Alonso brought Indy 500 car count up to 30. Photo: Getty Images

Recent run on Indy 500 entries brings confirmed cars up to 30

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About a month ago (March 7 was our first tracker) there were barely mid-20s in terms of Indianapolis 500 entries confirmed. And then the last five days happened.

Friday at Long Beach, Zach Veach was confirmed in a third AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. Then Sunday, Jack Harvey was added as a fifth Andretti Autosport Honda. Monday, Gabby Chaves’ ride with the new Harding Group Chevrolet was formally revealed.

Oh and Wednesday, there was a certain two-time Formula 1 World Champion announced in a sixth Andretti Autosport Honda, as McLaren and Fernando Alonso are set to tackle the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Harvey’s car was also announced to run under the Michael Shank Racing with Andretti banner in a joint entry.

The confirmations bring Honda’s total car count to its maximum 18 available leases and thus will leave it to Chevrolet to fill out the field.

Here’s the breakdown so far:

HONDA (18)

  • Andretti Autosport (6): 26-Takuma Sato, 28-Ryan Hunter-Reay-W, 27-Marco Andretti (Andretti with Lendium), 98-Alexander Rossi-W (Andretti-Herta Autosport), 50-Jack Harvey-R (Michael Shank Racing with Andretti), 29-Fernando Alonso-R (McLaren Honda Andretti)
  • Chip Ganassi Racing Teams (4): 8-Max Chilton, 9-Scott Dixon-W, 10-Tony Kanaan-W, 83-Charlie Kimball
  • Dale Coyne Racing (3): 18-Sebastien Bourdais, 19-Ed Jones-R, 63-Pippa Mann
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (3): 5-James Hinchcliffe, 7-Mikhail Aleshin, 77-Jay Howard (SPM with Team ONE Cure)
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2): 15-Graham Rahal, 16-Oriol Servia

CHEVROLET (12)

  • Team Penske (5): 1-Simon Pagenaud, 2-Josef Newgarden, 3-Helio Castroneves-W, 12-Will Power, 22-Juan Pablo Montoya-W
  • AJ Foyt Racing (3): 4-Conor Daly, 14-Carlos Munoz, 40-Zach Veach-R
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2): 20-Ed Carpenter, 21-JR Hildebrand
  • Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (1): 24-Sage Karam
  • Harding Racing (1): 88-Gabby Chaves

FILLING OUT THE FIELD

The expectation from here is Juncos Racing, Ricardo Juncos’ team, would be running two cars with Buddy Lazier and his family team joining in – all in Chevrolets – to bring the number up to 33.

For Juncos, the step up to IndyCar from its Mazda Road to Indy success understandably takes a bigger budget to make happen, and why announcements haven’t happened beyond its original reveal is solely down to that. It’s a matter of making the dollars work to see the new team on the grid for its first race.

Lazier’s team told IndyCar Radio at St. Petersburg they again plan to be in Indianapolis, as they have each of the last four years (failed to qualify in 2015 but have three starts in 2013, 2014 and 2016).

If one of these three cars would fail to materialize, another Chevrolet entry would have to emerge to make 33, and despite Carpenter’s wishes to the contrary from his planned two-car effort, that’d seem make the most sense as a logical replacement.

SO WHO’S STILL LEFT?

There’s still a number of drivers actively looking to be considered for those final couple seats. Here’s a quick primer on the likely five drivers vying for the final spots:

  • Spencer Pigot: At the moment, Pigot is sidelined by the double variable of ECR’s planned two-car entry and the fact most of the other entrenched one-off entries have been filled.
  • Matthew Brabham: Continues to make the rounds along with his management in the paddock, but finding budget remains the stumbling block.
  • Sebastian Saavedra: Saavedra and longtime supporter Gary Peterson were in Long Beach and they’ve run a chassis in this race several times over. The longer it gets before the entry deadline, the more likely Saavedra re-emerges once again.
  • James Davison: Like the other three above, the talented Australian was making himself available to team owners for meetings during Long Beach to try to finalize a program. Losing the 18th Honda engine lease potential did not help his prospects.
  • Gustavo Yacaman: Wasn’t at Long Beach but has been rumored for an opportunity, in what would be an IndyCar race debut, a different scenario from the other four.

At the moment, we’re not listing Stefan Wilson, Townsend Bell, Katherine Legge, RC Enerson and Kyle Kaiser among those drivers.

Wilson has publicly bowed out of a seat this year to forego his planned drive with Andretti to allow the Alonso opportunity to occur. If the racing gods are paying attention, the lanky, likable 27-year-old Brit is due karma in spades for making that tough decision.

Bell’s not said he won’t do Indy this year but after having his best chance to win last year fall short, he is smart enough to not take a likely bottom-of-the-field ride just to keep his start streak alive. He also has Le Mans to prep for, where he won last year in class with Scuderia Corsa.

Legge’s hopes likely rested on a Honda engine lease availability and with the Andretti possibility going away, her stint outside the ‘500 is set to continue as it’s highly doubtful you would see her in a Chevrolet.

Despite Enerson’s star turn with Dale Coyne Racing in his three-race cameo late 2016, things have quieted for his hopes, although he was known to be in contention for at least one of the now-filled vacancies.

Kaiser was perhaps the biggest slam dunk when Juncos’ arrival was announced, but we’ve heard in the last couple weeks that the team may not be inclined, and for that matter the driver may not be inclined, to be stretched so thin pulling off both an Indianapolis 500 and Freedom 100 double for Juncos’ planned IndyCar debut. Put this way – if the 21-year-old Californian does do both, it would be more of a surprise now than it was a month or so ago.

All told, the race to fill the final few spots on the 33-car grid is coming towards an end, and the next couple weeks will likely be pivotal in seeing who will make up the balance of the 2017 field.

Norris made to wait for F3 title after final lap crash in Austria

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Rising British racer Lando Norris has been made to wait to secure the FIA European Formula 3 title after a crash on the final lap of Sunday’s race at the Red Bull Ring ensured the championship battle will go to the final round of the season.

Norris, 17, became part of Formula 1 team McLaren’s junior program earlier this year, and enjoyed his maiden test in a grand prix racer in Hungary over the summer, putting in an impressive display.

Norris has been racing in the highly-competitive FIA F3 series in Europe this year, a championship that has proved crucial in the careers for drivers such as Max Verstappen, Esteban Ocon and Antonio Giovinazzi.

After finishing second earlier on Sunday, Norris needed to simply finish ahead of chief title rival Maximilian Günther in the final race of the weekend to clinch the championship with three races to spare.

Norris started second and retained his position throughout the race, only to come under pressure from Ralf Aron in the closing stages, the two drivers making contact on the last lap.

Norris was sent off the track and into the gravel, forcing him to retire from the race, and with Günther finishing fifth, the points gap was reduced to 72 with three races remaining at Hockenheim in three weeks’ time.

While a title win is still likely for Norris given just 75 are on offer, to have come so close to sealing it early will nevertheless come as a blow to the talented youngster.

Norris is set to be placed in Formula 2 by McLaren in 2018, but is poised to be a name that is spoken about for many years to come in F1.

Marquez fights to Aragon MotoGP win, opens up points lead

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Marc Marquez fought through to his fifth win of the 2017 MotoGP season in Sunday’s Aragon Grand Prix, extending his lead in the riders’ championship to 16 points over Andrea Dovizioso.

A fall in qualifying meant Marquez started only fifth at Motorland Aragon, and failed to make any inroads at the start of the race, running only fourth in the early stages as Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo hit the front.

Marquez was able to slowly rise up the order, passing title rival Dovizioso, Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi and finally Lorenzo, taking the lead of the race on Lap 16.

Marquez ultimately crossed the line less than one second clear of teammate Dani Pedrosa, who continued his good record at Motorland Aragon to complete a one-two finish for Repsol Honda.

Lorenzo held on to take his second podium in Ducati colors in third, finishing ahead of Yamaha pole-sitter Maverick Viñales, who dropped to fifth on the opening lap and never recovered.

Rossi’s remarkable return to racing a little over three weeks since suffering a double leg break ended with a run to fifth at the checkered flag, having spent the early part of the race battling at the front before dropping back.

Aleix Espargaro finished sixth ahead of Dovizioso, who slipped to 16 points behind Marquez in the title race by only finishing seventh for Ducati.

Alvaro Bautista crossed the line eighth ahead of Tech3’s Johann Zarco, while Pol Espargaro completed the top 10.

MotoGP returns in three weeks’ time with the Japanese Grand Prix at Twin Ring Motegi.

Palmer calls breakthrough F1 points ‘a weight off the shoulders’

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Jolyon Palmer has conceded that his march to his first points of the 2017 Formula 1 season last time out in Singapore was “a weight off the shoulders” as he looks to gain momentum for the remaining six races of the season.

Palmer recorded his best finish in F1 under the lights at Marina Bay, crossing the line sixth in the first wet night race in the history of the sport.

The result came at the end of a tough weekend for Palmer that saw Renault confirm it would be dropping the Briton from its F1 line-up for 2018, drafting in Carlos Sainz Jr. from Toro Rosso.

Even without an F1 seat to save, Palmer hopes the result can mark the start of a strong run to finish his time with Renault through the final six races.

“Finally we had a smooth race, which is ironic given what was going on with the safety cars and the tricky weather conditions,” Palmer said.

“We made a good start, and the move on [Valtteri] Bottas was fun; a lot happened in the two hours. It feels
like a weight off the shoulders to get some points.

“I hope to push on now and get some more. I know I can do it.”

Should Palmer wish to remain in F1, his only realistic options lie with Williams and Sauber for 2018, although both teams are understood to be looking elsewhere.

A report from Autosport claims Williams has narrowed its shortlist to partner Lance Stroll next year down to existing driver Felipe Massa, reserve driver Paul di Resta and recent Renault tester Robert Kubica.

Ferrari youngster and runaway Formula 2 points leader Charles Leclerc looks nailed on to take one of Sauber’s seats next year, replacing Mercedes junior Pascal Wehrlein.

Marcus Ericsson is expected to keep his seat with Sauber for a fourth season, with Leclerc’s fellow Ferrari-backed youngster Antonio Giovinazzi seemingly the only alternative for the Swiss team.

Renault F1 expecting to be ‘best of the rest’ in Malaysian GP

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Renault Formula 1 bosses Cyril Abiteboul and Nick Chester are confident of being the ‘best of the rest’ behind the front-running teams and leading F1’s midfield in Malaysia next weekend.

Renault enjoyed one of its strongest weekends of the season so far last time out in Singapore, with Nico Hulkenberg qualifying fifth and Jolyon Palmer picking up eight points for P6 in the race.

The result saw Renault move up to seventh in the constructors’ championship, and Abiteboul wants to keep the momentum going as part of its bid for a top-five finish come the end of the season.

“A positive we can take from Singapore is that we have moved up a position in the constructors’ championship which means a step closer to our end of season goal of fifth place overall,” Abiteboul said.

“Reliability remains our main focus, maximum effort and flawless execution is required by all in the remaining six races to achieve that target.

“Sepang will be about negotiating the unpredictable climate and getting the best out of the whole package in the heat and humidity. As we continue to develop the chassis side, we will introduce a new engine on Nico’s car at the start of the weekend, his fourth, engine of the season.

“We fully expect to have both cars in the top 10 as we have shown our capability on a number of occasions to be the best team behind the top three.”

Technical chief Chester echoed Abiteboul’s thoughts, believing the strengths of the R.S.17 car will put the team in good stead at Sepang.

“We ought to go quite well in Malaysia with the mixture of low, medium and high-speed corners – we should be the fourth quickest car again. The car has good pace and it looked strong in the wet in Singapore,” Chester said.

“The wet running we had in Singapore is useful information for us, given Malaysia is known to throw up a few surprises with its changeable climate.

“Overall the car is working reasonably well at this stage in the season.”