Photo courtesy of IMSA

2017 Rolex 24 rolling updates

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – We’ll have updates as they come from the 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona, below.

12:30 a.m. ET (Hour 22); (Tony rests, by Jerry Bonkowski here). We have 22 hours down and just two more to go to determine the winners in the 55th Rolex 24 Hours At Daytona:

  • Just three minutes into the hour, the No. 81 DragonSpeed Oreca LMP2 driven by Ben Hanley slams into the frontstretch wall and loses its full rear wing. The car has gone to the garage. This was the second time the team has been involved in a wreck, having crashed hard during practice on Thursday and then needing to build up a new chassis.
  • In a phone interview with Fox Sports, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he wouldn’t mind again racing in the Rolex 24. He did so twice previously, finishing second in 2001 and third in 2004. He’s been tweeting during the race.
  • With about 2 hours, 30 minutes left in the race, the rain appears to have completely moved out and the track continues to dry out.
  • Scott Pruett on the phone to Fox Sports about his early race crash that ended his day just after it began: “Wrong place, wrong time,” Pruett said of the crash. “It’s really disappointing. That’s the second shortest race I’ve done here.” … Pruett also said he has earned 14 Rolex watches for 10 wins and four championships in his career in the Rolex 24.
  • While his No. 10 car has been the class of the field, team owner Wayne Taylor said the Cadillac DPI Prototype is still experiencing a venting issue in the fueling system. With Ricky Taylor scheduled to drive the final segments of the race, it does not appear Jeff Gordon will drive one final segment, but if the No. 10 team wins, Gordon would join A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and Jamie McMurray as the only drivers to win both the Rolex 24 and Daytona 500 in their respective careers.
  • Just as the hour came to a close, Sam Bird’s No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3, which was leading the GTD division, suddenly came to a stop. It appears its day is done, as it is waiting for a tow back to the garage area. This is heartbreaking for Christina Nielsen, Alessandro Balzan, Matteo Cressoni and Bird.
  • Class Leaders:
  • Prototype: Jordan Taylor, No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPI
  • Prototype Challenge: Kyle Masson, No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09
  • GTD: Jules Gounon, No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport, Audi R8 LMS
  • GTLM: Joey Hand, No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT

11;30 a.m. ET (Hour 21); (Tony rests, by Jerry Bonkowski here). The countdown to the checkered flag continues. We’re just three hours away from the conclusion of the 55th Rolex 24 Hours At Daytona. Here are the highlights of Hour 21:

  • A few minutes into the 21st hour and Jordan Taylor has regained the lead with the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPI Prototype.
  • In an interview with Fox Sports, Jeff Gordon says he isn’t sure if he’ll get one more segment behind the wheel, but relishes the opportunity he’s had with Wayne Taylor Racing and teammates Max Angelelli, Ricky Taylor and Jordan Taylor. However, team owner Wayne Taylor told Fox Sports that the plan is to have Jordan drive one or two more stints before Ricky Taylor finishes the race.
  • In GTLM, with about 3:32 left in the race, Joey Hand in the 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT has roared back to retake the lead from the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari F488 GTE. But as the hour came to a close, Hand regained the lead, while the No. 62 slips back to second place again.
  • Class Leaders:
  • Prototype: Jordan Taylor, No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPI
  • Prototype Challenge: James French, No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09
  • GTD: Mario Farnbacher, No. 33 Riley Motorsports Team AMG Mercedes AMG GT3
  • GTLM: James Calado, No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari F488 GTE

10:30 a.m. ET (Hour 20); (Tony rests, by Jerry Bonkowski here). We’ve started the homestretch:

  • When the race got back to green conditions following a long caution about midway through the hour, Max Angelelli wasted little time in going for the jugular. The No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPI Prototype driver went to the outside of Joao Barbosa exiting Turn 4 and his tires managed to maintain grip, allowing Angelelli to grab the lead once again. Remember, this is the final sports car race of Angelelli’s long career. The 50-year-old Italian driver is retiring from competition after this race. You know he’s looking to go out a winner and is really trying to put some distance between himself and Barbosa.
  • Also, the rain has slowed down, if not completely stopped, and cars are picking up speed as the track slowly begins self-drying. Look for drivers – especially those that have fallen behind due to the weather over the last 10-plus hours – to start efforts to make up the time they’ve lost up to now. At the same time, when that happens, we’ll likely see more intense action and a higher potential for mishaps/crashes.
  • At 19:42, Max Angelelli hit the wet curb and spun heading into the bus stop. He was leading Joao Barbosa by 13 seconds at that point. While Angelelli was able to recover and get going in quick fashion, his lead over Barbosa was cut to 0.286 seconds. As the rest of the hour goes on, Angelelli has built his advantage back up to over four seconds.
  • Rain has appeared to have stopped. Numerous teams are making pit stops to switch from wet tires to slicks. The reason is simple: while there are still slick spots and puddles, putting on dry-racing tires, which can pick up several seconds quicker per lap.
  • Also, with about six minutes left in the hour, Angelelli comes to pit road for service and for the final time of his career, relegates his spot to teammate Jordan Taylor, who is running third.
  • When he got out of the car, Angelelli made it very clear that this is the end of the road for him racing-wise. “This is it, I’m done, I’m finished,” Angelelli told Fox Sports. “What can I ask for that I haven’t accomplished? I just wanted to have the best race of my life and I think I did pretty well. Hopefully, I just don’t want to finish second again for the eighth time. I hope that isn’t going to happen?
  • Just before the hour ended, the No. 55 Mazda Motorsports Mazda DPI, with Spencer Pigot behind the wheel, caught fire coming into the pits. The blaze, which apparently was an oil fire, was quickly extinguished, but the damage was done.
  • Class Leaders:
  • Prototype: Jordan Taylor, No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPI
  • Prototype Challenge: James French, No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09
  • GTD: Andy Lally, No. 93 Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3
  • GTLM: James Calado, No. 62 Risi Competizione, Ferrari 488 GTE

9:30 a.m. ET (Hour 19); (Tony rests, by Jerry Bonkowski here): We start the final quarter – the last six laps – of the 24-hour marathon. Rain continues to fall and varies between light and heavy spurts. The rain has been falling for nearly half of the first 19 hours.

  • Minutes after Hour 19 began, the Prototype race leader – the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPI – pitted for tires, fuel and a driver change, with Max Angelelli back behind the wheel in place of Ricky Taylor. Jeff Gordon has not returned for a third stint. It’s looking like Angelelli will run the next 2-3 segments and then Jordan Taylor will run the anchor section in the closing segments.
  • At 18:17, the No. 88 Starworks Motorsports Oreca FLM09 Prototype Challenge, driven by James Dayson, spins out twice in the same place and on consecutive laps. The 88 continues to have a very rough race, sitting -84 laps from the leader at this point, the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09 PC driven by Patricio O’Ward.
  • As we close in on the end of Hour 19, rain has slowed down but the track is still very slippery.
  • Max Angelelli in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPI regains the lead in Prototype from the No. 5 of Joao Barbosa in the closing minutes of the 19th hour.
  • Leaders at end of Hour 19:
  • Prototype: Max Angelelli No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPI.
  • Prototype Challenge: Patricio O’Ward, No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09
  • GTD: Ryan Hunter Reay, No. 86 Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3
  • GTLM: Sebastien Bourdais, No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT

8:30 a.m. ET (Hour 18): Naps are good, and I banked a four-hour one from about 3:15 to 7:30 a.m., which was admittedly two hours more than I wanted to. But alas, we roll on.

Three-quarters of the 24-hour race are left, but there’s still a standard six-hour race at Watkins Glen or in the FIA World Endurance Championship still to race. Conditions remain overcast and rainy, with ambient temperatures in the mid-40s and track temperatures not much better.

A number of cars have been assessed penalties for straight-lining the Bus Stop chicane too much.

Usually the overnight causes a number of retirements but the only new adds to the six out in the first 12 hours are the No. 50 Riley Motorsports-WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG-GT3 and No. 54 CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R, both in GT Daytona.

The race is under its 14th full-course caution following bodywork flying off David Cheng’s BAR1 entry, the second of Brian Alder’s cars to hit trouble within a couple hours.

Two long cautions came in overnight for heavy rain, and the field circulated behind the safety car.

At the Hour 18 mark, here’s the class leaders and overall distances, and additional leaders from Hours 13-17:

  • Hour 18: No. 10 Cadillac (P), No. 911 Porsche (GTLM), No. 38 Perf. Tech (PC), No. 86 Acura (GTD)
  • Hour 17: No. 5 Cadillac (P), No. 912 Porsche (GTLM), No. 38 Perf. Tech (PC), No. 33 Mercedes-AMG (GTD)
  • Hour 16: No. 10 Cadillac (P), No. 66 Ford (GTLM), No. 38 Perf. Tech (PC), No. 86 Acura (GTD)
  • Hour 15: No. 10 Cadillac (P), No. 62 Ferrari (GTLM), No. 38 Perf. Tech (PC), No. 33 Mercedes-AMG (GTD)
  • Hour 14: No. 10 Cadillac (P), No. 912 Porsche (GTLM), No. 38 Perf. Tech (PC), No. 57 Audi (GTD)
  • Hour 13: No. 90 Riley (P), No. 912 Porsche (GTLM), No. 38 Perf. Tech (PC), No. 33 Mercedes-AMG (GTD)

2:30 a.m. ET (Hour 12): We’re halfway home. Here’s the halfway report as it stands.

12:30 a.m. ET (Into Hour 11) (Tony back on): Restocked with coffee and ready to take us to the end of the first half of the race… when then means there’s still 12 hours to go.

It’d been a solid drive for Brendon Hartley in the No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi, but contact from Wolf Henzler in the No. 991 TRG Porsche 911 GT3 R helped push Hartley, who was fighting a seemingly ill-handling car, into the wall. Hartley’s car has been brought back to the garage on a flatbed.

All the IndyCar drivers in the race have had their first stints, with Graham Rahal leading in his Acura, Conor Daly calling the track “frozen” to IMSA Radio and Tony Kanaan back into his Ford for his second run during the overnight portion.

11:40 p.m. ET (Past Hour 9); (Tony rests, by Jerry Bonkowski here): We’ve moved into the second-third of the race, Hours 9 through 16. As we begin the long climb into the overnight, here’s some of the highlights.

  • Jeff Gordon started the second of three segments of the Rolex 24 before handing off the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Konica Minolta to teammate Ricky Taylor, who is holding a comfortable lead over the rest of the Prototype class. Gordon has driven the two-hour minimum required for his team to get full points, but with 15 hours still to go, will we see the four-time NASCAR Cup champ come back for another segment or more?
  • Sebastien Bourdais is in his third segment and continues to dominate GTLM in the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Ford GT.
  • James French continues to pull away from the rest of the Prototype Challenge class. French, who took over the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09 during Hour 8, has a four lap lead over his next closest challenger.
  • While Connor De Phillippi was leading for Land Motorsport in his Audi, a flat right rear tire delayed him a bit. Meanwhile there was another caution when Brett Sandberg crashed at the Bus Stop in the Change Lamborghini, that car’s second hit of the race.
  • Leaders at the end of Hour 9:
  • Prototype: Brendon Hartley, No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi
  • Prototype Challenge: James French, No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09.
  • GTLM: Sebastien Bourdais, No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Ford GT.
  • GTD: Colin Braun, No. 54 CORE Autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R.

10:30 p.m. ET (End of Hour 8); (Tony rests, by Jerry Bonkowski here): We are one-third of the way through the 55th annual Rolex 24 Hours At Daytona. As Hour 8 began, rain becoming heavier.

  • With 16 hours, 41 minutes left, four-time NASCAR Cup champ Jeff Gordon – making only his second career appearance in the Rolex 24 and his first in 10 years – is back behind the wheel of the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Konica Minolta Cadillac DPI Prototype. Gordon replaces Jordan Taylor, who handed over the Prototype lead to Gordon, driving in his second stint of the race. But Gordon could not hold on to the lead as Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPI takes the lead about three minutes later. Gordon would take the lead back and hold on through the remainder of Hour 8 as we head into the second-third of the Rolex 24.
  • Also, at some point early on in Hour 8, the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPI driven by Michael Conway has been pushed back to the garage to repair a steering and suspension issue that likely occurred earlier in the event during Hour 5 when it made contact with the No. 88 of Starworks Motorsports, driven by James Dayson.
  • At 16:17 left, the No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Team GTD Lamborghini Huracan GT3 had a single-car spin but did not make any contact and was able to continue. However, Lamborghini as a whole has really had struggles in the GTD class thus far. At the end of Hour 8, seven of the eight Lambo’s are running 14th or lower in GTD.
  • The hopes for NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell have taken a hit in the eighth hour, with his No. 23 Alex Job Racing Audi R8 LMS assessed a stop plus four minute, 18 second penalty for an improper wave by. Bell explained what happened to IMSA Radio: “Our radio is challenged right now. We thought we had the data right. I got the call to do a pass around. Multiple instructions, do what you’re told. That’s a brutal penalty in this race. Hopefully we can get clever to get back the time. We got a lap back and got back to third earlier, but this’ll be tough from here.”
  • Leaders at the end of Hour 8:
  • Prototype: Jeff Gordon, No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Konica Minolta Cadillac DPI
  • Prototype Challenge: James French, No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09.
  • GTLM: Sebastien Bourdais, No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Ford GT.
  • GTD: Colin Braun, No. 54 CORE Autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R.

9:30 p.m. ET (End of Hour 7); (Tony rests, by Jerry Bonkowski here): Seven hours down, 17 more to go:

  • With approximately 17:55 remaining, the No. 70 Mazda, driven by IndyCar star James Hinchcliffe, is being pushed into the garage with an apparent clutch issue. James Hinchcliffe has exited the driver’s cockpit. “We started losing the clutch,” Hinchcliffe told Fox Sports. “We have zero clutch engagement so we can’t start the car in first gear. We’re hoping to get it back out there.” The team is replacing the gearbox and hopes to get Hinchcliffe back on-track soon.
  • With 17:48 to go, the No. 50 Riley Motorsports WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG GT3 driven by Cooper MacNeil was leading when, after exiting the pits, appeared to suffer a flat tire that resulted in damage to the right front wheel suspension componentry and was forced to return to pit road for repairs and a driver change. At the same time, the No. 991 TRG Porsche 911 GT3 R suffered a flat rear tire and also had to stop for service.
  • With 17:38 left, the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09 PC driven by Kyle Masson was leading its class when it spun in Turn 6 and then had trouble restarting, bringing out a full-course caution.
  • The race goes back to green with 17:21 left and IndyCar driver Sebastien Bourdais has taken the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Ford GT to the top spot in GTLM, while Filipe Albuquerque has the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPI at the front of the pack in Prototypes.
  • Leaders at the end of Hour 7:
  • Prototype: Filipe Albuquerque, No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPI.
  • Prototype Challenge: Kyle Masson, No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09
  • GTLM: Toni Vilander, No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE.
  • GTD: Connor De Phillippi, No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3

8:30 p.m. ET (End of Hour 6; (Tony rests, by Jerry Bonkowski here): We’re one-quarter of the way through the 24-hour race:

  • With 18 hours, 44 minutes left, Max Angelelli in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPI has bided his time long enough. After running second for more than 20 minutes, Angelelli muscles his way past Eric Curran in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPI to regain the Prototype lead.
  • With about 18 hours, 35 minutes left, the No. 4 Prototype of defending race champion Marcel Fassler and Corvette Racing suffered a complete power shutdown coming off Turn 2, bringing out a full-course caution.
  • The No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPI driven by Michael Conway was pushed behind the pit wall and then had to be pushed to restart it for the second time in the race. The team was also reportedly experiencing some stalling or potential starter issues that could be a big problem going forward.
  • At about 5 hours, 40 minutes into the race, teams began pulling into the pits to switch to wet weather tires as rain began to fall. Weather radar shows a large swath of rain reaching all the way across the central part of Florida. But Daytona Beach is at the southern edge of the front, so conditions could change.
  • During the long full-course caution following the Fassler incident, two cars suffered problems. The No. 81 Dragon Speed Oreca 07 of Nicolas Lapierre slowed on track, while the No. 61 GRT Grasser Racing Team GTD went behind the pit wall.
  • Closing in with about 10 minutes to go in Hour 6, the No. 70 Mazda Motorsports GTD, driven by IndyCar star James Hinchcliffe, is in the pits and on jacks.
  • Leaders at the end of Hour 6:
  • Prototype: Filipe Albuquerque, No. 5 Mustang Cadillac DPI Prototype takes over the lead when Jordan Taylor, No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPI, goes to pit road for service.
  • Prototype Challenge: Kyle Masson, No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09.
  • GTLM: Patrick Pilet, No. 911 Porsche GT Team RSR.
  • GTD: Shane Van Gisbergen, No. 50 Riley Motorsports WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG GT3.

7:30 p.m. ET (End of Hour 5; Tony rests, by Jerry Bonkowski here): As the Rolex 24 passes the five-hour mark, veteran Italian driver Max Angelelli is looking to go out in style. The third driver thus far in the No. 10 Cadillac DPI of Wayne Taylor Racing, Angelelli has completed nearly two hours behind the wheel and is second in the Prototype class. That’s quite fitting as this weekend marks Angelelli’s final time in the Rolex 24. Angelelli had been the top Prototype driver for much of his stint, replacing Jeff Gordon around one hour, 48 minutes into the event.

  • With about 19 hours, 19 minutes remaining, the No. 88 of Starworks Motorsports, driven by James Dayson, was running second in the Prototype Challenge class when he made contact with the No. 31 of Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPI driven by Eric Curran. The resulting impact broke the right side suspension of Dayson’s Oreca FLM09 and it limped into the infield to be towed into the garage area. Curran was able to continue on with minimal damage. Ironically, Curran climbed into the Prototype lead when Angelelli pitted under the full-field caution from the incident between Dayson and Curran. Just before the race resumed to green flag conditions, Angelelli slipped to third behind Curran and Filipe Albuquerque before regaining the second spot.
  • Leaders of other classes at the five-hour mark are:
  • PC: Kyle Masson in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09
  • GTLM: Dirk Mueller in the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford.
  • GTD: Mark Wilkins in the No. 93 Michael Shank with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3

6:30 p.m. ET (End of Hour 4): Leaders at the four-hour mark are Max Angelelli (P), Dirk Mueller (GTLM), Sean Rayhall (PC) and Matteo Cressoni (GTD). Other notes:

  • An improper wave-by penalty (3 minutes, 18 seconds) and mechanical black flag has been assessed to the No. 55 Mazda, which has dropped that car down the order.
  • Contact between John Falb’s No. 8 Starworks Motorsport Oreca FLM09 and Matt McMurry’s No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R at the Bus Stop knocked McMurry’s car out of the race, and triggered a penalty assessed to Falb. Falb limped the car home to the pits and keeps the pink car in the race.
  • A couple quick issues to the pair of Action Express Racing Cadillacs. The No. 31 car briefly was pushed behind the wall with the engine misfiring before Seb Morris got out of the car and handed over to Eric Curran. Meanwhile, with brake lights not working on the No. 5 car, the engine cover briefly came back off.
  • Renger van der Zande, who shares the No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Riley Mk. 30 Gibson with Rene Rast and Marc Goossens, posted this interesting tweet in reference to the DPi cars – particularly the Cadillacs – outright speed.

5:10 p.m. ET (Prior to end of Hour 3): Notes here involve Jeff Gordon and a number of cars that have encountered mechanical issues:

  • Contact between Jeff Gordon and Tom Long occurred at the International Horseshoe. Long was exiting the pit lane but was judged by IMSA to have blown the pit lane exit light. Gordon locked up and contacted Long’s Mazda, but didn’t receive a penalty. A fuller breakout is linked here.
  • Issues have abounded: The No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM has retired, the No. 13 Rebellion Oreca has been delayed (electronic/throttle issue), the No. 26 BAR1 car has had fuel pickup issues, the No. 59 Manthey Porsche (broken oil line) and the No. 98 Aston Martin (power steering) have also gone behind the wall. Konrad’s No. 21 Lamborghini and the PR1/Mathiasen Ligier have returned to the track after earlier garage stints, and Sage Karam confirmed Lexus is working to fix Pruett’s car. The No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 has also been delayed: They’ve been assessed a penalty stop plus 3m36s hold for improper wave-by.
  • Neither Sean Heckman nor Ryan Eversley are here, but their “Dinner with Racers” podcast is – courtesy of stickers from Tim Pappas adorning Pappas’ No. 991 TRG Porsche 911 GT3 R. This makes me hungry for something… maybe even a chicken sandwich.

4:20 p.m. ET (Prior to end of Hour 2): Two big notes:

  • Scott Pruett’s No. 14 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 has crashed exiting Turn 2 to bring out the second full-course caution of the race. Pruett has got out of the car OK. A breakout link is here.
  • Jeff Gordon has taken over the control of the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R, from Ricky Taylor who started. Gordon has one prior Rolex 24 start with Wayne Taylor Racing’s team, in 2007.

3:30 p.m. ET (1 hour in): The first hour is complete. Here’s some quick notes:

  • Class leaders at the one-hour mark are Dane Cameron (P), James French (PC), Joey Hand (GTLM) and Christina Nielsen (GTD).
  • Acura has led in the debut of the new NSX GT3 with Andy Lally out front in the No. 93 car ahead of teammate Jeff Segal in the No. 86 car, both cars running a bit longer on their first stint before pitting.
  • Four cars hit trouble. The No. 16 Change Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 crashed at the West Horsehoe, with race and team debutante Jeroen Mul dropping wheels on the right side of the course and going off to the left. That caused the first full-course caution of the race, a short yellow at the eight-minute mark. The No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson started by Tom Kimber-Smith went behind the wall with shifting issues, and the No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM (John Edwards driving) and No. 21 Konrad Motorsport Lamborghini also went behind the wall. Edwards’ car briefly stopped on pit lane and was assisted behind the wall by IMSA officials.
  • Another Lamborghini had an issue, the Dream Racing No. 27 car with a fire on its first stop.
  • Dane Cameron passed Joao Barbosa in the pair of Action Express Racing Cadillacs for the first lead change of the new season.
  • The field is through its first round of pit stops.

1:30 p.m. ET (One hour until race start): This year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona has a number of interesting things to consider, as we’re one hour before the green flag. A full race preview is linked here. The first three hours of coverage from 2 p.m. ET until 5 p.m. ET are live on FOX network before coverage shifts to a mix of FS2 and FS1 the rest of the way. Only the 10 to 11 p.m. stint is off air and all 24 hours, plus pre and post-race coverage, will air live on IMSA Radio.

As the kickoff event to the new season of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, here’s some of the things that could play an impact on this year’s race.

  • New cars, and their potential reliability pitfalls. Just under 33 percent of the 55-car grid – 18 cars – will make their race competition debuts. All 12 Prototype class cars join the two new mid-rear-engined Porsche 911 RSRs and the pair of Acura NSX GT3s and Lexus RC F GT3s, respectively. Who survives and who hits the garage area? As one colleague told me, this race will be won or lost in the garage.
  • The battle of stars vs. breakout drivers. Jeff Gordon has garnered a wealth of attention and the batch of full-season Verizon IndyCar Series drivers also merit a lot of interest. But whether one of the established sports car stars break through to win their first Rolex 24 or a driver that’s been under the radar suddenly emerges – as Pipo Derani did here last year – will be interesting to watch.
  • The changing weather conditions. It’s gonna be cold, and it’s gonna rain. Per weather.com, it’s going to rain overnight and into the morning. So how that affects the race will be interesting.

More to follow as the race goes on.

Sato sixth different winner to start 2017, a first in 17 years

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INDIANAPOLIS – Takuma Sato’s win in Sunday’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil was a surprise but popular victory. It was also a statistically significant one.

With the win, Sato is the sixth different winner in as many races to kick off the Verizon IndyCar Series season, which is something that hasn’t happened in North American top-level open-wheel racing since the year 2000.

He joins Sebastien Bourdais, James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power as the first six race winners of the year.

In 2000, both the CART FedEx Championship Series and Indy Racing League went the first seven races into that season with as many winners, before a repeat winner happened.

And in both cases, the driver who won their second race of the year went onto win the championship.

Here’s the recaps:

  • 2000, CART: Max Papis (Miami), Paul Tracy (Long Beach), Adrian Fernandez (Rio, Brazil), Michael Andretti (Motegi, Japan), Gil de Ferran (Nazareth), Juan Pablo Montoya (Milwaukee), Helio Castroneves (Detroit) made it seven-for-seven, with Papis and Castroneves winning their first career races (Castroneves’ win happened June 18, 2000). De Ferran won Round 8 at Portland on June 25 to become the first repeat winner. Roberto Moreno, Cristiano da Matta, Jimmy Vasser and Christian Fittipaldi also won that year to make 11 race winners. Nearly 10 drivers were in title contention down to the final two races of the year, before de Ferran edged Fernandez, Moreno and Brack for his first title.
  • 2000, IRL: Robbie Buhl (Walt Disney World), Buddy Lazier (Phoenix), Al Unser Jr. (Las Vegas), Montoya (Indianapolis 500), Scott Sharp (Texas), Eddie Cheever Jr. (Pikes Peak), Greg Ray (Atlanta) made that seven-for-seven (Ray’s Atlanta win occurred July 15, 2000). Lazier won Round 8 at Kentucky on August 27 to become the first repeat winner. As Scott Goodyear won the season finale, it made it eight winners in nine races for the year.

In the 16 intervening years since, at least one driver has won two races within the first five or six races.

In recent years, only three times have there been five winners in five races, with the streak of first-race winners coming to an end in Round 6.

Had Dixon not beat Montoya on a tiebreak to the 2015 title, that streak of the driver being the first to win his second race also winning the title would have held true here.

  • 2015: 5 (Montoya, James Hinchcliffe, Dixon, Josef Newgarden, Will Power), with Montoya the first repeat winner at Round 6, the Indy 500.
  • 2008: 5 (Dixon, Graham Rahal, Danica Patrick, Power, Dan Wheldon), with Dixon the first repeat winner at Round 6, the Indy 500.
  • 2003: 5 (Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Scott Sharp, de Ferran, Unser Jr.), with Dixon the first repeat winner at Round 6, Pikes Peak.

With 11 races to go, and with only five more winners needed to match, IndyCar can start to think about tying or eclipsing its all-time mark of 11 different winners in a season (which happened back-to-back in those 2000 and 2001 CART seasons).

Rounds 7 and 8 occur at Detroit this weekend for the 2017 IndyCar season. If one of the five drivers who will be entered (assuming Dixon will be good to go; Bourdais is out) can win his second race this season, look for that to make a big impact on the championship as the year goes on.

DiZinno: Sato wins an Indy 500 for Japan, tenacity, and the ‘nice guy’

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INDIANAPOLIS – Between winning with a team that’s quickly becoming one of the all-time greats at Indianapolis, fulfilling the hopes and dreams of a nation and writing his own personal redemption story, Takuma Sato entered into history on Sunday as one of the Indianapolis 500’s nicest, most tenacious and popular victors.

Sato tactfully, carefully flew under-the-radar all month as the perceived “fourth” of four Andretti Autosport full-season entries in the No. 26 Ruoff Home Mortgage Honda, even lower once you added in the star power of the McLaren, Honda and Andretti entry for two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso in the same team.

And he flew under-the-radar within Honda’s 18-car entry into the race, yet as a driver who’s been supported by them his entire career in both Formula 1 and IndyCar since 2002.

ON-TRACK SUCCESS THIS MONTH

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 28:  Fernando Alonso of Spain, driver of the #29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda, waves during driver introductions alongside Takuma Sato of Japan, driver of the #26 Andretti Autosport Honda, ahead of the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Moto Speedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images).

After a month where Sato was a top-five or top-10 regular, the 40-year-old raised some eyebrows and some volume in the media center when he almost crashed twice on his Sunday qualifying run with a short track, dirt track-esque “slide job” off Turn 2. It was a sign of greater things to come.

Then in the race, the patient, calmer Sato that’s been present more often in 2017 through the first five races bided his time until it was “go time” in the final stint of the race, and the “no attack, no chance” style that has defined Sato’s career on the whole came back in the best way possible, as he beat Helio Castroneves in a straight fight for the victory.

“The entire month with my teammates saw us working extremely seamlessly well through the practice day, fantastic qualifying, and to a very strong start,” Sato said Sunday, praising his teammates. “At one stage I lost momentum, and it goes down to like P10. But I just get down in my job, believe in the car, and push in the pit stops.

“When the opportunity comes, I have to give 100 percent commitment. I knew I could do it. But just, you know, waiting for that moment. The last few laps, they were the moment.”

In tandem with engineer Garrett Mothershead, who he’d worked with previously at KV, Sato was determined to start higher so he wouldn’t need to fight through the field too much on race day. Sato has traditionally started 10th or worse at Indianapolis and until Sunday, hadn’t finished higher than 13th, which he did on two occasions.

Mothershead’s voice was struggling to be much above a whisper on Monday and for good reason – he’d almost lost it Sunday screaming after finally securing his own first ‘500 win after coming up short with Carlos Munoz last year.

“My voice is shot, which is the result of an urge to uncontrollably go, ‘woo!’ he laughed on Monday morning.

“Takuma knows so much more now. Back then (at KV) he was a rookie and he didn’t know the tracks or the style of racing.

“For us, winning three of four as a team is incredible and a testament to our organization and preparation. But breaking through here as a winner is special!”

From fourth on the grid, Sato delivered what was frequently a calmer drive, until he needed to unleash his inner beast.

Sato dropped to seventh from fourth on Lap 1 but stayed in the top 10 from there, entering the lead for the first time on Lap 65 passing Rossi before a caution flew for Conor Daly’s accident in Turn 3.

It took until Lap 84, a restart after the third caution of the race, for Sato to drop from the top-10 for the first time. Sato fell as low as 17th in this stint but was back to 10th by Lap 105.

On the pivotal caution that occurred when Charlie Kimball’s engine failed, Sato joined most of the field in making their final stops. He came out in fifth place overall, third among those that pitted, which set the stage for his amazing final 30 laps.

A two-in-one outside pass of Castroneves and Ed Jones into Turn 1 on Lap 179, a lap before Alonso’s engine blew, was the typical “DID YOU SEE THAT?!?” moment of brilliance we’ve come to expect from Sato over the years. The caution that followed almost meant Sato was in the catbird’s seat, sitting ahead of Castroneves and only with Max Chilton – untested in that situation – to get around.

“When he went into Turn 1, I just sort of close my eyes half the time,” his strategist, Paul “Ziggy” Harcus, joked. “I’m afraid. I keep thinking, ‘Are we going to make it?’ But it’s great driving. I think he did a great job today of keeping his head about him and racing up the front.”

Sato’s new team boss, Michael Andretti, also was left in awe as Sato completed the pass.

“There was one move where he passed two cars on the outside in one, which was a very important move, because that gave him the track position of the top two guys in front of him,” Andretti said. “That was one of the moves of the race, in my opinion. When I saw that, I’m like, ‘Whoa, I think we’re going to win this thing.’ He didn’t let us down. He drove very, very well.”

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 28: Takuma Sato of Japan, driver of the #26 Andretti Autosport Honda, races ahead of Helio Castroneves of Brazil, driver of the #3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet, on his way toward winning the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Sato was briefly eclipsed by Castroneves for position, but wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip away. He got back by on the outside of Turn 1 on Lap 195 in the ultimate winning move of the race. And with enough of a power advantage from there, Castroneves wasn’t able to come back to him.

“I know Helio is always come on charge. But he’s just such a gentleman with such a fair player. I believe him. We go side-by-side turn one… It was job done,” Sato said.

A POPULAR WIN FOR THE PADDOCK

The win stirred the soul for many in the IndyCar paddock, happy for one of the series’ most genuine and nicest guys, if one whose undoubted speed and promise in eight years and more than 100 starts has been consistently blighted by inconsistency. His only other win came with A.J. Foyt Racing at Long Beach in 2013, that in itself snapping an 11-year drought for Foyt since its last win in 2002.

Members from Sato’s old team visited him in victory lane – Foyt included – to wish him congratulations on the win.

His teammates were happy that he brought Michael Andretti his fifth win in the race, which now moves him ahead of Chip Ganassi (four) for second among active owners, trailing only Roger Penske’s seemingly unassailable 16. It didn’t fully alleviate the pain of Alonso and Ryan Hunter-Reay’s engine failures, nor Alexander Rossi’s fueling issue, but it helped.

“That’s why we had six bullets in the gun, right? Luckily one came through,” Andretti said.

Honda was particularly pleased. A driver that has been in their camp nearly two decades delivered the win for both cultures, the Honda of Japan and Honda of America (via Honda Performance Development), and atoned for a day when reliability woes were set to define its story.

“The one thing is one goal for the winning. It’s the Honda DNA, and that comes from, of course, Mr. Soichiro Honda, and that’s the way Honda Japan, American Honda, it really doesn’t matter,” Sato explained.

“Honda wanted to push absolute on the limit. I can see both ways very, very similar, not only for the Honda globally, but very specifically like HPD here, it is the same philosophy. As Honda, it is just one aim: it is winning, so I can see both ways.”

In talking to senior HPD officials Monday morning, it was strongly hinted that Honda determined to run its engines at max capacity, reducing rumors they’d plan to “turn the engines down” in order to save the reliability.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 27: Dario Franchitti (L) of Scotland, driver of the #50 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, races against Takuma Sato of Japan, driver of the #15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, races during the IZOD IndyCar Series 96th running of the Indianpolis 500 mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 27, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The win, of course, provided the redemption tale for Sato’s famous – or infamous – 2012 near-miss. That final lap lunge attempting to pass Dario Franchitti – Franchitti having delivered a bit of gamesmanship to leave just enough of a lane to coax Sato into going for it and making a mistake – stood in mind heading into this year’s race, as this year was always going to mark Sato’s best chance to win since. He reflected on that in a piece for Motorsport.com earlier this month, and then said it’s ancient history on Sunday afternoon.

“I do feel after 2012 I really needed to correct something I left over. Today I was so happy that I made it and won in a good move. I have to thank to Michael for that,” he said.

WHAT THIS MEANT FOR JAPAN

What was the happiest of takeaways for this happy driver – who didn’t look tired despite less than three hours of sleep and more than 30 interviews in the wake of winning Sunday afternoon through to his Monday morning media availability after two hours of photo taking – was what this win meant to his country, and his countrymen.

There’s a small but dedicated contingent of Japanese reporters and photographers who cover the full IndyCar series and make frequent commutes back and forth to Japan along the way. They’re the voices and people that tell Sato’s story to that nation, one which was rocked by the 2011 tsunami and earthquake and one where Sato, via the “With You Japan” campaign, has been an active philanthropist.

Seeing their excitement as well as listening to the excitement of the Japanese TV feed was a sign of pure joy, and one Sato expanded upon in both his Sunday and Monday press conferences.

“There was a Japan program really started in 2011, immediately after the earthquake happened, and all the intention was helping the children from the devastated area,” Sato explained. “It’s a difficult life for them, lost friends and family, and lost home. As I repeat, 250,000 people still living in temporary houses today, so it’s suffering a lot. It is on the recovery, but it’s a long way.

“So I couldn’t put a big donation, but I can bring some energy through the motor racing, so always I invite 100, 150 kids from the devastated area, and we do a go-karting event in the last few years, and that’s spreading all over Japan now, and there is a few places to help, and we did some tournament system, and then end of the year last year in Suzuka, we had a great race, so it’s combined all Japan as well as devastated areas.

“It’s been — it’s great. I think it’s great support, everyone, and as long as I could do, I wanted to keep supporting the children until they become adults, and hopefully one of them becomes a professional race driver.”

Sato might be 40 years old now, but he doesn’t look the part, and now revitalized, the next step from here is taking the success he’s achieved at Indianapolis and translating in for the rest of the season. He now sits tied for second in points with the last two series champions, Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon, 11 back of Castroneves (245-234).

“Age is something for the athlete. Age 40 is something you have to consider how you going to perform well. I think we proved Helio still up there, me up there, T.K. (Tony Kanaan) up there. We train really hard to maintain it,” Sato said.

“There’s always just heart and the mental, the mental strength. You can keep on going. Someday I will have to retire, but now, I have a more competitive race I want to do.

“Yeah, it’s such a privilege to win here. So whether it was the first attempt or eighth attempt or you had a drama in the past, it doesn’t really matter. You winning today. It’s just superb. Just coming onto the top, nothing else.

“I’m so looking forward, particularly now, in championship standings, my standing is very high now, and certainly it is the real challenge for the championship. That’s the most exciting thing for my life right now. Let’s try and give it everything.”

And he’ll do so while smiling.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 28: Takuma Sato of Japan, driver of the #26 Andretti Autosport Honda, celebrates after winning the 101st Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Harding Racing shines among new teams at Indy 500

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A trio of new teams (Harding Racing, Juncos Racing, and Michael Shank Racing, in a joint effort with Andretti Autosport) debuted at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Expectations for such outfits are usually humble and rarely do outsiders, or even insiders, predict such efforts to run up front.

And yet, at the checkered flag, one of those teams emerged in ninth place, a top-10 finish in its IndyCar debut.

Harding Racing’s No. 88 Chevrolet, in the hands of Gabby Chaves, had never run a race before, let alone an IndyCar race, and let alone an Indianapolis 500. However, they survived the carnage and chaos that defined the day to finish in the top-10, dramatically exceeding expectations.

Chaves was competing in his third “500,” two years after winning rookie-of-the-year honors with a 16th place for Bryan Herta Autosport. He labeled this race as mission: accomplished.

“I think we did our job. We took the race one lap at a time. We let the track and the conditions come to us and we dialed in the No. 88 Harding Racing Chevrolet car every stop,” Chaves said. “We had a heck of a stint there. I think we were one of the only cars being able to make moves out there and got into a solid top ten for our first go as a team.”

Fellow debutante Juncos Racing, too, excelled in their own right. While their runs to 15th (Sebastian Saavedra) and 18th (Spencer Pigot) were unspectacular, the reality is that both cars made it to the finish, with Saavedra finishing on the lead lap, a noteworthy performance for a team making its first IndyCar start.

Sebastian Saavedra brought home a lead lap finish for Indy 500 debutantes Juncos Racing. Photo: IndyCar

Saavedra, like Chaves, said the team accomplished everything it wanted to. “We accomplished the mission we started less than two months ago,” he asserted. “To finish this first Indy 500 with both cars intact is a victory of its own. I’m very proud of the whole organization for putting in such a professional effort. It was rough out there. We were not as competitive as we wanted, but hey, that’s something that is expected your first time out.”

Teammate Spencer Pigot endured a more difficult race in his No. 11 Chevrolet, which the team scrambled to repair ahead of qualifying after a practice crash. As Pigot described, something was still off with the car (he was nearly lapped at the end of the opening stint) and he and the team were fighting it the entire day.

“I think there’s still something I’m missing or something’s gone away with the car since the (practice) crash. It never really felt right and it was just very difficult to drive, but we fought through a tough day. We didn’t give up. The guys kept working hard and I can’t thank them enough for the recovery and for putting this all together,” Pigot detailed.

Michael Shank Racing, the third team making its Verizon IndyCar Series debut, endured the most challenging race of the three new teams. For them, it was a race that concluded a difficult month riddled with problems, which began with a foreboding and bizarre steering failure that resulted in wall contact during opening day practice for driver Jack Harvey.

Harvey and Michael Shank’s No. 50 Honda team were enjoying a solid race until Conor Daly’s lap 65 crash in Turn 3. Harvey hit debris from the accident and spun into the inside wall between Turns 3 and 4. It ended a difficult month for a driver and team who truly made a herculean effort to field an entry.

Jack Harvey and Michael Shank Racing endured a month filled with challenges. Photo: IndyCar

“It’s a super disappointing day because we worked so hard to get here so to have the day end like this is heartbreaking,” Harvey lamented afterward. “Everyone is trying to slow down so quickly and trying to then dodge the debris. I was slowing down and trying to avoid everything so I don’t know what else I could have done at that point.”

Still, Harvey was enthusiastic to simply have a chance to compete. “This was still the best experience I’ve ever had,” he asserted. “The Indianapolis 500 represents so much in the state of Indiana and to the racing world, but it just didn’t go the right way for us today.”

Of those three, Harding Racing is the only one scheduled to run more IndyCar races this year. They will return for the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10 and the ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway on August 20.

Juncos Racing will continue with its efforts in the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, where it has drivers currently atop the championships in both Indy Lights (Kyle Kaiser) and Pro Mazda (Victor Franzoni).

Michael Shank Racing will continue its Acura NSX GT3 program in the GTD class of WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, resuming next weekend at Detroit.

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

Karam: ‘Tough luck stops a great month for DRR, Mecum Chevy’

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Editor’s note: Sage Karam, 3GT Racing Lexus driver in IMSA, a past Indy Lights and USF2000 champion and Verizon IndyCar Series podium finisher, will file a series of blogs for NBCSports.com this month for a second straight year (2016 archive here).

Here’s his fifth and final entry, as he recaps Sunday’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, where an alternator problem forced him into an early retirement.

You can read his firstsecondthird and fourth blogs of 2017 here. He’ll run the No. 24 Mecum Auctions Chevrolet for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, in partnership with Kingdom Racing. 

Hi again, it’s Sage Karam after the running of the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Well, the race didn’t go as we wanted Sunday at the greatest race track in the world.

I was hoping to get to the finish but our No. 24 Mecum Auctions DRR Chevy had an alternator let go and the engine just stopped on lap 125. Not much I or the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team can do much about that. Just some tough luck.

This was my fourth Indy 500 and I was still the youngest driver in the field at age 22. But I felt so much calmer and not as anxious as in previous years. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the biggest race in the world and every driver is anxious for the start.

Karam with Jake Gyllenhaal (to his right). Photo: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing

But I felt we would be more calculated with our strategy and my decision-making early in the race. And that is what happened for me. I wasn’t going to put myself in a bad spot in the early portions of the race. I was more conservative than I had ever been in the 500.

Unfortunately, things started off a little rough for us when we had a radio problem. I could hear the pit box and the spotters in the corners but they couldn’t hear me. So, we had to work on a code to communicate with each other on the fly. Just keying up the radio for yes or no and turning fuel mixture switch for more wing, less wing, rear wing and front wing. It was kind of sketchy out there but we were doing okay. We were running inside the top 15 and the top 10 shortly but something was killing the battery in the car and killed the radio.

So, an electrical gremlin put us out of this one. The car was really good all month. It’s a shame – the DRR boys, Mecum Auto Auctions put together a great car this month. It’s tough to see it go down like that. But that’s racing. The beauty of this place is it makes you want to come back more and more because you go through all these hard times. You just want to win. So, after I get back to the DRR garage, I was cheering on Fernando Alonso because I’m a big fan of his. But he had trouble too.

With the alternator letting go, there is nothing we can do. It’s unfortunate, but that’s what happens here. These times are tough, but it’ll make the triumph much better in the future. I thought we ran a smart race.

A lot of people were doing risky things out there. I backed out of about four or five situations that could have caused a big crash. My plan was to get into the top-10 by lap 150 or so. We were moving up the field and the race car was good.

To be honest, we didn’t have the straightaway speed. I used hand signals during the yellow flag period to try to explain to the crew what I needed. I pointed to the back of the car to adjust the rear wing for my straight-line speed. I thought the race car was pretty good overall though. I could pass in several areas. But some of the guys were doing some wild moves.

I played it conservative around many of them. I’m not going to point out some of the them by name, but it was downright scary in certain places. I thought there were going to a bunch of big wrecks if that stuff continued.

Speaking of wrecks, I was so thrilled to see my friend Scott Dixon jump out his race car after that wild crash. Scott is one of the best drivers in IndyCar history and truly one of the nicest guys too. That was a scary wild for Dixey. I will be so glad to talk with him at the Indy 500 Awards banquet. And was so happy that Sebastian Bourdais was back at the track for the race too. His crash was so nasty and it could have been a lot worse.

As a racing driver, you know you have risks. And then you see those crashes and how the safety equipment on the cars and at the tracks save people. I’m proud of the safety developments which have been made in our sport. And you see crashes like Scott and Seb’s and know those safety developments have made a big difference.

Well, I enjoyed this year’s Indy 500 experience and just wish it could have finished up better. But that’s racing. I’ll plan to be back again in 2018. Now, it’s off to the streets of Belle Isle for the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship race, I’ll be racing in the Lexus sports car for 3GT Racing.

Thanks for reading my thoughts this month and we’ll plan to do it again next May.