Ryan Hunter-Reay hangs on for Indianapolis 500 victory (VIDEO)

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Ryan Hunter-Reay has captured the 98th Indianapolis 500 in a dramatic finish, holding off a final charge from Helio Castroneves after making a gutsy, outside pass into Turn 1 on the final lap for the lead.

Hunter-Reay held off Castroneves by just 0.0600 of a second, the second-closest finish in ‘500 history (1992), and won after starting 19th on the grid. The win is the first for Andretti Autosport since 2007 (Dario Franchitti) and the team’s third overall.

“It’s a dream come true, man,” RHR told ESPN’s Dr. Jerry Punch in victory lane. “This is just the most fantastic team for what they’ve given me. My dream has come true today and I’m a proud American boy, that’s for sure.”

After a Lap 195 restart, Castroneves and Hunter-Reay exchanged the lead several times. The 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion is the first American winner of the Indianapolis 500 since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006 (which had been the second-closest finish). Unofficially, he should take over the 2014 points lead as well.

Marco Andretti finished third with Carlos Munoz fourth, Juan Pablo Montoya fifth and Kurt Busch sixth in his first Indianapolis 500, before he heads to Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600.

The race was more or less a fuel mileage battle over the first 149 laps, as the Indianapolis 500 set a record for the longest caution-free stretch in its illustrious race history. All of Hunter-Reay, Castroneves, Andretti, Montoya and Ed Carpenter were realistically in the mix for the lead, depending on when they pitted.

Montoya fell out of the lead pack following a Lap 131 pit stop where he had a pit speed violation, which also hit him at one NASCAR Brickyard 400 a number of years ago. Prior to that, he had been running three to four laps longer over the course of a stint, and was in prime position to win if the race stayed in a green flag flow.

But after Charlie Kimball’s half-spin on Lap 150 exiting Turn 2 brought out the race’s first caution – perhaps mercifully – things got wild, hairy and more yellow the rest of the way.

The fuel strategy game went out the window and by that point, the majority of the field pitted on Lap 153 for four tires and fuel. Carpenter, who didn’t pit on the sequence as he’d pitted eight laps earlier on Lap 145, assumed the lead on the restart.

Carpenter and Hunter-Reay exchanged the lead several times but the race didn’t stay green for long. Scott Dixon made an ultra rare unforced error as he smacked the wall exiting Turn 4, making hard left-side contact with the SAFER barrier on Lap 168.

During the yellow, rookie Martin Plowman contacted Josef Newgarden exiting Turn 3, which put Newgarden out of the race and ended the hopes of the popular “dark horse” pick.

Everyone would be good to go to the finish from there after making stops on Lap 170. Alex Tagliani temporarily stayed out in the second Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda, but pitted on Lap 174 before the restart.

The race’s most controversial incident occurred after the Lap 175 restart. Townsend Bell, who had driven a sterling race to that point in the No. 6 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet, was up to second and was involved in a three-wide scrap into Turn 1 with the top two starters in Ed Carpenter and James Hinchcliffe, who were running third and fourth.

Bell and Carpenter ran two-wide on corner entry with enough room for Hinchcliffe to at least consider sticking his car’s nose in for an attempt. Bell ran high but made slight contact with Carpenter, and Hinchcliffe’s dive into the corner meant that both drivers were out of the race. Bell continued in second behind new leader Hunter-Reay, who inherited the point after Tagliani’s pit stop.

After this accident, the race restarted once more on Lap 180, ran for a furious 10-lap stint, and then was halted again when Bell’s drive ended with contact in Turn 2.

Rather than stay under yellow for an extended period, INDYCAR opted to throw a red flag – similar to what was done at the 2012 season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. – to ensure the chance of a green-flag finish.

A final six-lap scrap occurred from there that was more-or-less a slingshot battle, where it seemed that being second was probably a better position than being first. Indeed Hunter-Reay and Castroneves exchanged the lead several times, and despite Castroneves’ final charge he was unable to pass the similar yellow car for the win.

Behind the top six already mentioned – of which four were from Andretti Autosport – Sebastien Bourdais upheld some honor for KVRT in seventh, Will Power ended eighth, rookie Sage Karam turned in a fantastic debut from P31 on the grid to ninth for Dreyer & Reinbold Kingdom Racing with Chip Ganassi Racing (finished ahead of all four Chip Ganassi Racing cars) and JR Hildebrand rounded out the top 10.

Risi Competizione confirms multiple race absence from IMSA

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The No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE will miss several upcoming IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races, starting at Watkins Glen International next weekend.

The team has plans to return to the GT Le Mans class later this year, but hasn’t said when.

Risi’s absence was first indicated when IMSA released the Watkins Glen entry list earlier this week. It takes the sole Ferrari in class out of it for a handful of races; the pair of Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella had a best finish of third so far this season.

“Following an extremely challenging first half of 2017, most recently at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, I have decided to withdraw the Risi Competizione race team from part of the 2017 IMSA season in order to consolidate resources and to reflect on future racing programs,” Team Principal Giuseppe Risi said in a release.

Risi’s crash at Le Mans was with a separate 488 GTE chassis, not its full-season one.

But the IMSA full-season one sustained back-to-back hits at Long Beach and Circuit of The Americas. Then, the brand new car took a beating after Matthieu Vaxiviere came over on top of Pierre Kaffer’s No. 82 car going into a chicane on the Mulsanne Straight.

Kaffer was sore but OK and is in Road America this weekend for Pirelli World Challenge GT action, where he competes in the No. 4 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS.

Rossi tops opening practice at Road America

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Alexander Rossi led the opening 45-minute practice session for this weekend’s KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America, in the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda for Andretti-Herta Autosport.

The young American has always liked this track, as this was one of the tracks he had past experience on prior to his debut season in IndyCar.

At the 4.014-mile circuit, Rossi posted a best time of 1:43.3285, clear of three Team Penske Chevrolets of Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Josef Newgarden. Scott Dixon completed the top five.

“It’s early; it’s a good way to start,” Rossi told IndyCar Radio after the session. “We’ve known we had a fast car. We just haven’t executed. We want our first win under our belt.”

Only the top 10 drivers down to Helio Castroneves in 10th were within one second, at 0.9964 of a second.

Eighth-placed Ryan Hunter-Reay brought out an early end to the session with an off-course excursion, beached at Turn 14. He was OK but the session ended a minute or two early.

Robert Wickens, in his first official Verizon IndyCar Series session filling in for Mikhail Aleshin at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, was 20th at 1:45.6823. That was within a tenth of the returning Esteban Gutierrez at 1:45.6257, for Dale Coyne Racing.

Wickens’ teammate James Hinchcliffe was sixth in this session. Meanwhile Gutierrez’s teammate Ed Jones debuted a new Walter Payton tribute helmet; Payton was Dale Coyne’s former business partner and had his first IndyCar race as co-owner here. The late Chicago Bears running back was, of course, one of the best running backs in NFL history. Jones’ decision to wear a Bears helmet in Elkhart Lake, not far from Green Bay, is a brave one!

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports co-owner Sam Schmidt updated Aleshin’s status when speaking to IndyCar Radio during the session.

“Supposedly, he’s on a flight. He got his visa from Paris. He’s supposed to land in Chicago tonight. We’ll see,” he said.

“Yeah up until yesterday morning we thought Mikhail would come in yesterday, and cruise normal fashion. Then his passport didn’t show up. We didn’t know if a day, two or three days. Called half a dozen guys. It was a bit of a scramble. We already had Robert’s seat, so that was convenient. Who could get here the quickest and get in the car. He hasn’t driven here in 10 years. But he’s getting up to speed quickly.”

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Liberty planning evolution, not revolution, with future F1 calendars

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GENEVA, Switzerland – Formula 1 CEO and chairman Chase Carey says that the sport’s owner, Liberty Media, is focusing on evolution instead of revolution when it comes to forming race schedules in the coming years.

Liberty completed its takeover of F1 back in January, with Carey replacing Bernie Ecclestone at the helm of the sport.

Widespread changes have been expected as Liberty looks to increase F1’s footprint and reach in key markets such as the United States, with a number of new races expected as a result.

A first provisional calendar for the 2018 season was published on Monday, featuring the 21 races expected, up one from 2017 after the addition of France and Germany, and the loss of Malaysia.

When asked by NBC Sports if 2019 would be the first F1 calendar that Liberty could put its stamp on, Carey responded by saying he believed it was already clear on the 2018 schedule.

“I think that stamp exists today. I think we’re very proud of the calendar,” Carey said.

“We view this as our calendar. I might expect over time the calendar will evolve a little bit, but most of the races we have are multi-year.

“You’re not going have in any one year, you’re not going to have a dramatic change because most of the agreements are multi-year agreements.

“I think very much this is a calendar we feel good about, and I would say it’s our calendar. It’s not anybody else’s.”

Carey said that a total revamp of the calendar was not realistic given the contracts for races that are already in place, a well as important factors such as the August summer break that gives teams a chance to shut down for a couple of weeks during a busy season.

“There are realities to deals we have in place. Some races are in historical places that are important, and there’s a reason they’re historically there,” Carey said.

“They’re places and races we’re very proud of that want to be in a particular time of the year, and obviously that’s important for us if they’re there. So I think in saying we’re burdened with some construct we inherited, I don’t look at it that way.

“There’s a logic to this calendar. European races are largely clustered in this period from mid May to early September. You’ve got your traditional August break. I think for us, our focus, I said in Montreal, we feeling good about the calendar.

“I think we believe we can continue to improve it, but I think there will be an evolution, not a re-doing. I think our focus is really making the races everything they can be.

“I think this calendar issue probably gets more weight and focus and people try to make more out of it than it is. I think our biggest priority is making these events, we have 21 events we have this year, everything they can and should and we hope they be.”

Alonso, Vandoorne get grid drops in Baku after power unit changes

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McLaren Formula 1 drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne are set to start this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix from the last row of the grid after the FIA confirmed that both will receive a 15-place drop from their qualifying position.

Alonso and Vandoorne are yet to score a single point through the opening seven races of the season amid ongoing difficulties for engine partner Honda, whose power unit has lacked both performance and reliability so far this season.

Alonso’s struggles continued in practice in Baku on Friday as he was forced to park up at the side of the track during FP2 with an apparent engine issue, adding to McLaren’s ongoing plight.

The Spaniard said in McLaren’s race preview that he expected to take a grid penalty for changing a number of parts on his power unit, with the drop being officially confirmed by the FIA on Friday.

Both Alonso and Vandoorne will take a 15-place grid drop from their final qualifying position on Friday, meaning they are likely to start from the final row of the grid.

The only other driver with a grid penalty in Baku is Carlos Sainz Jr., who will drop three places as punishment for causing a collision at the start of the Canadian Grand Prix two weeks ago.