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


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.

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.