Live Blog for the 98th Indianapolis 500

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3:08 p.m. ET: This will be the end of things here on the Live Blog. We’ll have more on the finish of the 98th Indianapolis 500 coming up shortly on MotorSportsTalk, and plenty of post-race stories to follow…

3:01 p.m. ET: A furious finish is in store at the 98th Indianapolis 500 after Townsend Bell crashed in Turn 2 just after INDYCAR threw a yellow for debris in the vicinity.

That yellow then switched to a red flag due to the size of the debris field, and the race has been stopped with nine laps remaining. The decision was met with cheers from the crowd at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Ryan Hunter-Reay took the lead from Helio Castroneves with 15 laps to go and remains up front. Castroneves, who is seeking his fourth ‘500’ win, is in second, followed by Marco Andretti in third, Carlos Munoz in fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya in fifth.

As for NASCAR star Kurt Busch, a strong second-half run has put him in sixth place as he hopes to head off to tonight’s Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte with a great result.

2:46 p.m. ET: Scott Dixon has slammed hard into the outside wall in Turn 4 while running near the Top 5, ending his bid for a second Indy 500 title.

After making his first impact on the outside wall, Dixon slid into the inside wall on the front-stretch, as cars behind him dodged his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and the debris flying from it. While that incident played out, Martin Plowman ran into the back of Josef Newgarden as they headed for the site of Dixon’s accident.

The leaders pitted for what should be the final time under the caution, and it was Ryan Hunter-Reay that won the race off of pit road. Ed Carpenter was second off, while NBC Sports’ IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell was third off in his KV Racing Technology machine.

The trio restarted in that order at Lap 175, but James Hinchcliffe went to the inside of Carpenter going into Turn 1 as Bell went to their outside. Hinchcliffe and Carpenter wound up making contact and both went into the Turn 2 wall.

Under the yellow, Hunter-Reay leads Bell, Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti, and Takuma Sato.

2:24 p.m. ET: With 51 laps to go, the 98th Indianapolis 500 finally saw its first caution flag of the afternoon as Charlie Kimball got loose and spun on his own coming off of Turn 2. That came one lap after he was able to make a major save while battling with Takuma Sato.

With 48 laps remaining, Marco Andretti led Ryan Hunter-Reay and the rest of the leaders to the pits for a crucial round of stops. But the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion was able to win the race off pit road over Andretti.

Hunter-Reay and the leaders settled in behind pole sitter Ed Carpenter, who stayed out after pitting a few laps before the Kimball caution on Lap 145.

The Indiana native brought the field back to the green flag at Lap 157, but Hunter-Reay charged by him going into Turn 1. Carpenter re-claimed P1 at the same corner on the next lap, only to have Hunter-Reay shoot past him again at Lap 159.

With 40 to go, your Top 5 is Hunter-Reay, Carpenter, Andretti, Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves. But a final stop is still on the way…

2:02 p.m. ET: Juan Pablo Montoya appeared set to win the fuel mileage game today at the Indianapolis 500, but the Colombian drew a pass-through penalty for speeding on pit road following his stop at Lap 132.

Before the most recent cycle of green-flag stops, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves both spent time at the front; Castroneves took the lead from Hunter-Reay on the inside of Turn 1 at Lap 107, but nine laps later, the American returned the favor going into Turn 3.

As those two drivers swapped the point, contender Ed Carpenter had to make an unscheduled stop at Lap 116 due to blistering on his right-rear tire.

On Lap 123, Castroneves pitted from second place under green but had a slow stop and lost precious seconds. Hunter-Reay followed him in soon after and came up with a clean stop, but as the cycle played out, Montoya once again was able to stretch his fuel a few laps longer.

But then came his penalty from his Lap 132 stop, which was called five laps after his Penske teammate, Will Power, was also hit with his own speeding penalty.

At cycle’s end, it’s Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Castroneves, Carpenter, and Scott Dixon running as your Top 5. Montoya has now fallen out of the Top 10.

1:35 p.m. ET: Just more than an hour and 10 minutes into the race, the 98th Indianapolis 500 is halfway home, and caution-free.

At crossed flags, Ryan Hunter-Reay leads Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti, Ed Carpenter and Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya ran until Lap 99 before pitting the third time; he has consistently run 3-4 laps longer in each fuel sequence.

Scott Dixon is sixth with Will Power seventh, Simon Pagenaud eighth, JR Hildebrand ninth and Carlos Munoz 10th. Rookie Sage Karam, who started 31st, made it as high as eighth but is consistently pitting 4-6 laps earlier on each sequence.

That leaves Montoya, Karam and Pagenaud as the three on slightly altered fuel strategies heading into the second half of this race, which is so far averaging well over 212 mph.

1:15 p.m. ET: Another round of green flag pit stops are in the books, the second of the race. Juan Pablo Montoya ran four laps longer than the rest of the field on that stint and pitted from the lead on Lap 66; Marco Andretti, who had charged to the front, was the leader just before that.

At Lap 70, the top 10 was Castroneves, Andretti, Carpenter, Dixon, Hunter-Reay, Power, Pagenaud, Montoya, Hinchcliffe and Karam.

Graham Rahal is out of the car and Tony Kanaan’s chances for a repeat win have been dampened by a 40-plus second pit stop for a rear wing adjustment. TK fell back to P31. Pippa Mann also spent extended time in the pits and lost eight laps.

1:00 p.m. ET: We’re past the one-quarter distance mark, with 50 laps in the books. Will Power took the lead from Carpenter on Lap 37 and has led through the Lap 50 mark, with Carpenter second and his Indianapolis teammate JR Hildebrand now third. Marco Andretti is fourth with Helio Castroneves fifth, Scott Dixon sixth and James Hinchcliffe seventh. Carlos Munoz, Tony Kanaan and NBCSN analyst Townsend Bell completed the top 10.

Castroneves got warned for blocking from Race Control after a chop on Andretti down the front straight; the pair were battling for fifth.

Elsewhere rookie Sage Karam made a ridiculously stout move to the outside of fellow first-timer Mikhail Aleshin for P18, and Rahal parked in the pits with apparent engine issues, and reported a loss of drive.

12:50 p.m. ET: More than 30 laps are in the books and Carpenter, who led until Lap 28, needed to pit first as he burned the most fuel while leading. Hinchcliffe followed a lap later on Lap 29 and a bevy of stops followed from there.

On the reset, lap 33 after the first round of green flag pit stops, Hinchcliffe now leads from Carpenter, Power, Castroneves and Hildebrand.

NBCSN analyst Townsend Bell charged to as high as P12 after starting 25th; his setup is identical to KVRT’s winning one for Tony Kanaan in 2013. Meanwhile Kurt Busch runs 20th. Rookie Sage Karam was the first driver to pit, stopping on Lap 27.

Graham Rahal fell to 32nd as his No. 15 National Guard Honda was reported struggling with the rear.

12:33 p.m. ET: We’re 10 laps in. Ed Carpenter has just taken the lead from James Hinchcliffe to mark the first official lead change of the race.

Power’s third with Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti, JR Hildebrand, Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon, Carlos Munoz and Josef Newgarden the top 10.

Biggest mover has been Ryan Hunter-Reay from P19 to P11; Townsend Bell has gained seven spots from P25 to P17, and Sage Karam (P26) and Sebastian Saavedra (P27) each gained five spots. Rookie Jack Hawksworth lost six spots to drop to P19 and Kurt Busch is currently 15th.

12:25 p.m. ET: Jim Nabors has sung “Back Home Again in Indiana” for the final time, and we are green for the 98th running. James Hinchcliffe has led the opening lap for the second time in three years, having also done so in 2012.

Second through fifth: Ed Carpenter, Will Power, Marco Andretti and Helio Castroneves.

Slight contact for Ryan Briscoe has necessitated a pit stop for a new front wing. Briscoe, who started 30th, bounced off the wall at the exit of Turn 2 and made slight right front wing damage.

11:56 a.m. ET: Kurt Busch will begin his quest today to run all 1,100 miles of the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in just a few minutes. The former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion will roll off 12th in his Andretti Autosport Honda for the ‘500,’ and he’s looking forward to tackling multiple challenges.

“[It’s about] just settling in and getting into that race mode, and race mode to me means protecting your car and putting yourself in position to make passes – but not questionable positions,” he told ESPN.

“And there’s pit road – pit road here is one of the toughest in a stock car and very tough in an IndyCar…The guy that makes the least amount of mistakes usually is up close to the front in this race. Sometimes, it’s not the fastest car.”

Kurt Busch and family waiting on the Indianapolis 500 grid. #indycar

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11:30 a.m. ET: Welcome to MotorSportsTalk’s live blog for the 98th Running of the Indianapolis 500. My colleague Chris Estrada and I will be rolling with updates as the race progresses.

Thus far we’ve had the usual parade of bands, vintage cars and celebrities. The pre-race atmosphere is intense and incredible as always, as fans head to their seats and the grid is announced.

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.

United Fiber & Data back, again, for Marco Andretti’s car

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The continued relationship between United Fiber & Data and Andretti Autosport rolls into 2017, although not in the way that was probably planned for either party.

UFD, which served as a major associate sponsor in 2013, primary sponsor for James Hinchcliffe’s No. 27 car in 2014 and a co-primary sponsor for Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz last year, has now been confirmed for “select races” taking over as primary sponsor of Andretti’s No. 27 Honda this year, starting with next week’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

This decision comes in the wake of hhgregg’s ongoing business situation, where per media reports (one from USA Today here as a recent example) the electronics retailer plans to close a number of stores and was close to filing for bankruptcy.

“We are strategically exiting markets and stores that are not financially profitable for us,” hhgregg CEO Robert Riesbeck said in a statement in early March, via USA Today. “This is a proactive decision to streamline our store footprint in the markets where we have been, and will continue to be, important to our customers, vendor partners and communities.”

The sponsor had been announced as a multi-year, co-primary sponsor in August. A release from the Andretti Autosport team today didn’t confirm hhgregg’s exit from the team, nor did it state how many races UFD plans to be the primary sponsor. However, it would probably be a surprise to see hhgregg return later this year.

In the release, the team stated: “The rebranding comes as a result of the current issues being faced by hhgregg, leading Andretti Autosport to the decision of transitioning the branding on the No. 27 Indy car piloted by Marco Andretti.”

“We’d like to wish Bob (Riesbeck) and the entire hhgregg family luck as they work through the current situation,” said Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti. “We are blessed to have such loyal and dedicated partners; and while this is an unfortunate situation for hhgregg, we are pleased to have such a strong relationship remaining with United Fiber & Data.”

“We are proud of our longstanding partnership with Andretti Autosport, and we are equally pleased to continue this partnership by serving as a primary sponsor for select IndyCar races this season,” added Bill Hynes, Founder & CEO of United Fiber & Data (UFD). “We look forward to once again bringing the signature colors of the UFD livery to IndyCar tracks across the country.”

Finishing in Australia the ‘first milestone’ for Vandoorne, McLaren

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Stoffel Vandoorne says that getting to the finish of last Sunday’s Formula 1 season-opening Australian Grand Prix was the “first milestone” for McLaren after a difficult winter.

McLaren entered the new year looking to build on a quietly impressive 2016 campaign that saw engine partner Honda make big gains, lifting the team to sixth in the constructors’ championship.

Honda tried to cut the gap to pace-setter Mercedes by revising the layout of its power unit, only for a number of issues to arise through pre-season that left Vandoorne and teammate Fernando Alonso frustrated on the sidelines for much of testing.

McLaren arrived in Australia unsure about its chances, but Alonso was able to fight for P10 through the race before retiring late on due to a suspension issue.

Vandoorne did reach the checkered flag, albeit two laps down after having to complete a power cycle on his car mid-race. The Belgian was eventually classified 13th.

“It was a difficult race, but we knew that before coming here. We have to look at the positives, we finished the race, even with some issues we had,” Vandoorne told NBCSN.

“It was very busy behind the steering wheel doing a lot of changes on the toys and really trying to bring the car home. We even had to come in the pit lane and do a full power cycle of the car. At some point I lost the dash as well so didn’t really know what was going on.”

Despite the issues, Vandoorne said McLaren could take plenty of positives from the race, admitting that he did not expect to even finish the first round in Australia.

“I think it’s the first milestone to finish the race already. After Barcelona we didn’t expect this,” Vandoorne said.

“As a total package, we’re definitely not there. We don’t have the pace yet to compete with the cars ahead, that’s for sure. We need a big push.

“Hopefully China shows another step for us.”