Ryan Hunter-Reay

Big accolades, checks and laughs at Indy 500 Victory Awards Celebration

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MotorSportsTalk recaps the Indianapolis 500 banquet night, which brought the curtain down on a successful and more buzz-worthy Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

By Chris Estrada: Another Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway wound down last night with the Victory Awards Celebration, where ‘500’ winner Ryan Hunter-Reay was the guest of honor.

The American driver, who held off Helio Castroneves in the second-closest finish in Indy history, took home $2,491,194 from a total purse of more than $14 million.

RHR led 56 laps after starting 19th; the last time a driver led the most laps in the ‘500’ from a lower starting position was in 1975, when Wally Dallenbach Sr. paced 96 circuits after rolling off 21st (a blown piston relegated him to a ninth-place finish).

Castroneves just missed becoming the fourth four-time winner of the ‘500,’ but picked up a tidy sum of $785,194 for his runner-up performance. Third-place finisher Marco Andretti will have to wait another year to break the Andretti Curse, but still banked $585,194.

Carlos Munoz followed up his eye-opening debut in last year’s ‘500’ with a steady run to fourth last Sunday, and that earned him a check for $449,194. Juan Pablo Montoya netted $441,944 for finishing fifth in his first ‘500’ since winning his only other Indy start in 2000.

Sunoco ‘500’ Rookie of the Year honors went to NASCAR star Kurt Busch, who started 12th and finished sixth in his IndyCar debut for Andretti Autosport. His total winnings of $423,889 included a $25,000 bonus from Sunoco.

Busch ran the ‘500’ in his quest to run the full 1,100-mile ‘Double’ of Indy and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Unfortunately for him, Busch was stopped at 906 miles when he suffered an engine failure in the ‘600.’

By Tony DiZinno: The Indy 500 banquet night is traditionally a great night of viewing. For as stressed, on edge and focused as the drivers, crews and teams have to be for the rest of the month, the banquet is a great chance for everyone to reflect, relax, crack some jokes, and soak up all the moments that made this month magical.

You also get to see a side of the drivers that you don’t for the rest of the month. Personalities emerge as the guys take chances to riff on each other, all in good fun.

Graham Rahal kicked the night off with earning $341,194 for finishing 33rd and last, and then made the comment that if he or Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammate Oriol Servia didn’t win, he hoped Hunter-Reay did. Scott Dixon took that line a bit further when he said, “Graham Rahal, you told me the same thing.”

And then… we got to James Hinchcliffe and Ed Carpenter. On Tuesday before the race, front-row starters Hinch and Ed enjoyed having some playful banter in Milwaukee. But on Sunday, the two collided in Turn 1 as Townsend Bell made it through on the outside.

Luckily, the immediate frustration of both drivers being out on the spot on Sunday shifted back to pleasantries and banter when these two took the stage to accept their prize money.

Hinchcliffe was introduced by a Justin Bieber song (songs were picked based on the driver’s native country or hometown… Hinch is Canadian), and the “Mayor” promptly ripped on the selection committee for the choice.

Asked whether he and Carpenter had kissed and made up, Hinch replied, “Soft lips. Soft lips. You’re a lucky woman, Heather (Carpenter, Ed’s wife).”

But Carpenter got the last laugh when he came up next. “His check isn’t big enough; if it was, he’d have proposed,” Carpenter joked, which sent the room into an uproar. “Sorry how it worked out, Kirsten.”

Seriously, INDYCAR, get these two a show soon…

Anyway, through the rest of the field, rookie James Davison’s speech stood out as he got ultra emotional in calling his first start “the best day of his life.” Alex Tagliani paid tribute to wife Bronte by saying “Yes, she’s hot … she’s got the heart of an angel.” Simon Pagenaud paid tribute to the entire month saying, “We won 50 percent of the race in May so we’ll share that with Ryan!”

Busch was overcome by the moment, too. “I’ve done the Daytona 500… the Coca-Cola 600… and the Brickyard 400… but the Indianapolis 500 will blow you away,” he said. “I’m blown away by the challenge of the open-wheel world. My career was at a crossroads.”

Lastly Hunter-Reay took the stage with a measured, polished and thankful speech to round out the night.


RC Enerson stars in first official day in Coyne’s No. 19 IndyCar

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – On Friday, 19-year-old rookie RC Enerson delivered arguably one of the most impressive debut days in an IndyCar in recent memory – if not ever.

With only one day of testing, Enerson took what he learned from his first day last week and translated it into some seriously impressive practice pace for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Honda Indy 200.

Enerson went from 1.1042 seconds off the pace in the first 75-minute practice session in the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 21st, all the way to within 0.5322 off in the second – all the way up to seventh in that session and second Honda in the field, only behind defending Honda Indy 200 race winner Graham Rahal.

That time in free practice two left Enerson a combined 10th on the day, again second among the Hondas only to Rahal.

It didn’t really surprise those who’ve followed his career in the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires closely. However, it did wow the paddock at large.

It was fitting, perhaps, Enerson was behind Rahal and then was sat next to Scott Dixon in the day end press conference because Rahal also starred as a teenager in his first season in open-wheel – 2007 in Champ Car – while Dixon became IndyCar’s then-youngest winner at age 20 in his first season in CART in 2001… before Rahal beat that in 2008 at age 19.

“I grew up watching a lot of these guys race,” Enerson explained during the post-practice press conference. “My first Indy 500 was when I was three years old, and seeing these guys go around, and now I’m 19 years old and there’s a lot of the same guys still there.

“It’s kind of like I get to race with my idols, really,” he added, to a room full of laughter.

Dixon followed, “We must have had a good generation, I think.”

But putting aside the obvious “yeah, he’s young” line – trust me as the youngest full-time member in the IndyCar press corps I get that joke at least once per weekend – what Enerson did on Friday was take in a wealth of information the team was throwing at him and translate it into pace on paper.

“It was incredible. It’s completely different than anything I’ve driven, and coming from — every time I come here, I always tend to do alright, and it’s one of my favorite tracks,” he said.

“It’s got this thing about it that it fits the driving style really well, and I’m just excited to be here, and this is probably — it’s probably the best track to make my debut at.”

Enerson, as he told me prior to his race debut last week, noted the difference in the step up from the Cooper tires he used throughout his Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires career versus the Firestones now.

Enerson was really good at learning tire conservation there since there are no pit stops. But he noted the change in grip level on the Firestones, especially since the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is one of the highest grip tracks on the calendar.

“These ones tend to — after the first couple laps where you get your fast time, they tend to not fall off very much and you can keep your speeds up, and it’s amazing. It’s a completely different experience, and it’s challenging,” he explained.

On the tire note, where Enerson will have to learn, and learn quickly, is once he gets his first crack at the Firestone red alternates for qualifying later on Saturday, provided the session is dry.

“With the reds, we don’t get to see them. I’ve never driven on them, so the first time I’m going to get to see them is qualifying,” he said.

“So that’s what I think is the biggest thing for the rookies, I guess, is they don’t get to see those until it’s when it counts, so it’s hard to extract all that not knowing going into it, and I think that’s what comes with the experienced drivers where they’re able to know how much grip they’re actually going to gain to be able to push it to the max right off the bat.”

Still though, his debut impressed many in the IndyCar paddock.

Teammate Conor Daly in the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda told IndyCar Radio of Enerson, “We have RC here this weekend, and he’s new – but he’s doing a great job.”

Daly’s engineer Michael Cannon, himself a key talent evaluator in his long career in the sport, told me Enerson has “taken like a duck to water” to an IndyCar and is handling everything the team is throwing at him with aplomb.

And Dixon, arguably one of the best drivers of his generation? He knows what it’s like to “wow” people when you’re the new kid on the block, as he did some 15 years ago.

“I think it’s great to see young talent coming through. It’s part of the sport. It’s part of what we need to see,” he said.

“We’ve had a good influx of recent, and it’s pretty cool in the fact that we have a series that, okay, so there’s some bigger teams and some more teams that have done better jobs, but in layman’s terms, you pretty much have the similar equipment. So it’s nice that you can come, and if you’re good you can get close.

“The only hard part with rookies now is the testing program. At least this year was a little more open. It was good that RC had the opportunity to test here last week, but still, you’re competing against guys that have been coming here for years and they’ve had a ton of test days.

“It’s so close right now that you’re looking for hundredths and tenths of a second to make the difference.”

Grosjean set for five-place grid drop in Germany after gearbox change

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Romain Grosjean of France driving the (8) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Romain Grosjean is set to receive a five-place grid penalty for this weekend’s German Grand Prix after a gearbox change on Saturday morning.

Grosjean has led the new Haas Formula 1 operation’s charge in its debut season, scoring all 28 of its championship points thus far.

The Frenchman arrived in Germany hopeful of ending Haas’ difficult run of form, the team having recorded just one top-10 finish in the past seven races.

However, his challenge looks set to become all the more daunting after Haas was forced to change the gearbox on his VF-16 car during FP3.

FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer confirmed in his report that Grosjean’s existing gearbox had not completed the six consecutive events required before a change is permitted, prompting the matter to be referred to the stewards.

Grosjean will therefore drop five places on the grid from wherever he qualifies later today at Hockenheim.

Qualifying for the German Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

Hamilton called before stewards over unsafe release in Germany FP3

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain drives the 4 Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo during 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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Lewis Hamilton has been called before the Formula 1 race stewards over a possible unsafe release in the pit lane during final practice for the German Grand Prix.

Hamilton was released into the fast lane by his Mercedes team at the start of FP3, forcing the oncoming Romain Grosjean to hit the brakes and stop.

The stewards confirmed in a short statement issued on Saturday morning midway through the session that the Briton was to reported to the stewards at 12:30pm local time.

The incident could spell trouble for Hamilton given he has already received two reprimands so far this season, with a third resulting in a 10-place grid penalty.

Hamilton told NBCSN earlier this week that he expects to start last in either Belgium or Italy as a result of an inevitable engine penalty, but if the stewards hit him with a reprimand, it could add another challenge to his title bid.

Hamilton received his first reprimand in Bahrain for reversing a few inches in the pit lane, and hsi second for not adhering to race control’s instructions after running wide at Turn 2, failing to take to the left of a bollard laid out.

Qualifying for the German Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

Track limits extended at Turn 1 ahead of German GP qualifying

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain drives the 4 Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo during 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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FIA Formula 1 race director Charlie Whiting has informed teams that track limits have been extended to the outside edge out the curb at Turn 1 ahead of Saturday’s running for the German Grand Prix.

Whiting sent a note to all teams after first practice on Friday saying that a three-strike rule would be in play at Turn 1 after drivers exceeded track limits 93 times in the space of the session.

However, after a meeting with the drivers on Friday night, this rule has been tweaked to allow drivers to run to the outside of the curb at Turn 1.

“Based upon our observations of the way in which the new curb on the exit of Turn 12 is used, and the comments made in the meeting yesterday evening, we feel that the usable track limit at Turn 1 should be the outer edge of the curb, i.e. the edge furthest from the track,” Whiting’s note read.

“The performance of any driver going beyond this point, with any part of the car, will be examined in order to establish whether or not an advantage was gained by exceeding this limit.”

Qualifying for the German Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET.