2014 Indy 500 driver-by-driver one-liners

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My MotorSportsTalk colleague Chris Estrada and I break down the 33 drivers in this year’s 98th Indianapolis 500, hopefully as quickly as possible. For a comparison to last year’s, have a look at what we thought ahead of 2013.

Much of Sunday’s race, the fifth of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series, will be determined by temperature, fuel mileage and tire wear as well as how good each car “sucks up” in the tow effect.

Row 1

20-Ed Carpenter (Ed Carpenter Racing/Chevrolet)

Tony DiZinno: Indiana’s native son and the back-to-back polesitter is smart enough to know what didn’t work last year, and what he and his team can change this year to keep it P1 on race day. I don’t think he takes it, but a top-3 or top-5 is a good projection.

Chris Estrada: One of the top oval racers in the entire series, Carpenter is capable of an upset if he can keep his nose clean going into the final quarter of the race.

27-James Hinchcliffe (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: One of the series’ most popular drivers would make a popular winner, especially after suffering his concussion in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Hasn’t yet had a truly great Indy 500, though.

CE: Hinch’s luck at the ‘500’ has been mixed, but considering the equipment at his disposal, a Top-5 finish is not out of the question.

12-Will Power (Team Penske/Chevrolet)

TDZ: His Fontana win exorcised demons but I’m not convinced – yet, anyway – Power has enough to make it back-to-back 500-mile wins. Racing at Indy and racing at Fontana are two completely different animals.

CE: Power was victorious the last time IndyCars raced on an oval, and he can definitely have a say in the outcome starting from the front row.

Row 2

3-Helio Castroneves (Team Penske/Chevrolet)

TDZ: I think this is your guy, or pretty dang close. Everything about the Pennzoil throwback livery, Rick Mears helmet and overcoming the struggles of the last several years points to him saying, “Hey, I’m freaking due for No. 4.”

CE: After leading just four laps in the last four Indy 500s, three-time winner Castroneves needs to summon his past magic.

77-Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports/Honda)

TDZ: Put him in the top tier of win contenders. In year three of his oval development, with a rocket of a car and a Senna tribute helmet, could well make it a month of May double at IMS.

CE: If GP of Indy winner Pagenaud takes the ‘500,’ you’d hope that IMS quietly wires him a bit of bonus money for sweeping the New Month of May.

25-Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: A popular pick; he always runs well at Indy and just needs that final bit of luck to match his consistent race craft.

CE: Marco’s been a threat in recent years, and a win from sixth on the grid would trigger some of the loudest cheers ever heard at 16th and Georgetown.

Row 3

34-Carlos Munoz (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: Perhaps it was because he was such a revelation last year, but I don’t think the sequel’s gonna be as good as the original for Munoz.

CE: After his explosive charge to second last year, Munoz cannot be counted out. But it just feels like a replication of that feat is a tick too much to ask.

67-Josef Newgarden (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing/Honda)

TDZ: The rising American star needs a good ‘500 after two trying ones, and has the pace to contend. A solid top-10 would be a good result for him.

CE: What an arrival on the national stage it would be for the gregarious American if he can come through for the small Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team.

21-JR Hildebrand (Ed Carpenter Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: The 2011 “he walled it on the last turn” narrative is tired. He needs a new chapter of his career, and is the best one-off challenger with Ed Carpenter Racing.

CE: One driver with a big chip on his shoulder + one team that’s proven itself on speedways = legitimate dark horse.

Row 4

2-Juan Pablo Montoya (Penske Motorsports/Chevrolet)

TDZ: The Penske “wild card.” He’s either going to be mixing it with the leaders or falling back due to the lack of balance, but I think he’ll stay within the top five most of the day.

CE: Montoya will be a force to be reckoned with once he fully comes to grips with the DW12, but right now, a Top-10 would be a solid day’s work.

9-Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Dixon’s race pace is better than we all thought (myself included). He knows how to handle this race, save fuel and will contend for his second win.

CE: The Target cars should be a threat in race trim, and after several near-misses, it feels like Dixon’s due to get his mug on the Borg-Warner for a second time.

26-Kurt Busch (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: One of the race’s biggest stories, but it would be a better story for IndyCar if he only ends top-five at best, and not in victory lane.

CE: You have to admire the former NASCAR champion for being a quick study with the IndyCar, but it seems that a Top-10/Top-15 showing is the ceiling for him.

Row 5

98-Jack Hawksworth (BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian/Honda)

TDZ: Admitted to me he has no idea where he’ll end up, but his street course pace from earlier this year has translated nicely to IMS. Must be considered a rookie-of-the-year contender.

CE: The Hawk has shown that he’s a gasser, but it will be interesting to see if he can play things steady in his first ‘500.’

19-Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Indy’s best “under the radar” driver in recent years is a potential win contender if the balance is right, but the pit stops must be spot-on throughout the day. One last year cost him dearly.

CE: Be prepared to say ‘Where’d Wilson come from?’ again; he’s pretty good at making people do that.

7-Mikhail Aleshin (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports/Honda)

TDZ: Fast and fearless is a dangerous combo at Indy. The Russian rookie could run the gamut from a top-five or crashing for the first time this month in a blaze of glory.

CE: The pedal-to-the-metal Aleshin will either stun the heck out of everyone like Munoz did last year or be one of the first in the fence; a “tweener,” he isn’t.

Row 6

10-Tony Kanaan (Target Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: The car’s good. The team’s good. He’s the defending champ and has nothing to lose. Watch his restarts and expect him in the top-five late battling for his second straight win.

CE: A Top-5 is doable for the defending ‘500’ champion, but I’m not sure he can be the first repeat Indy winner in over a decade.

11-Sebastien Bourdais (KVSH Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Erratic form this month in vacillating between quick and nowhere. Hasn’t found the balance or ultimate pace; I don’t think he’ll be a major contender.

CE: Running with the team that brought Kanaan his ‘500’ win could give Bourdais an opportunity, but IMS hasn’t been one of his better tracks (2 DNFs in 3 starts, average finish of 20.3).

16-Oriol Servia (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Not especially quick this month but I’d be surprised if he and the RLL crew aren’t in the top half dozen or so the last 20 laps.

CE: Like Wilson, Servia has the tendency to quietly put together good drives. How far his car will let him sneak up the pylon is the question.

Row 7

28-Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport/Honda)

TDZ: One of the best cars in race trim, RHR is a definite win contender, probably Andretti’s most complete driver.

CE: A tough qualifying session has Hunter-Reay right in the middle of the pack. One wonders if that will mean an aggressive approach from him at the start…

15-Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Has all the elements to succeed, but other than a third place in 2011 hasn’t really put it all together at Indy.

CE: Rahal seems to be perpetually under the radar at the Brickyard, but a strong performance on Sunday would mean a lot for his team and the National Guard this Memorial Day weekend.

18-Carlos Huertas (Dale Coyne Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Relatively quiet rookie who doesn’t make mistakes and seeks a trouble-free 500 miles.

CE: Huertas has one job: Get the car home in one piece. Consider the usual attrition factor at Indy, and a Top-15 would be a nice effort.

Row 8

63-Pippa Mann (Dale Coyne Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Good cause, good car, good crew and improved confidence. If the balance is right, a top-15 is more than possible.

CE: Here’s hoping that Mann can run the full distance and raise more money for the Susan G. Komen foundation. That said, she’s probably heading for a mid-pack run.

14-Takuma Sato (A.J. Foyt Enterprises/Honda)

TDZ: He nearly won 2012 and entered 2013 as points leader, but has been under the radar this year. Still seeks first ‘500 top-10.

CE: Sato was a non-descript 13th in last year’s race, and it doesn’t seem like he’ll be anything else but non-descript in the 98th Running.

68-Alex Tagliani (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing/Honda)

TDZ: Has been all but anonymous this month, but I’d expect that to end on race day… either with a big result or a big moment.

CE: With solid pit work, Tagliani’s veteran savvy could have that second Sarah Fisher Hartman car sniffing a Top-10.

Row 9

6-Townsend Bell (KV Racing Technology/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Our NBCSN analyst ended Carb Day practice P3 and is with defending champion KV Racing Technology; his third career ‘500 top-10 is more than possible.

CE: Third-fastest in Friday’s final practice, Bell may turn some heads on Sunday – and not just because of that vivid color splash on his Robert Graham car.

83-Charlie Kimball (Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: One of three or four “sneaky good” guys here at the Speedway, and he seeks his third straight top-10 finish in the ‘500.

CE: Kimball has turned mid-pack starts into Top-10 finishes the last two years, but he’s got a long road ahead of him coming from 26th on the grid.

5-Jacques Villeneuve (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports/Honda)

TDZ: The legend is back, having a great time, but he likely won’t factor into the lead pack.

CE: Villeneuve’s return after a 19-year absence is perhaps a little odd, but it’s always good to have another ‘500’ champ on the grid.

Row 10

33-James Davison (KVRT/Always Evolving Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Has quietly impressed on a short engine program for KV Racing Technology, and his vibrant teal and white car has top-15 potential.

CE: A full 200 laps will feel like a win for Davo no matter where he ends up on the pylon.

41-Martin Plowman (A.J. Foyt Enterprises/Honda)

TDZ: Foyt’s second car has never been the best in the Indy 500 and the likeable English rookie just needs to bring it home in one piece, with somewhere between 16th and 20th a reasonable effort.

CE: Like Davison, Plowman needs to log as many laps as he can and keep it off the wall.

8-Ryan Briscoe (NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Seems decently happy with the car in race trim and is in a better spot now having had months with his crew, as opposed to being a one-off last year. Should end top-10 if he stays out of trouble.

CE: Briscoe converted an Indy pole into a Top-5 finish in 2012. Starting 30th this year, he’ll have to do a lot more work to get a similar result.

Row 11

22-Sage Karam (Dreyer & Reinbold Kingdom Racing with Chip Ganassi Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: A rookie with swagger, enough self-confidence and a good team to where he could steal top rookie honors from the last row. Must be patient, though.

CE: SK Money needs another year or two before he becomes “bankable” at the ‘500.’ See what I did there?

17-Sebastian Saavedra (KV/AFS Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: Seeks an uneventful race after a seriously eventful month, but has kept his emotions in check through it all.

CE: After his GP of Indy pole turned into disaster, it’ll be interesting to see how Saavedra responds on the oval.

91-Buddy Lazier (Lazier Partners Racing/Chevrolet)

TDZ: With decent engineering and a solid Carb Day practice, could factor in for a top-15 if the temperature is right.

CE: The 1996 Indy champ probably isn’t a contender, but it’s not for a lack of trying from him or his family-run operation.

Carpenter set to focus only on two cars for 2017 Indy 500

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Unless a late deal comes together, expect Ed Carpenter Racing to only run two cars in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Chevrolet is in a position where it’s expected to make up the numbers to fill the 33-car field to get to at least 15, or possibly 16 cars for the marquee race of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.

But whereas an extra car was added each of the last three years for JR Hildebrand, team owner/driver Ed Carpenter said Thursday while he’d love to have Spencer Pigot in a third car this year the same way, the clock has nearly struck midnight for it to make business sense for the team.

Additionally, with Carpenter having missed out on the available KV Racing tub from the Key Auctioneers auction held earlier this week – A.J. Foyt Enterprises is believed to have acquired that chassis – there’s also the question of having enough proper tubs available to make a third car viable for ECR this year.

“We’ve done it in the past and it made sense to do, with a good program to do it well,” Carpenter told NBC Sports. “Right now, we don’t have it where makes sense for our business, and makes us more competitive. We’re not planning on doing it.

“It’s not that we don’t want to, but if the right combination isn’t there to have it happen, it won’t happen.”

Carpenter’s team finished third and sixth in last year’s Indianapolis 500 with Josef Newgarden and Hildebrand, while Carpenter himself retired with early race electrical issues and ended 31st.

While Pigot is emerging on the road and street courses this season, he was never confirmed in a third car for the Indianapolis 500 upon his confirmation for the 11 road and street races, although it made sense on paper.

Although he’s starred at a lot of tracks on his way to IndyCar in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, Pigot had a rough rookie month of May last year for the ‘500 as the first driver to hit the wall during practice and then qualifying 29th and finishing 25th in his last of three planned starts for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He also struggled the previous year in his lone Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires start at IMS.

The Rising Star Racing-backed driver shifted to Ed Carpenter Racing starting with the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit doubleheader the following week, where he’s been since.

“One of our main goals is to win the Indianapolis 500,” Carpenter explained. “I’m concerned about car count and getting to 33 cars… but I can’t put that at a higher priority than our own goals of winning the race. If it doesn’t make us stronger, like JR has, I’m not gonna the feel pressure to do it.”

Carpenter said he would not want to hold Pigot back from seeking another opportunity at the Indianapolis 500 if a late deal can’t be struck to stay with ECR for this race. And anyway, as last year, he’d be back in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet in Detroit to commemorate one year since his team debut.

“I’d love to see Spencer in the race,” Carpenter said. “Obviously I would have liked to have found enough to have him in one of our cars, but I can’t do it without the right funding to not make it the right thing for the team’s sake, and his sake. I’m not gonna hold him back from any opportunity.”

Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka (Carpenter) and Preferred Freezer Services (Hildebrand) will be on the team’s cars for the Indianapolis 500, PFS having been confirmed back with ECR for a fourth consecutive year earlier this week. Last year, PFS sponsored both Hildebrand and Newgarden in the Indianapolis 500.

Carpenter will be back in the car for his second test of 2017 on Saturday as part of a Chevrolet manufacturer test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Coupled with that test, the Texas Motor Speedway open test shortly after Long Beach and the Phoenix race end of April, Carpenter will have his busiest stretch of driving himself thus far in 2017 coming up within the next month.

“It’s a busy time for the team. I’m personally excited to be back in the car,” he said.

“I think (we) will be closer (to our teammates) this year. It was just one of those things last May, where we didn’t have the speed. I can’t say we totally had the answer as to why.

“But the team’s got a lot of work getting ready for the season. It’ll be fun to be on track Saturday. It’ll give us a sneak peek of where we are, and we’ll have a short window to make adjustments.”

Jean Todt: Playing field in F1 should be ‘much closer’

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FIA president Jean Todt has called for a more level playing field between teams in Formula 1, saying that the gaps between the biggest spenders and the smaller operations are too big.

2017 has marked the start of a new technical era for F1, with the design of the new-style cars being a focus for many teams over the past two years.

The opening round of the year in Australia saw Ferrari and Mercedes battle for victory, with Red Bull running a comfortable third-fastest, with the rest of the pack struggling to catch up. Race winner Sebastian Vettel lapped all but five cars.

Speaking to reporters in Australia, Todt expressed his concerns over the gap between F1’s ‘big three’ and the rest of the field, putting it down to the vastly different budgets.

“Ferrari did a good step forward with new regulations, it’s quite impressive. Mercedes is still very strong, there was a lot of speculation about the second driver, but for me there has never been a doubt that he [Bottas] would be very competitive,” Todt said, as quoted by crash.net.

“Red Bull seem to be a bit behind, and honestly I’m a bit concerned that between first and seventh or eighth, it is about two seconds. Still the gap is too big.

“We will really dream of having the 10 first cars within seven or eight tenths, and at the moment it is not yet happening.

“You have a lot of reasons for that, but clearly it is too big a discrepancy between the small budgets and bigger budgets, and the playing field should be much closer.”

F1 drivers relishing Silverstone, Suzuka races in new-style cars

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Formula 1 drivers Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas are all relishing the challenge of high-speed tracks such as Silverstone and Suzuka after enjoying their first races in the new-style 2017 cars last weekend.

This season has seen the introduction of revised cars under the new technical regulations that are capable of lapping multiple seconds per lap faster than their predecessors, aided by greater downforce and wider tires.

The new cars raced together for the first time last Sunday in Australia, with the pace difference around the tight confines of the Albert Park street course still notable.

All of the drivers have been impressed by what the new cars are capable of, finding them more fun and rewarding to drive, but it is when F1 hits the classic, high-speed tracks on the calendar that they will really come into their own.

When asked what track they were most looking forward to racing on this year, the top three finishers in Australia gave similar answers.

“Probably Silverstone. I think with that amount of grip and downforce,” Vettel said.

“Probably Suzuka as well later on in the year. Also I guess the cars will be even faster from what they are now.

“So, yeah, I think that would be quite nice. I’m looking forward to that.”

Hamilton added: “Yes, Silverstone, I agree” before Mercedes teammate Bottas echoed his peers’ thoughts.

“I think all the quick ones: Spa; Suzuka; Silverstone will be nice,” Bottas said.

“But I think even street circuits will be a bit more challenging I think – not that it wasn’t challenging before, but with these cars it will be nice.”

One of the biggest changes for 2017 has been the extra physicality of the cars, but Hamilton said he felt no major issues following the race in Australia.

“It was more physical but it was no problem for me and doesn’t look like it was for these guys either,” he said.

Vettel added: “It’s not the most physical circuit in the year. I think later on it will be very interesting. Here is very technical. So, first couple of laps, at least for me, were very intense.

“Obviously it’s easy to have an error, get something wrong under braking, go a bit wide etc. Later on I had a bit of a gap and I could control it, and therefore it was a bit easier.”

Chinese Grand Prix kicks off heavy April F1 stretch on NBCSN

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After an interesting kickoff to the 2017 Formula 1 season on NBCSN with the Australian Grand Prix last week, in just over a week the series will be back in action with the second round of the season, the Chinese Grand Prix from the Shanghai International Circuit. It’s the first of three F1 races in April with the Bahrain and Russian Grands Prix occurring later in the month.

Last year saw Nico Rosberg win in Shanghai over Sebastian Vettel and Daniil Kvyat, the last two having had a coming together at the start of the race before Vettel, now of Ferrari, beat his successor at Red Bull, Kvyat. Lewis Hamilton, meanwhile, only finished seventh after starting 22nd and last, missing qualifying with a mechanical issue.

Vettel enters China on the heels of his victory in Melbourne, but not having won in Shanghai since 2009, when he won for Red Bull for the first time. Mercedes has won the last three Chinese Grands Prix, Rosberg winning last year while Hamilton won in 2014 and 2015. Ferrari last won here in 2013, with Fernando Alonso.

Will Vettel continue with a second straight win to open the season, or will Mercedes reassume its place up top and continue its win streak in Shanghai? Can Red Bull reassert itself and who in the midfield will emerge?

All sessions will be live streamed on NBC Sports or via the NBC Sports App. FP2, qualifying and the race also will air on NBCSN. Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett are on the call with Will Buxton reporting from the pits and paddock. As in Melbourne, qualifying and race run during the late hours of the evening on the East Coast, and a bit earlier for those on the West Coast.

Here’s the schedule with where to watch on TV on digital platforms.

  • Practice 1: Thursday, April 6, 10 p.m.-11:30 p.m. ET (digital only)
  • Practice 2: Friday, April 7, 2 a.m.-3:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 3: Saturday, April 8, 12 a.m.-1 a.m. ET (digital only)
  • Qualifying: Saturday, April 8, 3 a.m.-4:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race: Sunday, April 9, 1 a.m.-4:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

The next race is the Bahrain Grand Prix, on April 16.