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Indy 500 qualifying update, through two runs: Frantic hour sees several 230-plus runs (UPDATED)

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UPDATED, 3:10 P.M. ET: A frantic hour of action has seen a bunch of drivers go ahead and attempt a second Indianapolis 500 qualification attempt to see if they could improve their speeds, before a slight drizzle has hit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

If a driver improved, so too would their position. But they would not lose their original speed and time.

Will Power has now jumped to the top of the time sheets with a four-lap average of 230.323 mph.

Power told the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network: “We found more in the car and the conditions are different. We had the right gear and downforce level for this run. I think a lot of people are gonna go quicker now. But that should be at least for the next couple hours. I have to look at the points. OK, yeah, that’s something to consider, since you don’t lose your best speed if you get out.

The top nine at 3:10 p.m. ET: Power 230.323, Ed Carpenter 230.114, Simon Pagenaud 230.070, JR Hildebrand 230.027, Ryan Hunter-Reay 230.011, Kurt Busch 229.960, Marco Andretti 229.836, Helio Castroneves 229.788, and Jack Hawksworth 229.732.

Here’s a rundown of the attempts in this stint, with the driver’s first run on the left and second on the right. Note Pagenaud is the only driver thus far to make three attempts, and he went to P3 on his third.

ROUND 2+ OF ATTEMPTS
                      First run		    Next run
77 Pagenaud		228.749/P15		229.193/P13
3  Castroneves	        229.456/P10		229.788/P3
22 Karam		-			228.650/P18
26 Busch		229.256/P12		229.960/P3
2  Montoya		229.594/P9		229.727/P6
7  Aleshin		228.385/P22		229.091/P14
10 Kanaan		228.064/P25		Waved off
63 Mann		        227.721/P30		No improvement
34 Munoz		229.590/P10		No improvement
12 Power		229.649/P9		230.323/P1
21 Hildebrand	        229.453/P12		230.027/P3
25 Andretti		229.663/P10		229.836/P6
15 Rahal		228.664/P18		No improvement 
67 Newgarden	        229.471/P11		229.637/P11
77 Pagenaud  	        229.193/P13		230.070/P3
16 Servia		228.034/P26		No improvement 
83 Kimball		228.710/P17		Rain

ORIGINAL, 1:35 P.M. ET: The first runs of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 are in the books. Here’s where we stand:

  • Ed Carpenter and Ryan Hunter-Reay are over 230 mph with their four-lap runs.
  • Kurt Busch has qualified at 229.256 mph. Of his lap, Busch told the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network: “It went by so fast. I wasn’t as focused as what I was this morning. You’re so busy, trusting the car, knowing the corners. Here you take downforce off, and it makes it exciting. Not just one lap, it’s four. It keeps you busy. I did four laps but it felt like one. I wasn’t in the zone and might have left something. It’s a big challenge to qualify the car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”
  • James Hinchcliffe slotted into third with his run, eventually bumped back to fourth by teammate Hunter-Reay. “It was a week of uncertainlty. They took good care of me to come back. I’m just so happy to have not missed this. Pole weekend is second only to the race. To miss that, I would have been bummed. The car was a big part of that. We have to find a little bit more speed.”
  • Jacques Villeneuve, 1995 Indianapolis 500 champion, made his first qualifying run in 19 years: “It was nice and easy. We didn’t have that much time. We don’t need the qualifying points. The top 9 is pointless for us. We’re actually really happy. In ’95, it was edgy; I wasn’t flat on the four laps. More power. Now it’s a question of momentum. The speed’s similar, but it drives differently.”
  • Ryan Hunter-Reay, in P2 thus far: “It was for sure a good run. We’re fighting a championship as well. But I’m fully expecting the track to go quicker.”
  • The top nine right now: Carpenter, Hunter-Reay, rookie Jack Hawksworth, Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti, Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya, Carlos Munoz and Josef Newgarden.
  • The rest of the runners, 10-32: Helio Castroneves, JR Hildebrand, Kurt Busch, Justin Wilson, Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud, Charlie Kimball, Graham Rahal, Townsend Bell, Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais, Mikhail Aleshin, Sebastian Saavedra, Jacques Villeneuve, Tony Kanaan, Oriol Servia, Carlos Huertas, Alex Tagliani, Martin Plowman, Pippa Mann, Ryan Briscoe, James Davison and Buddy Lazier.
  • So far rookie Sage Karam has not gone out.
QUALIFYING PROGRESSION
91 Lazier, Did Not Run
34 Munoz, 229.590
21 Hildebrand, 229.453
2  Montoya, 229.594
9  Dixon, 228.501
20 Carpenter, 230.114
98 Hawksworth, 229.732
18 Huertas, 227.904
8  Briscoe, 227.201
3  Castroneves, 229.456
19 Wilson, 228.947
63 Mann, 227.721
41 Plowman, 227.774
25 Andretti, 229.663
26 Busch, 229.256
7  Aleshin, 228.385
15 Rahal, 228.664
27 Hinchcliffe, 229.672
5  Villeneuve, 228.171
12 Power, 229.649
17 Saavedra, Did Not Run
33 Davison, Did Not Run
77 Pagenaud, 228.749
83 Kimball, 228.710
10 Kanaan, 228.064
67 Newgarden, Did Not Run
6  Bell, 228.508
68 Tagliani, 227.813
22 Karam, Did Not Run
14 Sato, 228.786
28 Hunter-Reay, Did Not Run
16 Servia, 228.034
11 Bourdais, 228.388

AFTER INITIAL PROGRESSION
17 Saavedra, 228.294
67 Newgarden, 229.471
33 Davison, 226.761
28 Hunter-Reay, 230.011
91 Lazier, 226.543

‘Fast Jack’ Beckman back to living up to his nickname at Gateway

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“Fast Jack” Beckman came into this weekend’s AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in a big predicament.

He didn’t live up to his colorful nickname during last week’s Carolina Nationals, the opening race of the six-race Countdown to the Championship.

Beckman was actually more like “Slow Jack,” as he failed to advance past the first round at Carolina in last Sunday’s eliminations.

He also failed to advance past the first round in the final pre-Countdown qualifying race, the U.S. Nationals, which he won last season.

All those things combined have put even more pressure on Beckman. He left Charlotte eighth in the 10-driver Funny Car Countdown standings.

2016_Jack_Beckman headshot

Being scored 110 points behind Funny Car points leader Ron Capps, Beckman had his work cut out for him heading into this weekend’s race at Gateway, in Madison, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.

And as he has done numerous times in his career, when the pressure was on him, Beckman responded, qualifying No. 2 on Saturday for Sunday’s eliminations.

Robert Hight earned the No. 1 qualifier position (3.893 seconds at 328.38 mph), but Beckman wasn’t far behind (3.907 seconds at 325.22 mph).

That’s a big start for Beckman, who won at Gateway in 2012 and ended up second in last year’s championship battle that was won by fellow veteran Del Worsham. Beckman will face Dale Creasy Jr. in the first round of eliminations.

Last season, Beckman won seven races in the 24-race NHRA national event schedule. This season has been much different, as he has just one win (Chicago in July).

But that doesn’t mean he still can’t win each of the five remaining Countdown races – which obviously would go a long way towards earning him his second career Funny Car championship (and in five seasons).

Beckman isn’t panicking after Charlotte. He’s finished first, third and second in three of the last four seasons. He knows he and his Infinite Hero Dodge Charger have the capability to make a serious championship run.

In addition to hoping he wins Sunday, Beckman is defending champion of next week’s Dodge Nationals at Maple Grove (Pa.) Raceway.

“Since you can’t control how the leading cars do, really the goal is simple: you just need to win the race,” Beckman said in a media release. “At some point we have to win the race if we have a chance.

“There’s not any other path to a championship. We lost ground we couldn’t afford to lose (at Charlotte) and we can’t afford to lose any more ground. I don’t see those teams not continuing to perform well and the only way we win the championship is to outperform them. It’s imperative we get back to our capabilities.”

A major change for Saturday’s qualifying effort paid off handsomely with his No. 2 spot for Sunday – although admittedly it was a gamble of sorts for Beckman and crew chief Jimmy Prock.

“We’re still running a five-disc clutch and we have one disc on there that when it works it’s great and when it doesn’t it smokes the tires instantly and becomes too aggressive,” Beckman said. “We’re going to take that one out and take our chances with a brand new disc. We’re taking a calculated risk but I think it’s the only choice we have.

“We have to take baby steps but we have to take them quickly or we run out of races. Before we can go quick consistently we have to get back our predictability and we have to do that by the end of (this weekend’s race at) St. Louis.

“All we can control right now is our lane. Because we’re running out of rounds, every single pass becomes more important. But if you dwell on that, there’s a high likelihood you’re not going to do as well as you want.

“As the season winds down, the pressure goes up, but if you let it affect you, you’re not going to be at your best. The only thing you can do is take a positive mindset every time you go up there.”

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Touring car legend Yvan Muller to leave WTCC after 2016

STRASBOURG, FRANCE - OCTOBER 04:   Yvan Muller of France attends the FIA pre event press conference at rally headquarters after the Shakedown of the WRC France on October 04, 2012 in Strasbourg , France.  (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
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Touring car racing legend and four-time world champion Yvan Muller will leave the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) at the end of the 2016 season.

Muller made his name in the British Touring Car Championship before making the switch across to WTCC in 2006 with Seat.

The Frenchman claimed his first world title in 2008 before enjoying further successes in 2010, 2011 and 2013, the latter three championships won while behind the wheel of a Chevrolet.

Muller joined Citroen following its arrival in WTCC for the 2014 season, but has been unable to add to his haul of championship as teammate Jose Maria Lopez romped to three straight crowns.

With Citroen set to leave WTCC at the end of the year, Muller has decided that the time is right to follow suit and call time on a stint in the series that has seen him score 47 wins, 119 podium finishes and over 2,600 points.

“I am not sure that age is the main factor when it comes to ending a career. It’s more a matter of desire and motivation,” Muller said.

“With all the testing, the simulator sessions, the physical training and the travel to the race venues, a season of professional motor racing requires a level of personal commitment that I am no longer prepared to put in.

“At the same time, I am at a time of my life where I want to do something else and I am happy to be able to make that decision after eleven seasons of FIA WTCC.

“I’ve had some great experiences over my career. These three seasons with Citroën Racing have been particularly special, even though I never managed to be world champion with this team. But I will always be proud of having helped to build our racing programme and develop the Citroën C-Elysée WTCC. I have also met some great people who are passionate about their job and have a fierce competitive spirit.

“Driving has been part of my daily life for so long that I can’t see myself stopping racing entirely. But I am going to spend more time with my family and developing my team, Yvan Muller Racing. Before that, though, I am going to put everything I’ve got into meeting the team’s goals.”

Lopez is also set to leave WTCC at the end of the year, having agreed a deal to race for Citroen sub-brand DS in Formula E for the all-electric series’ third season.

The 2016 WTCC season closes on November 25 at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar.

Report: Sam Schmidt to receive America’s first driver’s license for semi-autonomous car

2016 Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
May 29, 2016
© INDYCAR
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Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team owner Sam Schmidt is set to receive America’s first driver’s license for a semi-autonomous vehicle, according to a report from Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Schmidt sustained a spinal cord injury in a testing accident at Walt Disney World Speedway ahead of the 2000 IRL season, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.

Schmidt went on to establish Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with programs in IndyCar and Indy Lights, both of which he still heads up.

Schmidt has previously completed laps behind the wheel of a modified 2014 Corvette C7 Stingray at Indianapolis in 2014 and in Long Beach last year, dubbed the ‘SAM project’ – semi-autonomous motorcar – developed with Arrow Electronics.

Schmidt controls the car using a breathing tube for acceleration and braking, and steers using his head movements that are picked up by infrared cameras.

Now, the SAM project is set to hit the road, with Las Vegas Review-Journal reporting that Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles will grant Schmidt the first road license for a semi-autonomous car in the country.

The report says that Arrow has worked closely with the Nevada DMV to update regulations so that Schmidt is able to drive on state roads.

“Nevada is leading the nation in promoting autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicle technologies that can bring mobility and independence to people with physical disabilities, including our wounded warriors,” officials from the Nevada DMV said.

Robert Kubica scores podium finish on Renault Sport Trophy debut at Spa

16 KUBICA Robert (POL) HAMON Christophe (FRA) RENAULT RS 01 Team Duqueine action during the 2016 Renault Sport series  at Spa Francorchamps, Belgium, September  23 to 25  - Photo Eric Vargiolu / DPPI
© Renault Sport
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Robert Kubica enjoyed a successful debut in the Renault Sport Trophy at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday, finishing third alongside Christophe Hamon.

Former BMW and Renault Formula 1 driver Kubica announced last week that he would be entering the race weekend at Spa after accepting an invitation from the French manufacturer.

Kubica spent five seasons racing in F1 and won the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix for BMW before having his stint in the series cut short after a rally crash ahead of the 2011 season.

Severe injuries sustained to his right arm and hand meant left Kubica spending a lengthy spell in rehabilitation before making his return to motorsport in the World Rally Championship.

The Pole made his final WRC appearance in January at the Monte Carlo Rally before making his circuit racing return in the 12 Hours of Mugello with Mercedes.

Kubica enjoyed his first qualifying session since the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday ahead of the Renault Sport Trophy weekend, finishing third.

After seeing Hamon complete the first 10 laps of the race and suffer contact, Kubica completed the final 17 behind the wheel of the Renault R.S.01 car.

A late charge saw Kubica rise from P6 with 10 minutes remaining to cross the line third, six seconds behind race winners Raoul Owens and Fredrik Blomstedt.

Curiously, Kubica’s last F1 podium finish also came at Spa in 2010, finishing third for Renault behind Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber.

Kubica will return to Spa on Sunday for the sprint race, where he will race in the Pro class.