 52) but ended 24th and 21st respectively after colliding in pit lane.

Defending champion Juan Pablo Montoya was the first driver to crash out, having gone out on Lap 64.

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Verstappen disappointed with himself after Monaco crash

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 29: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 29, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Max Verstappen admitted that he felt disappointed with himself after crashing out of Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix in his second race for Red Bull.

Two weeks on from his stunning victory in Spain, Verstappen endured a tough weekend in Monaco that saw him suffer three crashes.

A shunt in qualifying meant he had to start the race from the pit lane, but he made the most of the inclement conditions early on by switching tire to run inside the top 10.

However, a mistake at Massenet on lap 34 sent him careering into the barrier and out of the race, ending his hopes of a fightback to points.

“Disappointed in myself and disappointed for the team, because they worked very hard to get the car ready and I didn’t give them the result they deserved today,” Verstappen said.

“We were in a good way, we were in the points and to start from the pit lane and end in the points would have been very good, but I learned from this and hopefully we can come back stronger in Canada.

“It was pretty tricky especially in the beginning of the race it was a very slippery track. It got better and better, the track was drying, and I think from then on we had great pace and I was overtaking cars, charging through the field and everything felt well.

“Then we put the softs on and I locked up. Unfortunately I went a bit off-line and of course then you arrive in the wet area and I was a passenger from there on.

“That’s racing in the end, it can go up and down very quickly but you shouldn’t back off because of this you should keep positive, keep pushing.

“I learn a lot from those moments as well and I’m already focusing on Canada now and leaving Monaco behind.”

Bell, Hunter-Reay crash in pit lane battling for Indy 500 lead

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Ryan Hunter-Reay, driver of the #28 Andretti Autosport Honda Dallara, practices during Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Ryan Hunter-Reay and Townsend Bell’s hopes of winning the 100th Indianapolis 500 for Andretti Autosport were dashed after coming together in the pit lane when battling for the lead of the race.

Following a caution period called for crashes involving Mikhail Aleshin and Conor Daly, the majority of the field dived into the pits for the fifth round of pit stops.

Both Hunter-Reay and Bell had been running inside the top three before the caution, battling with Tony Kanaan, James Hinchcliffe and Helio Castroneves for the lead of the race.

On the race off pit road, Bell’s car was released into the path of the oncoming Castroneves, resulting in contact.

Bell’s car was sent into Hunter-Reay just as he was released, leaving both pointing the pit wall nose-first.

Only one crew member was in the line of fire, but he managed to jump out of the way quickly. A tire was also hit, but did not come off the ground, meaning no-one in the area was hurt.

Bell was assessed a penalty for the incident, unsafe release:

Andretti was forced to wheel both of its cars back to their pit boxes, costing both drivers time before they were sent back out again. At the time of writing, Hunter-Reay and Bell now run P25 and P26 respectively and are battling to remain on the lead lap.

Castroneves leads halfway; Karam crashes out on Lap 94 at Indy 500

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Helio Castroneves #3 of Brazil watches alongside owner Roger Penske during Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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INDIANAPOLIS – Thus far the quartet of Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Townsend Bell and Josef Newgarden have had the strongest cars in the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

But it’s Helio Castroneves who now leads at the 100-lap mark, as he did last year, following the fourth round of pit stops. He’s in search of his fourth Indy 500 win.

Prior to Lap 100, Bryan Clauson was out front. Clauson went a lap down early and has not made his fourth pit stop yet in the No. 88 Cancer Treatment Centers of America Honda for Dale Coyne Racing. But courtesy of a typically-cagey Coyne strategy play, he was nearly out front for this historic moment in the longest Indianapolis 500 outing of his three starts thus far.

There’s already been 31 lead changes – other leaders include Hunter-Reay who’s led a race high 44 laps, Hinchcliffe, who’s led 26, then Will Power (8 laps led), Bell (8), Castroneves (6), Clauson (3), Newgarden (2), Sage Karam (2) and Carlos Munoz (1).

Just prior to halfway, Sage Karam’s strong run from 23rd up to seventh came to a crashing halt in Turn 2. The driver of the No. 24 Gas Monkey Energy Chevrolet for DRR-Kingdom Racing appeared to get pinched in Turn 1 by Bell – who also made a similarly tight move on Newgarden – then hit the wall and careened through to Turn 2.

Karam’s accident means he’s the second car officially out of the race, along withe defending race winner Juan Pablo Montoya.

At Lap 100 the order is below:

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