Alonso, Hunter-Reay, Rossi, Andretti, Sato, Harvey. Photo: IndyCar

Andretti Autosport’s six-pack of drivers set to tackle Indy 500

1 Comment

INDIANAPOLIS – The contrast was stark on the dais among all six Andretti Autosport drivers set to compete in this year’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

There were the four full-season Andretti drivers, plus rookie Jack Harvey in black, standard Andretti polos with the appropriate partner logos.

On the far right of the stage, or far left for the onlooking media, was Fernando Alonso – seemingly resplendent sitting in a white polo with his McLaren Honda Andretti colors, this year’s theoretical “white knight in shining armor” in among the other 32 cars in the race.

Seeing Alonso there on the same stage with these other five drivers, though, provided a good glimpse at the divide between Alonso and the rest of the field in visual form.

It was also a reminder that while Alonso is the worldwide star interloper in this year’s race, he enters into a team where the results achieved by the other four veterans should be more noteworthy than they are.

Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi are the lone American champions of the Indianapolis 500 in the last 11 years, Hunter-Reay having snapped an eight-year drought since Sam Hornish Jr. edged Marco Andretti in 2006. And Rossi’s famous fuel strategy-inspired victory last year has become the latest chapter in this race’s lore.

Andretti himself? That eternal wait for victory number one here began when he came up so short as a rookie. He’s never been that close since.

Meanwhile Takuma Sato provided one of the race’s best moments in recent years as well, perhaps overlooked in the grand scheme of things. In 2012 he dove to Dario Franchitti’s inside into Turn 1, but with Franchitti’s smart and sneaky race craft having coaxed Sato into a mistake, the likable and talented Japanese driver’s “no attack, no chance” mentality bit him as he came up short.

Harvey – again fitting into the “overlooked” department – has a record that none of his other teammates can boast. He’s the only driver who can say he’s won on both the IMS road course and the IMS oval, having done both in the same year in the 2015 Indy Lights season.

The other five drivers have all raced on the IMS road course, and Sato scored his lone Formula 1 podium there in 2004, but none has won in non-‘500 races except for Andretti in 2005, in Indy Lights.

Hunter-Reay is Andretti’s most successful driver in IndyCar, the most successful active American driver in the series. He’s one of only four drivers in the field (Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Juan Pablo Montoya) who have both an Indianapolis 500 victory and a full-season IndyCar title, which proves how hard it is to do both.

Yet the desire for win number two here at Indy, especially after coming up short last year, burns brightest.

Ryan Hunter-Reay remains in search of win two. Photo: IndyCar

“I think every year I come back here I want it more and more,” Hunter-Reay said. “That probably has something to do with the hard times I had earlier on here. It’s just one of those places that becomes more and more important to you the further you get in your career. You just realize how much it means.

“But I know it means that much to every other driver in the field, too. So everybody’s going to be fighting for it. Like Fernando said, we’re all working together. We have six cars now, so it’s a lot of data to pull from, a lot of opinions and perspectives to put into play. I think we all work very well as a team. We’ll be trying to use that as a strength.”

Rossi’s been asked a lot about winning last year and how it changed his life, so much so he needs to keep thinking of refreshing answers. Again though it’s the desire to go back-to-back that drives him.

“I think just the appreciation for this race and the desire to win it. Like Ryan talked about earlier, every year you come back, it’s greater. I think there was a point brought up in terms of once you’ve done it once, the desire to do it again is much increased,” he said.

“It’s an amazing experience that happens for the year afterwards. I had no idea it was as detailed and involved as it actually is.

“But it gives you that desire to do it again because you don’t really want to give it up. So definitely coming into this with the goal of trying to do it again. We’ll do everything we can to make that happen.”

Rossi is 1-for-1 at Indy, while Andretti’s been trying to break through since 2006. Photo: IndyCar

Andretti’s not come as close to winning as he did in 2006. It seems hard to believe this is already his 12th Indianapolis 500 and he’s only just turned 30 years old. While Andretti’s been solid in practice nearly every event this year, getting his car good in race trim has been a challenge. That remains his goal this month.

“I’m as pleased as I’ve been with the car right now in race trim. No complaints there,” he said. “Now it’s just about keeping it there, you know, which is very tricky at this place. Every day seems to throw you some sort of a curve ball. The better you react I think the better you’ll be in the end.”

Sato at speed. Photo: IndyCar

For Sato, it’s about having the opportunity to be part of a team that is at least double anything he’s ever been in before. Sato’s been in one, two and three-car teams at the Speedway – and come close to winning with all of them – and being part of a “six-pack” of entries is quite a chance.

“It’s been ‘almost’ success,” Sato laughed. “I know how the race gets competitive and tight towards the end of the race, which is pretty different. This year experience you never know. That’s good to know.

“Obviously coming to join the team, it’s a new experience for me again. I never have been around kind of like a group in the past, until really after the qualifying. It’s a whole new experience; trying to get more out of the car and learning how the team operates every single day.”

Alonso preps to go out. Photo: IndyCar

Lastly there’s the rookies, each of whom are here in wildly contrasting situations. Alonso’s story has been covered quite a bit while Harvey’s debut is one of the more intriguing ones. Both have new team principals presents – McLaren’s Zak Brown and Michael Shank in partnership with Andretti – and they have different goals.

One area worth asking Alonso about, beyond the on-track activity, was how he is experiencing the Indianapolis experience.

“I was expecting more activities off the track. Probably I will think differently when I arrive next Sunday!” Alonso said. “But right now, you know, it’s still more or less okay. Yeah, the biggest surprise is to see the fans out of the garage or even on the pit lane. That’s completely new thing for us, for me.

“But apart of that, you know, we are quite busy. Being two weeks, I think everything is spread a little bit, day after day. When we go to the Formula One events, it’s just Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so everything is compressed in four days. Here we have a very tight schedule, as well.”

Harvey’s endured a roller coaster week. Photo: IndyCar

As for Harvey, it’s been a roller coaster week thus far, but the past Indy Lights race winner is rolling with the challenges.

“I think more likely (Michael Shank’s) helping me realize my dream of running at the Indy 500,” he said. “Honestly the whole rookie experience at this point has gone about as far from what I’ve expected it to as possible. Honestly I ended up yesterday pretty good, way better than the timing sheet showed. Hopefully it’s just a platform to have a great month and keep building off that.”

For the team, ensuring the group runs maximize data gathering for the race has been key to success in past years, as explained by Andretti chief operating officer Rob Edwards.

“When you look at the whole event, it’s in two parts. There’s qualifying and with points, that’s important. But come race day it’s three hours in traffic, so the best way to set up to be successful is to learn as much about the cars as possible,” Edwards told NBC Sports.

“The ultimate advantage is controlling specific advantages to do that, and trying different things within those runs. As you say, historically, it’s been part of the Andretti approach. I think we’ll continue to do that. With six cars there’s more opportunity.”

And as for managing six cars, something only a handful of other teams (notably Team Scandia’s seven in 1996 and Dick Simon Racing’s five-plus in the past) have ever done?

Michael Andretti said he hasn’t had as many sleepless nights as one would assume given the whirlwind he’s had the last couple months.

“I sleep really well actually!” Andretti laughed. “We have such a great organization. It’s scary to be honest because between the Fernando thing with McLaren and bringing them in, then with Michael (Shank) and Jack, on paper it should be a nightmare but it’s scarily good. It’s been fun.

“Everyone on face of it acknowledges that it’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun work.”

Will that fun work pay off in Andretti Autosport’s fifth Indianapolis 500 win, after others in 2005, 2007, 2014 and 2016? Only time will tell.

Andretti and Rossi at speed. Photo: IndyCar

Entry names:

Takuma Sato, No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda
Marco Andretti, No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda
Ryan Hunter-Reay, No. 28 DHL Honda
Fernando Alonso, No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti
Jack Harvey, No. 50 Michael Shank Racing w/Andretti Autosport Honda
Alexander Rossi, No. 98 NAPA AUTO PARTS / Curb Honda

VIDEO: Celebrating Mexico’s motorsport culture and racing history

Leave a comment

Since returning to the Formula 1 calendar in 2015, the Mexican Grand Prix has already established itself as one of the sport’s most exciting and vibrant races, with hundreds of thousands of fans flocking to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

In order to get a flavor of Mexico’s rich racing heritage, NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton took time out of his summer break to explore Mexico City and also take part in the famous Carrera Panamericana road race.

The Carrea Panamericana is Mexico’s equivalent of the Mille Miglia, initially acting as a border-to-border sportscar event before being cancelled in 1955.

The race was revived in the 1980s, and continues to this day, offering drivers a gruelling, week-long challenge against the clock at high speed on public highways through the mountains of central Mexico.

2017’s Formula 1 race is set to be a poignant one for Mexico following the devastating 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck earlier this week, claiming the lives of over 200 people.

With the race set to go ahead as planned, it will be an important statement of unity from Mexico when it welcomes F1 at the end of October, the grand prix taking place on October 29 and acting as another chapter in the nation’s steeped motorsport history.

Mexico’s only F1 driver, Sergio Perez, has set up a fund through which donations can be made to help those affected by the earthquake with full details below.

Donations can also be made via PayPal by clicking here.

F1/IndyCar clashes frequent for 2018 as schedules shape up

INDYCAR
Leave a comment

The latest meeting of the World Motor Sport Council may not have yielded much in the way of groundbreaking news, but the confirmation of Formula E and the World Endurance Championship’s 2018 schedules did help us get a grip on next year’s racing calendar.

Perhaps the most notable thing with next year’s schedules is the heavy reduction in clashes between the FIA’s three premier track championships – F1, Formula E and WEC – next year, making good on its plans for calendar harmonization moving forward.

WEC confirmed its ‘super season’ schedule earlier this month, stretching 13 months from May 2018 to June 2019, and added Silverstone last week, with the calendar gaining FIA approval in Paris.

Of the 2018 WEC rounds, there is just one clash with another FIA track championship: between the 6 Hours of Fuji and the F1 United States Grand Prix on the October 21 weekend.

While the more pressing worry for drivers is between WEC and Formula E after the July 16 debacle this year, no WEC and F1 clashes is good news for Fernando Alonso, who could well appear at Le Mans next year as part of his Triple Crown bid.

Formula E does have a number of F1 clashes, albeit not until the sixth event of its season, with the Rome race being held on the April 15 weekend where the Bahrain Grand Prix also sits (for now – China is due to swap dates).

Other Formula E and F1 clashes come on April 29 (Paris/Azerbaijan), June 10 (Zurich/Canada) and July 29 (Montreal/Hungary), although by shifting the New York City ePrix back one week to July 14-15, a gap has been found in the schedule.

For those operating across all three series (including yours truly), there is now a busy run between the start of the F1 season in Australia and the start of the summer break in Hungary with just three empty weekends.

As for IndyCar clashes? The condensed nature of the series’ schedule and the expansion of F1’s calendar to 21 races means they are inevitable. That said, as IndyCar is outside of the FIA’s realm of control, it was never really in the mix for its harmonization plans.

Yet again there is a clash between the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix, sadly something we have become accustomed to in recent years, but over half the IndyCar calendar faces an F1 clash next year. There may be further ones to come when a couple other race dates get announced.

Here’s a full run-down of the F1/IndyCar double dip weekends thus far:

April 7-8: Chinese GP, Phoenix Grand Prix
April 14-15: Bahrain GP, Grand Prix of Long Beach
May 12-13: Spanish GP, Indianapolis GP
May 26-27: Monaco GP, Indianapolis 500
June 9-10: Canadian GP, Texas 600
June 23-24: French GP, Road America GP
July 7-8: British GP, Iowa Corn 300
August 25-26: Belgian GP, Gateway 500
September 15-16: Singapore GP, Sonoma GP

Bahrain, China ‘on-track’ to swap F1 race dates for 2018

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Next year’s Formula 1 races in China and Bahrain are “on-track” to swap dates in order to maximize their local exposure, according to the sport’s commercial chief, Sean Bratches.

The provisional F1 schedule for 2018 lists the Chinese Grand Prix as the second round of the season, taking place on April 8, with the Bahrain Grand Prix taking place one week later on April 15.

However, plans are afoot to swap the races around due to the Qingming national holiday that is set to take place in China on the April 8 weekend, potentially having a negative impact on crowd numbers at the Shanghai International Circuit.

“We’re trying to take into account global events, local events, religious holidays and things to ensure we’re maximizing the opportunity for fans to attend the grands prix,” Bratches told Reuters.

“We’re talking to both of them to that end and if we can reach a mutually agreed upon solution, which appears to be on-track to happen, you’ll probably see that,” he said.

No updates were made to the F1 schedule for 2018 at the latest meeting of the World Motor Sport Council in Paris this week, meaning no switch between Bahrain and China will be ratified until the start of December at the earliest.

NASCAR America: Scott Speed’s quest for Red Bull GRC three-peat

Leave a comment

Red Bull Global Rallycross points leader Scott Speed is going for his third consecutive championship next month (Saturday, October 14, 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC from Los Angeles) for the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team.

Prior to that, he joined Thursday’s edition of NBCSN’s NASCAR America, checking in with his former Red Bull Racing teammate Brian Vickers, show host Carolyn Manno and analyst Steve Letarte.

Speed talked teammate dynamics – he and Tanner Foust have been the class of the Red Bull GRC field for several years – and what it takes to succeed in the diverse championship that features racing on both pavement and dirt.

“Tanner comes from more of a more rally background and I come from more of an open-wheel, road course background,” Speed explained. “You have to meet in the middle and often times that creates success. Our personalties are polar opposites and that’s a good thing.”

One other thing Speed addressed was Austin Cindric’s couple notable incidents in the last month or so. Going for his maiden NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win, Cindric hit Kaz Grala at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park to move for the lead and ultimately the win.

Cindric then made his GRC Supercars debut at the most recent weekend in Seattle and the two collided after a miscommunication in a preliminary race, prior to the Joker section of the course.

“He’s a young kid with not a lot of experience. He’s made a couple big mistakes. He came in like a wrecking ball,” Speed laughed.

“I was more mad because the car couldn’t restart at first. But it did, and we got going.”