MonthofMayCapper

Revitalized Month of May at IMS delivers on almost all counts

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What was a test case for the “reinvigorated” month of May, and the new business strategy employed by the new powers-that-be at 16th and Georgetown, has worked.

The 2014 edition was a vibrant, more buzzing Indianapolis Motor Speedway for more days than normal, or at least more than in recent previous years.

Here’s a quick synopsis:

GRAND PRIX OF INDIANAPOLIS WEEKEND

As I wrote at the time, you needed to take a moment to acclimatize yourself to the weirdness. IndyCars… turning right? In high-downforce road course configuration? At Indy? “Sacrilege!” you say, right?

Well, yes, it was weird the first time I stepped out onto pit road to watch. But once you got through the first couple laps watching, and it began to sink in, you started to get the sense this felt like a proper race weekend.

And on race day itself, that message was brought home. Estimates have ranged from as low as 25,000 to up to 50,000 – the truth lies somewhere in the middle, probably closer to 45,000 – but the bottom line was that the mounds and grounds were filled with race fans anxious at the prospect of something new. When you start to add up the dollars of that first round of spectators, with a number easily 10 times more than the same weekend last year, it all starts to make sense.

INDY 500 QUALIFYING WEEKEND

Opted to watch this one on TV from home. The latest evolution of something that’s changed more times than I can remember since 1996 was created as a made-for-TV type of format, and by that standard, it worked.

Each of the two days generated a ratings number higher than the season-opening St. Petersburg race, and the Sunday strategy to bring Dario Franchitti into the booth to call the Fast Nine shootout was a stroke of genius.

The crowds? Certainly less than GP weekend. And the format of which lines cars were going in, and how many points each day generated were, admittedly, a bit confusing.

I’m not one to say that you ditch the two-day format just yet. If another type of entertainment purpose is brought into the track for this weekend, as it was for the following weekend, it could provide added value beyond just the on-track running for qualifying. At the very least, reducing the confusion for media and fans on the format should be the goal for 2015.

THURSDAY/CARB DAY/SATURDAY

There was a healthy crowd in attendance outside the Pagoda for the new Indy Lights car launch on Thursday night, with fans watching as well beyond Mazda Road to Indy drivers, teams, participants and stakeholders.

Come Friday, Carb Day, the perpetual ritual of drunk Hoosiers waltzing all over the grounds continued true to form. There was the usual mix of great on-track action (practice, Freedom 100, Pit Stop Competition and Stadium Super Trucks) and off-track entertainment for the majority of IMS-goers (Sublime and Sammy Hagar concerts). I’ll admit I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t as high a volume as normal of crushed beer cans on my annual Carb Day walk from the media center to the media parking lot, but that meant IMS was on its game in terms of cleanup.

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Photo: INDYCAR

To Saturday, and while the usual public drivers’ meeting and driver autograph sessions were their usual hits, the biggest change came in the afternoon with the Jason Aldean concert bringing in the greatest number of new, paying fans. Leaving on Saturday around 4:45 or so, the grounds were packed.

Figure if you had at least 60,000 for Carb Day and maybe another 40 to 50,000 there on Saturday, and those are two huge additional numbers in terms of extra ticket sales and revenue from concessions.

We haven’t even got to the new “glamping” – or glamorous camping – that premiered this year. Judging by this piece from USA Today’s Chris Jenkins, that was a hit too.

RACE DAY

Indianapolis 500 race morning is the perfect example of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The morning buildup, with the Monaco Grand Prix on TV in the media center, then all the pageantry from the bands, to the Gordon Pipers, to the old cars, to everything else just takes your breath away.

There’s the chills from being down on the grid mere hours before 33 men and women prepare to saddle up, racing inches apart at 230 mph. You’re walking on 100-plus years of history, from all the millions who’ve come before you on these fabled grounds.

You head up to cover the race, and you feel it’s your obligation to do it proper justice. The race is older than you, it’s bigger than you, and it will go on long after you depart.

With the rest of the month in 2014 serving as an ample buildup, the race itself remained stellar as always.

IN SUMMATION…

The Speedway doesn’t release attendance figures, but you have to think the individuals involved, from IMS President Doug Boles all the way down, are smiling after this one.

And they deserve it, too, after a packed and revitalized few weeks.

No Haas F1 2017 driver talks until after Monza

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 22:  Romain Grosjean of France and Haas F1 and Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico and Haas F1 pose with the new car outside the garage during day one of F1 winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 22, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Haas Formula 1 officials will not make any decision regarding the team’s 2017 driver line-up until after the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in September.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous F1 operation onto the grid for the first time in 2016, his cars driven by Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez.

Grosjean has led Haas’ charge in its debut season, scoring all 28 of its points. Gutierrez is yet to break his top-10 drought dating back to the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix.

Grosjean is expected to remain at Haas for 2017 after Ferrari opted to retain Kimi Raikkonen, blocking off a possible move up the field for the Frenchman.

Gutierrez said earlier this week he has a deal for 2017, but would not expand when asked if it was with Haas.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference, Haas team principal Guenther Steiner confirmed that talks would he held off until after Monza.

“We decided to wait, to talk internally even about drivers until the European season is over so after Monza, because at the moment we are quite happy with what we are doing,” Steiner said.

“So we don’t want to get distracted or get the drivers distracted by talks, what will happen, what will not happen.

“We just wait until after Monza and then we sit down and try to make a decision as soon as possible so we keep that stability going.”

FIA to take ‘zero tolerance’ approach to track limits in Hungary qualifying

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 22:  Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 22, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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FIA race director Charlie Whiting has informed all Formula 1 teams that a “zero tolerance” approach will be taken to track limits during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Track limits proved to be a sticking point over the British Grand Prix weekend, with a number of drivers being accused of going off-track and gaining an advantage.

Lewis Hamilton had his initial pole position time deleted at Silverstone, only to respond and go faster with a clean lap.

The FIA announced heading into the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend that electronic sensors had been installed at Turn 4 and Turn 11 at the Hungaroring to catch drivers putting all four wheels over the white line defining the track limits.

A number of drivers were seen to be running wide during practice, prompting Whiting to issue a note to teams ahead of qualifying.

The note reads as follows:

Track Limits in turns 4 and 11

Further to the discussion in the drivers meeting yesterday evening I would like to confirm that:

a) We will be adopting a “zero tolerance” approach to cars leaving the track at turns 4 and 11 during qualifying. Please note that this will be judged by the use of timing loops in the kerbs and, to ensure that we see no false crossings, we would like to make it clear that the loops are set up to register a crossing when a car is approximately 20cm beyond the white line. Every lap time achieved by leaving the track will be deleted in accordance with Article 12.3.1.d of the Sporting Code.

b) During the race, and in accordance with Article 27.4 of the Sporting Regulations, any driver who is judged to have left the track three times at these corners (when counted cumulatively) will be shown a black and white flag, one further crossing will result in a report being made to the stewards for not having made every reasonable effort to use the track. As discussed, this is likely to result in a drive-through penalty for any driver concerned.

However, if we are satisfied that a driver left the track at these points for reasons beyond his control, having been forced off the track for example, laps times will not be deleted during qualifying nor will such a crossing be counted towards a drivers total in the race.

A similar approach was taken during qualifying for the GP3 support race in Hungary, resulting in a high number of lap times being deleted.

Qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports App from 8am ET on Saturday.

Rosberg edges out Verstappen to lead final Hungary practice

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 23: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 23, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg gave Mercedes a clean sweep of practice sessions in Hungary by topping FP3 on Saturday morning, edging out Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by two-thousandths of a second.

Rosberg led second practice on Friday afternoon, and spent the majority of the final session at the top of the timesheets as drivers enjoyed the final runs ahead of qualifying later today.

A fastest lap of 1:20.261 on the super-soft tire gave Rosberg P1 at the checkered flag, but his advantage was far less comfortable than he would have liked.

Red Bull arrived in Hungary expected to run Mercedes close, but failed to match the German marque for pace on Friday.

However, Verstappen managed to turn up the wick and produce a stunning lap that was just 0.002 seconds slower than Rosberg’s, giving Red Bull hope of getting in the fight for victory this weekend.

Daniel Ricciardo followed teammate Verstappen in third place, four-tenths of a second further back, although he did not complete a qualifying simulation on the super-soft tire late on, instead preferring to focus on race runs.

Lewis Hamilton could only finish fourth-fastest in the second Mercedes, half a second shy of Rosberg, while Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel followed in P5 and P6.

McLaren’s strong start to the weekend continued as Fernando Alonso ended practice in seventh ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez of Williams and Force India respectively.

Renault made a giant leap forward from Friday as Jolyon Palmer finished 10th and teammate Kevin Magnussen ended practice 12th-fastest, the pair split by Felipe Massa.

Qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports App from 8am ET on Saturday.

IMSA: Polesitters set at Lime Rock Park

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No. 67 Ford. Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Polesitters have been set following qualifying for Saturday’s Northeast Grand Prix, the next round on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season. It doesn’t feature the Prototype class but does have the other three classes (Prototype Challenge, GT Le Mans, GT Daytona).

Colin Braun has the class pole in Prototype Challenge in the No. 54 CORE autosport Oreca FLM09, with Braun qualifying instead of teammate and co-driver Jon Bennett. The top four cars were only separated by 0.154 of a second.

Most PC teams opted to qualify their Silver-rated drivers instead for the two-hour, 40-minute race, which left Braun with a decided advantage going in over the lesser experienced pros or gentlemen drivers alongside.  But Braun only barely held on for the top spot.

Braun’s best time was a 48.824-second lap around the 1.53-mile Lime Rock Park bull ring.

Robert Alon edged into second at 48.840 in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca FLM09 he shares with Tom Kimber-Smith. “TKS” and Michael Guasch won this race overall last year.

James French posted a 48.930 in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports entry he’ll share with Kyle Marcelli, good for third on the grid. That team seeks to atone for a near-miss here last year, when it was leading overall before Conor Daly collided with then-GTD class leader Christopher Haase at the downhill in his No. 48 Paul Miller Audi to open the door for PR1.

French was only just ahead of Jose Gutierrez in the third Starworks Motorsport entry, the No. 7 Aviation American Gin entry at 48.978 seconds that he’ll share with Sean Rayhall this weekend.

Richard Westbrook took another GT Le Mans class pole for the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing outfit with its No. 67 Ford GT he shares with Ryan Briscoe. Westbrook ran a 50.748 best time.

That No. 67 car has been on a roll, having won the last three races in class since the car’s first triumph at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in early May.

The No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM, No. 4 Corvette C7.R and No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE were second through fourth, thus making it four different manufacturers in the top four spots.

Spencer Pumpelly took the first GT Daytona class pole for Change Racing in its No. 16 Lamborghini Huracán GT3, a car he shares with Corey Lewis.

Pumpelly edged fellow Georgia resident Andrew Davis in the first of two Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMSs, the No. 6 car, ahead of Matt Bell in the No. 9 Audi. Davis shares with Robin Liddell, Bell with Lawson Aschenbach. Pumpelly’s best lap was 53.148 seconds to Davis’ 53.178.

Christina Nielsen was fourth (No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3) with Madison Snow (No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3) completing the top five in the 14-car class.

The two-hour, 40-minute race begins Saturday at 3 p.m. ET on FOX, live there, and also live via IMSA Radio.

Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge

Two cars that haven’t won yet this year are on the pole for Saturday’s two-hour, 30-minute Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race from Lime Rock Park.

CJ Wilson Racing has the pole in GS with Danny Burkett, who co-drives the team’s No. 33 Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport with Marc Miller, edged Canadian countryman Scott Maxwell in his No. 15 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Shelby GT350R-C he shares with Billy Johnson.

Meanwhile in ST, the No. 25 Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5 of defending class champions Chad McCumbee and Stevan McAleer have that class pole over another Mazda from Riley Racing and the No. 93 HART Honda Civic Si.