Kurt Busch

With Indy 500 prep complete, Kurt Busch starts looking ahead to the Double

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Today was about getting back on the horse for Kurt Busch.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series star is set to become the first driver since Robby Gordon in 2004 to run the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, and he will try to be the second to run all 1,100 miles of that arduous “Double.”

Up to last Monday, his preparations for the ‘500’ in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda had been relatively smooth. But that all changed when he got loose in Turn 2 and crashed hard in practice.

The Andretti camp has since moved him to one of Marco Andretti’s backup cars for Sunday’s Greatest Spectacle in Racing. And today on Carb Day, Busch took it out on track for the first time since his Monday incident.

He was only 15th-fastest in the final practice session with a quick lap of 224.684 miles per hour. But instead of speed, he was seeking to get more acclimated with running in traffic and dealing with the IndyCar version of the draft – which he considers “much more violent” than what he usually encounters in a stock car.

“It’s just a matter of anticipating what’s in front of you, getting a run on the guys,” said Busch, who will start 12th in the ‘500.’ “With the bigger packs out there, it dirties up the air. It makes you very busy inside the car.

“Today I was able to feel busy, to stay on top of the adjustments, and to communicate to the crew what I think I need for Sunday’s race.”

With his ‘500’ preparation now complete, Busch gave himself a B-minus grade for his Indy efforts while noting the traffic matter. He believes that he’ll need the first half of the race to get used to passing and letting his rivals “feel confident around [me].”

But that’s not keeping Busch from aiming for a high goal in his attempt to do the Double. In 2001, his NASCAR teammate and boss, Tony Stewart, finished sixth at Indy with Chip Ganassi and then third in the Coke 600 for Joe Gibbs.

A similar outcome would be a great performance from “The Outlaw,” who continues to sense that the spotlight on him is getting brighter and brighter.

“As each day gets closer, you’re getting more anxious to get it done because you’ve been preparing for so long, then experiencing so many new things,” he said.

“I’m the least prepared of the individuals who have done the Double. They’ve all come from the open-wheel world and settled into the NASCAR world. For me, the lack of experience in the IndyCar world is what makes this fun, exciting, challenging.

“At the end of the day, it’s just about giving it my best and not making a mistake on Sunday to try to get 1,100 miles in.”

Tomorrow, Busch will be back in Charlotte preparing for the Coke 600 with a pair of Sprint Cup practice sessions (9:30-10:20 a.m. ET, 1-2 p.m. ET) before the Nationwide Series stages its 300-mile race. Busch will start 28th in the ‘600’ on Sunday night.

THROUGH THE YEARS: The Double on Memorial Day Weekend

1994 – John Andretti
Indy 500: Finished 10th…Coca-Cola 600: Finished 36th

1997 – Robby Gordon
Indy 500: Finished 29th…Coca-Cola 600: Finished 41st

1999 – Tony Stewart
Indy 500: Finished 9th…Coca-Cola 600: Finished 4th

2000 – Robby Gordon
Indy 500: Finished 6th…Coca-Cola 600: Finished 35th

2001 – Tony Stewart
Indy 500: Finished 6th…Coca-Cola 600: Finished 3rd (First and only time all 1,100 miles have been completed)

2002 – Robby Gordon
Indy 500: Finished 8th…Coca-Cola 600: Finished 16th

2003 – Robby Gordon
Indy 500: Finished 22nd…Coca-Cola 600: Finished 17th

2004 – Robby Gordon
Indy 500: Finished 29th…Coca-Cola 600: Finished 20th.

*Davy Jones attempted to run The Double in 1995, but failed to qualify for the Coca-Cola 600. He finished 23rd at Indy.

Spectator dies after accident on opening stage of Monte Carlo rally

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Officials have confirmed that a spectator has died following an accident on the first stage of the Monte Carlo Rally on Thursday night, the opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Hyundai driver Hayden Paddon slid off the route towards the end of the 21.25 km stage between Entrevaux and Ubraye, with his car blocking the course.

Emergency services were quickly called when it emerged that a spectator had been hurt in the accident, with rally officials confirming later in the evening that the fan had died as a result of injuries sustained.

“The Automobile Club de Monaco regrets to advise further details following incident of the car #4 (Paddon/Kennard) in SS 1,” a statement from the rally organizers read.

“The spectator was transported by helicopter from the stage to hospital in Nice. Despite the best efforts of the medical staff, the spectator has sadly died.

“An investigation has commenced into the incident and all involved parties will provide assistance to the authorities.

“Everyone associated with the event extends their deepest sympathies and condolences to the families, friends and individuals affected.”

Hyundai issued its own statement soon after: “Hyundai Motorsport is deeply saddened to learn of the tragic passing of a spectator during the opening stage of Rallye Monte-Carlo on Thursday evening.

“The incident occurred at the same time as the #4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC of Hayden Paddon and John Kennard crashed into the mountainside, after the car hit a patch of black ice at the entry to a left-hand turn.

“The team and crew have pledged their full support to the event organisers and authorities to understand the full details.

“Hyundai Motorsport extends its condolences to the family, friends and individuals affected.”

The stage was cancelled following the incident, with the rally resuming on stage two later in the evening. Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville currently leads by 7.8 seconds from defending world champion Sebastien Ogier.

Paddon’s car has been withdrawn from the remainder of the rally as a result of the incident on Friday.

Gateway secures deal with Bommarito Auto for IndyCar race sponsorship

MADISON, IL - AUGUST 9:  Bryan Herta drives his #27 Andretti Green Racing Honda Dallara during practice for the IRL (Indy Racing League) IndyCar Series Emerson 250 at the Gateway International Raceway on August 9, 2003 in Madison, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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Gateway Motorsports Park’s return to the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule will feature a two-year title sponsorship from Bommarito Automotive Group, it was confirmed on Thursday. The St. Louis Business Journal was first to report the news.

The largest auto dealer in St. Louis will see its name on the race, now titled the Bommarito Automotive Group 500. Gateway’s return comes on August 26 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), for its first IndyCar race since 2003.

“We are pleased to announce that Bommarito Automotive Group will join Gateway Motorsports Park in the production of our inaugural INDYCAR event as the title sponsor,” Curtis Francois, Owner and CEO of Gateway Motorsports Park, said in a release.

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“This is a tremendous event for the St. Louis region and no one knows our town better than the folks at Bommarito. They are a progressive group, known for a high standard of quality and excellence. It’s the same standard of on-track action and family-friendly experience that we look forward to delivering with our landmark event.”

“We are excited to partner with Gateway Motorsports Park and the Verizon IndyCar Series,” said John Bommarito, President of the Bommarito Automotive Group. “When approached by Gateway about the return of INDYCAR to St. Louis, we felt it was important to have a major St. Louis company step forward and support the return of open wheel racing to the region.  We are extremely proud to be the title sponsor of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500.”

Gateway will be the sixth and last oval race of the season, following earlier races in Phoenix, Indianapolis, Texas, Iowa and Pocono.

Rahal wants to turn 2016’s unrealized potential into reality in 2017

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Graham Rahal likes to say “2016 was a year of tremendous potential.”

But it also was a year that some potential was not realized.

After a career season in 2015, when he finished fourth in the Verizon IndyCar Series and earning two wins and six podium finishes, Rahal slipped back slightly in 2016, finishing fifth with just one win and only four podiums.

So what does 2017 hold in store? If things go well for the son of 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, the tremendous potential of 2016 will morph into potential not only realized, but could result in the younger Rahal’s best year ever.

Rahal has the power, the car, the equipment and the personnel to make some major upward moves this year.

“We just have to find going forward a way to keep that performance level, enhance it a little bit,” Rahal said. “Obviously the cars aren’t really going to change at all (major changes are planned for 2018).

“I felt like speed-wise, our performance (in 2016) was actually better than 2015, pretty considerably. We just did our season reviews about a month and a half ago, and it’s pretty clear to see performance-wise, the team performed a lot better.

“However, we had a lot of things that just didn’t quite go our way, whereas in 2015 we had bounces that certainly did. 2016 the bounces didn’t happen. We had to fight a lot harder, still managed to get a top-five finish in the championship.

“I think that I probably drove better last year than 2015. But hopefully the best is yet to come. As a driver you always have to be critical of where can you improve, where were mistakes, what did you kind of let go, you know, and where did you lose points.”

The 28-year-old Rahal is particularly focused on potentially following in his father’s footsteps of winning the biggest race of all, the Indianapolis 500.

In nine starts in the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, the younger Rahal has just two top-10 finishes: third in 2011 and fifth in 2015. At the opposite end of the spectrum Rahal has four finishes of 25th or worse, including two last-place showings (2008 and 2014).

“We really need to improve at Indy,” he said. “That’s our main focus of everything this off-season. And also get a little bit of those breaks. You know, that’s kind of the goal. That’s what we feel like we need.”

The younger Rahal will also reunite for at least the Indianapolis 500 and probably more races with Oriol Servia, which should help upgrade Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s testing, race preparation and data sharing.

“Oriol is a clear plug-in for us,” Rahal said. “First of all, he’s a great guy. Second of all, he will help us. He’s going to help our performance at Indy. I can tell you that right now. And third, he’s been there so many times with the organization, he’s been in and out of the team a handful of times. He knows everybody. He’s been part of the team before. So it’s a clear fit.

“We need just a very experienced guy who can help lead us down the right path, and Oriol is going to be that guy.”

Interestingly, RLL had the opportunity to bring in a full-time second driver, but chose to go with the 42-year-old Servia in a limited number of races for now.

“There were several drivers who came to the team that wanted to run full season, had budgets to do it and everything else, and they were all turned away,” Rahal said. “The team is focused on making sure if there is the addition of a second car full-time, it has to fit the right environment.

“… We really are proud of the environment that we have, and so Oriol is a guy that fits that just perfectly and won’t upset the apple cart, so to speak. … He’s a great guy, and I think he’ll do a heck of a job for us. We’re looking forward to it.”

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Kimi Raikkonen becomes ambassador for sport in Finland

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29:  Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari walks in the Paddock before practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Ferrari Formula 1 driver Kimi Raikkonen was named as an ambassador for sport in Finland at a ceremony in Helsinki on Wednesday night.

Raikkonen won the F1 world championship with Ferrari in 2007, becoming the third Finn to achieve the feat following Keke Rosberg in 1982 and Mika Hakkinen in 1998 and 1999.

Raikkonen was honored by Finnish prime minister Juha Sipila at an award’s ceremony, with Ferrari reporting that his presence at the event was kept secret until the last moment.

“I’m not that used to making formal speeches,” Raikkonen said, referring to his reputation for his monosyllabic nature.

“But I would like to wish all the best to the winners in every category, as well as those who missed out on the prizes this year.

“I would stress how important it has been in my case to have the support of my family and help from trustworthy colleagues and the people within the Ferrari team, with whom I have worked for so many years now.”

Raikkonen will return for a 15th season in F1 in 2017 – his seventh with Ferrari – as he looks to build on his sixth-place finish in last year’s drivers’ championship.