Indy 500 engine count update, post-three Indy announcements

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You might read this headline today and ponder the question, “Hey, it’s March 4, so why are you already writing about engine counts for a race in May?” Glad you asked.

With the last three IndyCar team-and-driver announcements – Martin Plowman for A.J. Foyt Racing, Jacques Villeneuve for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and today, Kurt Busch for Andretti Autosport – all related to the month of May and not the full season, it provides the first glimpse at where the engine count stands for this year’s Indianapolis 500.

The entry list is traditionally released in April, and in March is when deals usually begin to get announced. Here’s where we stand now:

  • As it stands now, there should be at least 22 full-season entrants. Of those 22, 12 would be Honda, and 10 Chevrolet. Another Honda (2nd RLL) and another Chevrolet (Panther) would push that number to 24.
  • Honda’s 12 right now are: Andretti Autosport 4, Dale Coyne Racing 2, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports 2, and 1 apiece for Foyt, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and Bryan Herta Autosport.
  • Chevrolet’s 10 right now are: Chip Ganassi Racing 4, Team Penske 3, KV Racing Technology 2, and Ed Carpenter Racing 1.

Add in Plowman, Villeneuve and Busch’s confirmed entries, and that’s three more Hondas to take us up to 15.

Either or both of an RLL second or Coyne third would push the Honda number to 17, which would likely be the cap on leases with Chevrolet also needing to fill 17 to provide a 50/50 split for 34 cars (33 of which would start).

An 18th Honda could potentially appear if RLL and Coyne both run an extra car, and the Fisher team runs a second car. That could be either an RW/SFHR entry if Rotondo Weirich’s Steve Weirich’s second car (Bryan Clauson drove it in 2012 at Indy, Lucas Luhr in 2013 at Sonoma) is entered. Or, if the crowd-funded Cutters RT effort hits its number, SFHR would run that car.

The Chevrolet side will be a bit tougher to hit the 17 number with the 10 confirmed cars now. Here’s its breakdown:

  • Panther Racing is yet to confirm its driver or primary commercial partners for 2014, and has been left off IndyCar’s Leader Circle list for 2014. But a Panther entry would take the Chevrolet number up to 11.
  • Buddy Lazier, the 1996 Indianapolis 500 champion, is expected to return with his family-run Lazier Partners Racing car. There’s a dozen.
  • KV Racing Technology team co-owner Jimmy Vasser has said a third car is likely. That’s 13.
  • Up to four more could be possible with all four potential but not set-in-stone programs possible. That would include a second Carpenter car, fifth Ganassi car (the TUDOR Championship is off, so a crew would be available), a single entry for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and a single entry for Dragon Racing.
  • While DRR has made some overtones in the media about a return, Dragon hasn’t as much. The Indianapolis Star‘s Curt Cavin said on his weekly “Trackside” show Monday night that Dragon has not returned multiple phone calls; TracksideOnline.com reported more than a week ago that the Villeneuve car, the third SPM, was purchased from Dragon Racing. With Dragon’s other car listed as “through a partnership” with Team Penske for Juan Pablo Montoya, the question of suitable equipment exists. Penske and SPM did run separate third cars at Indianapolis in 2013, for AJ Allmendinger (Penske) and Katherine Legge (SPM), respectively, while Dragon also ran two cars for now-KV teammates Sebastien Bourdais and Sebastian Saavedra.

What this all means is as of March 4, there are 25 confirmed car-engine combinations for this year’s Indianapolis 500, 23 of them with confirmed drivers (the second Dale Coyne and BHA entries have yet to confirm their full season drivers).

The race is on for teams and drivers to now gather the funding to put together the remaining programs from here.

Gasly takes Sugo podium to stay in Super Formula title hunt

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Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly will head into the final round of the 2017 Super Formula season just half a point off the lead after finishing second at Sugo on Sunday.

Gasly, 21, was placed in the Japanese Super Formula series for this season after winning the GP2 title last year, and vaulted into contention for the title with back-to-back wins at Motegi and Autopolis.

Gasly continued his good form by taking P2 at Sugo on Sunday, having narrowly lost out to Yuhi Sekiguchi following a race-long battle.

Gasly trailed Sekiguchi through the early part of the race before extending his opening stint longer than his rival in a bid to jump ahead, only to emerge from the pits second again.

Fresher tires allowed Gasly to make serious inroads through the closing stages, but Sekiguchi held on to take his second victory of the year by just 0.2 seconds.

Kazuki Nakajima completed the podium ahead of Yuji Kunimoto, while Formula E racer Felix Rosenqvist took P5 from Hiroaki Ishiura.

Ishiura heads into the season-ending double-header at Suzuka leading Gasly by just half a point in the drivers’ standings, with Rosenqvist sitting a further 4.5 points behind.

The Super Formula season rounds out on October 22 at Suzuka.

Norris made to wait for F3 title after final lap crash in Austria

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Rising British racer Lando Norris has been made to wait to secure the FIA European Formula 3 title after a crash on the final lap of Sunday’s race at the Red Bull Ring ensured the championship battle will go to the final round of the season.

Norris, 17, became part of Formula 1 team McLaren’s junior program earlier this year, and enjoyed his maiden test in a grand prix racer in Hungary over the summer, putting in an impressive display.

Norris has been racing in the highly-competitive FIA F3 series in Europe this year, a championship that has proved crucial in the careers for drivers such as Max Verstappen, Esteban Ocon and Antonio Giovinazzi.

After finishing second earlier on Sunday, Norris needed to simply finish ahead of chief title rival Maximilian Günther in the final race of the weekend to clinch the championship with three races to spare.

Norris started second and retained his position throughout the race, only to come under pressure from Ralf Aron in the closing stages, the two drivers making contact on the last lap.

Norris was sent off the track and into the gravel, forcing him to retire from the race, and with Günther finishing fifth, the points gap was reduced to 72 with three races remaining at Hockenheim in three weeks’ time.

While a title win is still likely for Norris given just 75 are on offer, to have come so close to sealing it early will nevertheless come as a blow to the talented youngster.

Norris is set to be placed in Formula 2 by McLaren in 2018, but is poised to be a name that is spoken about for many years to come in F1.

Marquez fights to Aragon MotoGP win, opens up points lead

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Marc Marquez fought through to his fifth win of the 2017 MotoGP season in Sunday’s Aragon Grand Prix, extending his lead in the riders’ championship to 16 points over Andrea Dovizioso.

A fall in qualifying meant Marquez started only fifth at Motorland Aragon, and failed to make any inroads at the start of the race, running only fourth in the early stages as Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo hit the front.

Marquez was able to slowly rise up the order, passing title rival Dovizioso, Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi and finally Lorenzo, taking the lead of the race on Lap 16.

Marquez ultimately crossed the line less than one second clear of teammate Dani Pedrosa, who continued his good record at Motorland Aragon to complete a one-two finish for Repsol Honda.

Lorenzo held on to take his second podium in Ducati colors in third, finishing ahead of Yamaha pole-sitter Maverick Viñales, who dropped to fifth on the opening lap and never recovered.

Rossi’s remarkable return to racing a little over three weeks since suffering a double leg break ended with a run to fifth at the checkered flag, having spent the early part of the race battling at the front before dropping back.

Aleix Espargaro finished sixth ahead of Dovizioso, who slipped to 16 points behind Marquez in the title race by only finishing seventh for Ducati.

Alvaro Bautista crossed the line eighth ahead of Tech3’s Johann Zarco, while Pol Espargaro completed the top 10.

MotoGP returns in three weeks’ time with the Japanese Grand Prix at Twin Ring Motegi.

Palmer calls breakthrough F1 points ‘a weight off the shoulders’

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Jolyon Palmer has conceded that his march to his first points of the 2017 Formula 1 season last time out in Singapore was “a weight off the shoulders” as he looks to gain momentum for the remaining six races of the season.

Palmer recorded his best finish in F1 under the lights at Marina Bay, crossing the line sixth in the first wet night race in the history of the sport.

The result came at the end of a tough weekend for Palmer that saw Renault confirm it would be dropping the Briton from its F1 line-up for 2018, drafting in Carlos Sainz Jr. from Toro Rosso.

Even without an F1 seat to save, Palmer hopes the result can mark the start of a strong run to finish his time with Renault through the final six races.

“Finally we had a smooth race, which is ironic given what was going on with the safety cars and the tricky weather conditions,” Palmer said.

“We made a good start, and the move on [Valtteri] Bottas was fun; a lot happened in the two hours. It feels
like a weight off the shoulders to get some points.

“I hope to push on now and get some more. I know I can do it.”

Should Palmer wish to remain in F1, his only realistic options lie with Williams and Sauber for 2018, although both teams are understood to be looking elsewhere.

A report from Autosport claims Williams has narrowed its shortlist to partner Lance Stroll next year down to existing driver Felipe Massa, reserve driver Paul di Resta and recent Renault tester Robert Kubica.

Ferrari youngster and runaway Formula 2 points leader Charles Leclerc looks nailed on to take one of Sauber’s seats next year, replacing Mercedes junior Pascal Wehrlein.

Marcus Ericsson is expected to keep his seat with Sauber for a fourth season, with Leclerc’s fellow Ferrari-backed youngster Antonio Giovinazzi seemingly the only alternative for the Swiss team.