Indy 500 Notes: Bourdais earns best Indy finish; mixed fortunes for part-timers

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Sebastien Bourdais completed a fruitful Month of May on Sunday, picking up his best-ever Indy 500 finish two weeks after collecting a Top-5 (fourth) in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Starting 17th, Bourdais (pictured, No. 11) stayed in mid-pack for much of the race’s long duration under green (the first 148 of 200 laps ran caution-free), but rose into the Top 10 on Lap 147 and eventually came home seventh.

“Not a great day, but a good day,” the four-time Champ Car title winner said. “We struggled a bit with the car the whole month, but we stuck with it and got the best out of it today.

“We didn’t start in the front so it was a challenge to get there. Overall, it was a strong performance, a good result and we got double points. Now we move on to Detroit [next weekend].”

Prior to Sunday, Bourdais’ best ‘500’ finish was 12th in his inaugural appearance in 2005.

Let’s take a look at how some of Sunday’s part-time and one-off drivers fared…

21-J.R. Hildebrand (Ed Carpenter Racing; started ninth, finished 10th)

Hildebrand, the 2011 ‘500’ Rookie of the Year, had an up-and-down Sunday. He was an early charger and hung around the Top 5 in the first half of the race, but a tire issue developed and forced him to pit, knocking him as far back as 22nd.

Undeterred, Hildebrand steadily came back and rose as high as sixth at Lap 141 before settling for 10th in the end.

“Any day that you are not sitting in victory lane and drinking the milk, it’s a disappointment,” he said. “For us…It’s frustrating because we had a really good car. We had an issue with a tire that got us out of the pit sequence. The car got bad with the tire issue. I had to pit or I was going to crash.

“But the car was fast. We passed a ton of guys today, including in the end. It was nice earlier when we jumped from ninth to third and I was running with Ed.”

16-Oriol Servia (Rahal Letterman Lanigan; started 18th, finished 11th)

Grip issues kept Servia from advancing further at the end, but the Spaniard was also bothered by what he saw as too much clutter on the track.

“We had a good race overall but I was really hoping that the track offi­cials would decide to sweep the marbles like they should,” the open-wheel veteran said.

“Because we had around three quar­ters of the race under green so there were a lot of marbles and pieces of debris out there and that’s why you couldn’t pass anybody, which is a shame because you can’t go side-by-side.

“I don’t know why they decided not to clean the track. It could have been a much better race.”

68-Alex Tagliani (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing; started 24th, finished 13th)

Tagliani battled a loose condition on his race car, a matter that couldn’t be solved quickly due to the long, caution-free portion of the race. But eventually, the team found a sweet spot with the balance and turned in good pit stops to make up some time.

As for his overall experience with SFHR, the Canadian came away impressed with the usually single-car outfit.

“Until you work with a team, you don’t know what it’s like,” he said. “Hopefully it’s a team that will become a two-car program, and I’ll be right there when that happens.

“It’s definitely a team with potential, and if one day they become a two-car team, with what they showed me this month, it’s definitely something I’d be interested in looking at.”

63-Pippa Mann (Dale Coyne Racing; started 22nd, finished 24th)

A mechanical problem that emerged after her second pit stop forced Mann to come in again and put her several laps off the pace. But while the race didn’t go that well for her, she was still able to accomplish an important goal on Sunday.

“I’m really pleased we were able to go out there and exceed our 400 lap target for the month, to raise funds and awareness for Susan G. Komen in the fight against breast cancer,” she said. “It’s been an honor to carry the Susan G. Komen Running Ribbon this month.”

91-Buddy Lazier (Lazier Partners Racing; started 33rd, finished 32nd)

The 1996 Indy winner was the second driver to bow out on Sunday at Lap 87, with the team confirming on social media that it was due to a clutch failure.

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.