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Indy 500 qualifying changes continue IMS’ push to ramp up business side

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Nearly every change the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR have made this offseason has been with the goal of improving the entire Hulman Racing business, and Friday’s confirmation of a revised qualifying format for the Indianapolis 500, first hinted at in November, is no different.

Various commercial and PR hires, the addition of both the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in May and a vintage race in June, plus the confirmation of two major new concerts (Jason Aldean and a three-headed DJ monster at the Snake Pit race day Sunday, led by Hardwell) are all elements needed to grow the bottom line.

And now, the qualifying overhaul has been announced and will likely ramp up the drama for both Saturday and Sunday anyway.

How, you ask? The pressure will now shift to making the field on Saturday, as opposed to the recent “well, we hope we make it on Saturday, but if not we can still get in first thing Sunday” dynamic that has existed under the previous format.

That will make every driver and team sweat it out for four laps, hit their marks and lock themselves in the first day.

On the chance there’s a 34th car – which, at the moment, would be hard to project – the bumping element will occur, and the drama would intensify.

It will give fans at the track one chance to see who will make the Fast 9 on Sunday. And provided there’s a 34th, the drama of bumping.

Previous to that, the only drama would be same day; wondering who would make it into the Fast 9 later in the day on Saturday, with Sunday then relatively devoid of drama for six hours.

On Sunday, the field’s starting positions will be set, and the Fast 9 then take their Shootout to determine the pole.

In past years, Sunday has been stale, with both Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles and driver Graham Rahal noting during an INDYCAR teleconference held Friday how these changes should build interest.

“What this is about for us is that we have a desire to give fans more opportunities to see IndyCar drivers on the track when there’s a lot at stake, not just with practice, but where they are out there with putting it on the line in a way that matters,” Miles said.

“There’s going to be a lot of tension, there’s no doubt about that,” Rahal added.  “That’s what the fans want to see.

“Last year when we got to the top nine, Ed (Carpenter) put up the top lap, the fans go crazy. They like those moments that are go big or go home sort of moments.  That’s exactly what everybody is going to see this time around.

“I think it’s been pretty stale in recent times so this will add a whole other element. For the teams, it’s going to be a nerve-wracking element. As Derrick (Walker) said, when weather comes to Indy, it changes things completely.”

With an added ticket incentive to buy the two-day package for $30 as opposed to either/or of Saturday or Sunday at $20 apiece, there is cost savings potential for fans who want to come out both days.

Additionally, with both days nationally televised in part on ABC, there is the opportunity for the series to gather additional ratings and potentially catch more of the elusive, ubiquitous “casual fan.”

At track, the entire month of May is aimed at getting a greater percentage of local traffic through the gates at IMS, between this announcement and the others that have come out over the last several months.

For as many hardcore fans as there are, there are some in Indianapolis who will tell you there’s not as much local interest in the race as there used to be.

But now, all these events and announcements provide options. And collectively, they all should increase the bottom line.

The more money that flows into the coffers at 16th and Georgetown can be utilized in part to grow and promote the sport, which is really, ultimately, what this is all about.

Stoneman edges Jones in closest finish ever at IMS in Freedom 100 (VIDEO)

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INDIANAPOLIS – No words other than “wow” to summarize the immediate aftermath of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires’ Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

At a race that had two incredible photo finishes in 2013 and 2014, another one occurred Friday with Dean Stoneman edging Ed Jones by just 0.0024 of a second.

“As you can see on the screen now it was bloody close,” Stoneman said from Victory Lane after driving the No. 27 Stellrecht Dallara IL-15 Mazda for Andretti Autosport.

It’s the closest finish in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history with Stoneman having led the field to the green on the last lap, but lost the lead at Turn 1 when Jones around the outside, before Stoneman got past him through Turn 3 and stayed ahead.

The Andretti Autosport driver then edged the Carlin driver at the line, fist in the air for his second win at IMS in three weeks, after also winning on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

“It’s great. I was in a hospital bed five years ago dreaming to be racing here and winning now,” Stoneman added.

“First [win] ever here for this race,” said Michael Andretti, car owner. “We’re so excited. We’ve been trying so many years to win this and Dean finally brought it to us.”

“It’s so frustrating to lose the race like that,” said second-place finisher Jones. “We were back and forth throughout the race and all the time I was waiting behind Dean for those last few laps. He held up everyone really slowly on that restart and caught quite a few incidents.”

“I got the lead in turn one and I thought I had the good run and I was pulling away but he had the draft down the back straight and I made the decision to stay on the inside,” Jones added, “He got the momentum on the outside and he just beat me to the line. It was so close and the team did a fantastic job of giving me the car to win the race.”

“That minor mistake just cost me everything.”

Previous closest finishes were 0.0026 of 2013 when Peter Dempsey won, and 0.005 of a second when Gabby Chaves won.

In third place, Dalton Kellett scored a career-best result in the No. 28 K-LINE car for Andretti Autosport, with Shelby Blackstock and Scott Hargrove completing the top five finishers.

F1 still Maldonado’s ‘Plan A’ as he chases race comeback

SINGAPORE - SEPTEMBER 18:  Pastor Maldonado of Venezuela and Lotus drives during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 18, 2015 in Singapore.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Pastor Maldonado remains hopeful of returning to a Formula 1 race seat in the future, but is open to other series if his “Plan A” fails to come to fruition.

Maldonado lost his drive with Renault over the winter when his backing from Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA fell through.

Since then, the one-time grand prix winner has completed some private testing for tire supplier Pirelli, but is keen to make a racing return next season if possible.

“We will try again and try to be back in a good team, to give me the chance to be competitive,” Maldonado told Reuters in Monaco.

“Plan A is Formula 1. Then of course if it doesn’t come, we need to look around.”

Despite the financial and social problems facing Venezuela right now, Maldonado hopes that PDVSA can find the funding to resume his F1 career.

“PDVSA is a big company, supporting a lot of sport programmes in Venezuela,” Maldonado said.

“They still seem to maintain all the programmes. Hopefully it will be no problem to have them back.

“I am the only Venezuelan who is racing at this level. I have been supported since many, many years. The relationships are very good. Hopefully we can be together for more years.

“Of course the oil price is still a bit low, and when the oil is down, the country is down. For sure it’s painful at the moment.”

Kanaan leads final Indy 500 practice from Carb Day (VIDEO)

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INDIANAPOLIS – Tony Kanaan led the way in final Carb Day practice, in the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, by some two mph of 226.280 mph.

Carlos Munoz was second in the No. 26 United Fiber & Data Honda for Andretti Autosport (224.772) with Scott Dixon third and Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay completing the top five.

Polesitter James Hinchcliffe was 12th, Josef Newgarden 17th.

Pippa Mann’s Dale Coyne Racing team will need to scramble for repairs of her No. 63 Susan G. Komen car after an accident in Turn 4.

Kanaan told NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis: “I do that at end of every session (talk up the guys). These guys have worked so hard for so long. We worked really well in that session. I was just encouraging them to keep going, then enjoy their families for one day. We have one thing to do: we can do this.”

Polesitter Hinchcliffe told NBCSN’s Marty Snider: “You know what, honestly it’s the best it’s been. We had to undo some things. Things got better and part. The ARROW car is the best it’s been.”

Hinchcliffe also got a surprise when his brother Christopher arrived in the pits.

“He surprised me in 2011. Mom wasn’t as good as hiding it back then. It was awesome to see him it’s been a while.”

Graham Rahal told NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt, after ending 14th: “I’m extremely happy with our race car. We have struggled with vibrations over a run. But this is the best race car I’ve ever had going into this. We ran pretty old tires the whole session. For our tire life, I’m pleased. We’ve got a good chance of winning this thing.”

Marco Andretti told Beekhuis: “Before this session we wrote a big sign that said don’t panic. We’re throwing a lot at it. The car felt good in the end but we had to chase the difference in conditions today. We need to make the right decision in the race.”

Lastly NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell of Andretti Autosport, who ended ninth, told Snider: “Our car is really good. Andretti Honda is performing well and get pit stop practice in. These guys had me jump in at the deep end.”

Speeds are below:

CarbDaySpeeds

Rosberg ready for close fight with Red Bull in Monaco

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg is anticipating a close fight with Red Bull in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix after Daniel Ricciardo dominated practice on Thursday.

Ricciardo finished six-tenths of a second clear of the field on the ultra-soft tire in FP2, making the most of the upgraded Renault power unit in his RB12 car.

Mercedes’ Rosberg arrived in Monaco as the championship leader and chasing a fourth straight win around the streets where he grew up.

“It’s great to be back on the streets of my home town here in Monaco, and also to see all the fans so close to us as we’re on track,” Rosberg said on Thursday after finishing third in FP2.

“It was a tricky start in to the weekend for us, though. The sessions were a bit messy, with quite a few Virtual Safety Car periods – but I was able to learn a lot on the longer runs we managed to do which was a positive. A big applause for all of the circuit marshals, who did a great job as always to clear the cars quickly.”

Rosberg was not surprised by Red Bull’s practice pace, believing it will create a close fight for pole position on Saturday before Sunday’s race.

“As expected, Red Bull look very strong here,” Rosberg said.

“We have some more homework to do during tonight and tomorrow to find some time – but I can’t wait for Saturday and the qualifying battle.

“It should be very close and very exciting, which is great for the sport.”