Hinchcliffe was playing author support this morning, now driver. Photo: IndyCar

Busy Thursday underway with pressers, Indy 500 practice

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INDIANAPOLIS – There was not much in the way of activity – media or on-track – that happened Wednesday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

And then the first few hours of Thursday happened.

It might be easier to go in chronological order for all the events that have happened here this morning:

A QUARTET OF PRESS CONFERENCES

  • Starting the day off at 9 a.m. ET, Honda hosted a “Meet the Authors” roundtable with Chris Workman, author, “The Spectacle – Celebrating the History of the Indianapolis 500” (foreward by Ryan Hunter-Reay), a young Adult-aimed non-fiction covering the first 100 runnings of the Indianapolis 500, Chris Hinchcliffe, author, “Chasing Checkers”, Young Adult-aimed novel about a driver following his dreams of becoming a professional racer, then Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe themselves. Apex Legends’ Workman, who also authored “Josef, The Indy Car Driver” last year, told NBC Sports it’s good to have a cohesion of books. He’s sold roughly 3,000 of the first one last year. James Hinchcliffe joked meanwhile about his brother Chris that he “inherited all the brain cells” in the family. This authors event came after earlier work from Honda this week utilizing Graham Rahal and Alexander Rossi for STEAM events on the IMS grounds.
  • Next up was two of three drivers from A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Conor Daly and Carlos Munoz, along with team president Larry Foyt. When asked how much Daly has grown as a driver since his rookie run with Foyt in 2013, as he returns now, Foyt deadpanned “two inches, and six pounds.” But when he turned serious, he explained Daly now knows what he didn’t know as a first-time driver and has progressed in a big way from there. As for Munoz, working with just two teammates instead of three or four as he has in years past with Andretti Autosport has proven a change of dynamic, but he’s adapting well to it. He has “unfinished business” from his time finishing second here twice, as a rookie in 2013 and again last year. Daly said the team has made big strides from its test here last month, then joked at the end of the press conference “what, there were no questions about Fernando?”
  • At 10 a.m. the press conferences kept rolling, this time as Road Racing Drivers Club president Bobby Rahal, Roger Penske and David Donohue graced the dais for the foundation of The Mark Donohue Foundation. This foundation will initially help raise funds for the continuation of the RRDC’s SAFEisFAST initiative. Penske made a surprise charitable donation of $100,000 to the foundation right off the bat, with the younger Donohue able to reflect on memories of his father, on some of his race cars, and thank the RRDC for its SAFEisFAST resource. More information is available at rrdc.org and safeisfast.com.
  • A much longer press conference took place from 10:30 (fuller report to come) as John Andretti spoke in a press conference for an update on his condition after being diagnosed with Stage 4A colon cancer. The cousin of Michael Andretti is working tirelessly to be an advocate for getting colonoscopies, via the #CheckIt4Andretti hashtag. While the event started on a serious note, it quickly turned humorous as Andretti proved he’s lost none of his sense of humor throughout the near 45-minute session, and even witnessed IMS track president J. Douglas Boles call his doctor to set up his own colonoscopy. Boles, who joked to me earlier in the week “he sleeps in June,” turned 50 last year and would be due for one himself.
  • There was also an event on the Pagoda Plaza via Crown Royal, where Crown Royal and IMS erected a brick Wall of Gratitude to display the names of military members past and present. More information is linked here via the IMS website. Boles and Graham Rahal were among the speakers at this event.

PRACTICE UNDERWAY

Gasoline Alley was frenetic in the final hour before the six hours of running started for Thursday’s practice session as most teams and drivers were in the process of preparing for a busy day.

With wind having scuppered most of Wednesday’s running, although 21 drivers took laps, only 14 posted representative speeds. A total of 408 laps were run over six hours.

By contrast, by the time of a yellow flag not even 30 minutes into today’s practice, there were already 311 laps turned. Not even an hour into the day, there were already more laps completed on Thursday than there were on all of Wednesday, with 428 laps done by 12:45 p.m.

Most teams are looking to go with heavy race running in the first few hours of the day before beginning qualifying simulations this afternoon. With rain forecast for parts, if not all, of Friday through Sunday, it makes today’s running all the more imperative for both the race and qualifying.

In the paddock, final preparations continued for the Lazier Racing Partners Chevrolet, which will be the No. 44 Tivoli Lodge – Stalk It entry driven by 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier. The team hopes to be out by 3 p.m. today. The crew has already set up its pit assembly in the first pit box entering pit lane.

The No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda of Hinchcliffe should be one of the busiest cars today. Having lost most of Tuesday owing to something that occurred late Monday, then having lost nearly all of Wednesday due to the wind, the defending Indianapolis 500 polesitter is playing catch-up.

Jay Howard in the No. 77 Team One Cure Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda was at 226.744 mph early on in a tow for the fastest lap of the month within the first 30 minutes, while Ed Carpenter took the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet to the early best no-tow speed of 224.051 mph.

As for that certain Spaniard in the No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti entry? Fernando Alonso has in the first 45 minutes of practice dropped a three-wide move on Helio Castroneves and Sage Karam going into Turn 1, and has now improved to a new best speed of the month at 224.641 mph.

More updates will follow throughout the day.

WATCH LIVE: ABC Supply 500 at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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The Verizon IndyCar Series’ run of different types of tracks continues with today’s ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway, as the final superspeedway race of the year to kick off the final four-race stretch of the 2017 season comes after a July where the series raced once apiece on a short oval, a street course and permanent road course.

You can watch the 200-lap, 500-mile race from Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa. live on NBCSN (stream link here); the series is back live on NBCSN for the duration of the season after the last two races were live on CNBC, with an NBCSN same day encore.

Kevin Lee is on the call from Pocono along with analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy, with Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt, Anders Krohn and Robin Miller in the pits.

IndyCar coverage will run from 2 through 6 p.m. ET.

After qualifying, here’s some of the questions to consider in Pocono:

  • How will the championship picture shake out after today’s race?
  • Might a new or surprise winner enter the mix?
  • Can Honda get back to winning and stop Team Penske and Chevrolet’s three-race win streak?
  • How might temperature, wind and downforce levels change the game?

My colleague Kyle Lavigne is on site in Pocono this weekend and may have some additional thoughts going into today’s race.


Tanak wins Rally Germany, Ogier retakes WRC points lead

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Ott Tänak flew to his second victory of the FIA World Rally Championship season in Germany on Sunday as Sebastien Ogier moved back into the lead of the drivers’ standings with three rounds to go.

Tänak led from Friday through to the final power stage to give M-Sport Ford team victory, marking his first tarmac win alongside co-driver Martin Järveoja.

“It’s a great feeling. The start to the rally went perfectly, after that it was just about controlling our lead,” Tänak said.

“Winning our first tarmac event feels cool. With 25 points here I don’t see any reason why we can’t fight for the championship. We will keep fighting; we need to keep winning if we’re going to win the championship.”

Tänak sits 33 points back from Ogier, whose bid for a fifth straight title was boosted with a run to third in Germany as chief championship rival Thierry Neuville retired with suspension damage on Saturday.

Neuville is now 17 points off the lead, with the WRC now embarking on a six-week break before returning in Spain on October 6.

Rosberg opens up on post-F1 life, tech investment interests

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Anyone who follows Nico Rosberg on social media will know that he has been keeping very busy since retiring just five days after winning his maiden Formula 1 championship at the end of last year.

As well as announcing he is to become a father for a second time, Rosberg has been travelling plenty, notably spending a lot of time in the United States and, in particular, Silicon Valley last month.

Rosberg is considering study options at Stanford University, but has opened up more about his interests in technology and plans to invest in an interview with The Times.

“I recently got back from a trip to Silicon Valley. It was on my bucket list and it was really inspirational to see what happens there; I thought the mentality was fascinating,” Rosberg said.

“In our society, we look down on people who fail, whereas over there it’s normal to fail — it’s courageous. If you’re not scared of failing, you can get through to innovation.

“Over here, it’s very money, money, money, but over there people want to reach out to others, make their lives better and look after our planet, too.

“I’ve always been passionate about technology, and investment is of interest to me at this stage. Mobility is what I’m most interested in, because there’s been a huge disruption in that area and it’s going to change the health and future of our planet.

“It’s a fascinating time. I visited Uber and they’re working on their “network in the sky” already. They say that in the space of six years I’m going to be sitting here and my app will tell me which rooftop my drone is going to be on and at what time. That’s just around the corner, it’s pretty insane.

“So I’m starting to get active in that direction. I’m a conservative person, so I need to be careful. I do prefer to go for companies that already have a bit of a track record, but we’ll see.”

The interview cites Rosberg’s net worth as being £23 million ($29.6m), with the German admitting he earned “a lot” during his final year in F1 with Mercedes in 2016.

Nevertheless, Rosberg claimed he is “not a big spender”, instead opting for a number of property investment opportunities, his best being some space in London that has become a convenience store.

One of the big factors in Rosberg’s decision to retire from F1 was becoming a father, and he admitted that it also changed his approach to dealing with financial matters.

“Having [Alaia] really opened my eyes to future planning, because I want her to have all the opportunities I had in my life,” Rosberg said.

Ryan Hunter-Reay cleared to drive at Pocono

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Ryan Hunter-Reay has been cleared to drive in today’s ABC Supply 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) following his accident in qualifying for the race.

The driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda was re-evaluated Sunday morning by INDYCAR Medical Director Dr. Geoffrey Billows after being transported, then released, from a nearby hospital in Pocono on Saturday.

Here’s INDYCAR’s full statement:

Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay was re-evaluated by INDYCAR Medical Director Dr. Geoffrey Billows this morning after sustaining injuries to his left knee and hip Saturday following a crash in ABC Supply 500 qualifying. Hunter-Reay has been cleared to drive.

Hunter-Reay will start from the rear of the field and press on in a great comeback after the accident. Last year he drove from the rear of the field – twice – to ultimately finish third. He won this race in 2015, his most recent Verizon IndyCar Series victory.

He posted a couple tweets last night thanking everyone for the support and the Holmatro Safety Team and Pocono’s staff for quick work to help him after sustaining hip and knee injuries from a heavy 138G impact.