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Past Indy 500 top rookie Jim McElreath dies at 89

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The 1962 Indianapolis 500 rookie-of-the-year, Jim McElreath, has died at age 89. The full release is from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and is linked below:

Auto Racing Hall of Fame inductee Jim McElreath, the 1962 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year and a veteran of 15 starts in the “500” between 1962 and 1980, passed away Thursday, May 18 in his hometown of Arlington, Texas. He was 89.

One of the last eight surviving drivers who could claim to have driven a front-engined car in the “500,” McElreath was 34 years old and had been racing on short tracks for 16 years when he burst on the scene at Indianapolis in 1962.

Driving a 6-year-old Kurtis-Kraft Offenhauser-powered “roadster,” once owned and driven by Ray Crawford, McElreath qualified seventh and went on to cause quite a stir by passing A.J. Foyt and Rodger Ward in the early stages to run second by Lap 20. He ended up finishing sixth, many observers suggesting he was hampered by pit stops that were performed less rapidly than those by the contestants ahead of him.

McElreath eventually scored a half-dozen finishes of sixth or higher in the “500,” topped by a third-place finish in 1966 behind Grand Prix drivers Graham Hill and Jim Clark. He finished fifth in 1967 and 1970, and sixth in 1962, 1963 and 1974.

McElreath won a total of five United States Auto Club National Championship races, most notably the inaugural Ontario (California) 500 in 1970 after a late-race, topsy-turvy duel with Art Pollard. He also won the Phoenix 150, which opened the 1966 season, after posting three wins in 1965, at Trenton, New Jersey in April and the first two races at the Langhorne, Pennsylvania, circuit after its dirt surface was paved over with asphalt.

A steady and reliable finisher, McElreath piled up enough points to rank second behind Mario Andretti in the 1966 USAC National Championship standings while also finishing third in 1963, 1965 and 1970. He started 167 National Championship events between 1961 and 1980 and finished in the top five 47 times.

In 1971, the first year in which dirt track races no longer counted towards the USAC National Championship and instead were moved to form a brand-new series, McElreath won the inaugural event, a 100-miler at Nazareth, Pennsylvania, when it was still a 1 1/8th-mile dirt track.

A pure racer who did much of his mechanical work on the dirt cars and sprint cars he drove, McElreath made history in 1977 by being joined by his son James to become the first father and son ever to attempt to qualify for the same Indianapolis 500. Jimmy, as he preferred to be called, succeeded, but the spirited last-minute, four-lap qualifying run by young James came up just a little short.

Sadly, young James lost his life in a sprint car accident before the season could be completed, perishing in early October at Winchester, Indiana.

Two great racing families came together when Jimmy and Shirley McElreath’s daughter, also Shirley, married Tony Bettenhausen, son of the late two-time National Champion and younger brother of Gary and Merle. Jimmy even named Tony as his chief mechanic in 1979, just as Tony was about to embark upon his Indianapolis 500 driving career.

But further tragedy struck the families Feb. 14, 2000 – several years after Tony had retired as a driver to become a noted team owner – when Tony and Shirley were among those lost when their private aircraft went down near Leesburg, Kentucky.

McElreath is survived by his wife, Shirley; daughter, Vicky Thornton; granddaughters Bryn and Taryn Bettenhausen; and great granddaughter, Kendyl Bettenhausen. In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions be made to Speedway Children’s Charities Texas in honor of McElreath. Checks can be sent to Speedway Children’s Charities Texas, 3545 Lone Star Circle, Fort Worth, TX 76177.

Herta on pole for second Indy Lights race at Road America

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Colton Herta rebounded from a tough Friday dogged by persistent mechanical issues where he was barely on track, and a 13th place start for race one, to take the pole for Sunday’s race two (9 a.m. ET online on IndyCar.com; 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN) for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires at Road America.

The 17-year-old excelled in the cooler conditions this morning for qualifying in his No. 98 Andretti/Steinbrenner Racing Dallara IL-15 Mazda to post a time of 1:52.0034 for the top spot at the 4.014-mile circuit. He’ll start only 13th for today’s first race.

Freedom 100 winner Matheus Leist, who enjoyed his maiden IndyCar test here last week with Andretti-Herta Autosport, was back in his Carlin car and is second on the grid, just 0.0223 of a second off Herta’s time.

For Sunday, points leader Kyle Kaiser made it three teams in the top three for Juncos Racing, with Zachary Claman De Melo and Santiago Urrutia completing the top five on the grid.

Americans Neil Alberico and Aaron Telitz are sixth and seventh with Nico Jamin in eighth.

Leist’s pole time for today’s first race was 1:53.1760 with qualifying in warmer conditions, set yesterday afternoon.

Leist, Alberico and Ryan Norman will lead the field to green, which comes online today at noon CT and local time, 1 p.m. ET, online at IndyCar.com.

Weekend results are linked here.

Aleshin set to return to action today at Road America

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Mikhail Aleshin is set to return to action today in the No. 7 Lucas Oil SPM Honda ahead of today’s sessions for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America (Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The Russian driver was delayed by immigration issues in arriving back to the U.S. after racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans last week with SMP Racing.

Aleshin posted on Friday that he was en route to the U.S. after getting it sorted, and the team confirmed Aleshin’s return on Saturday morning.

Team co-owner Sam Schmidt told the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network that Aleshin was en route and was optimistic he’d be back in time for Saturday’s sessions.

Canadian driver Robert Wickens filled in for Wickens on Friday, while facing an abnormal situation where he didn’t know if he’d be able to continue for the rest of the weekend. He posted a best time of 1:44.7085 in Friday’s combined practice, just under 1.9 seconds off Friday pace setter Josef Newgarden.

“I’m really happy with today. Obviously you always want to make as much progress as possible, and you never know if you’ve done enough or if I should achieve more, or whatever the case is,” Wickens said after the day. “The biggest thing for me is the car is still in one piece and I haven’t made a terminal error yet!

“The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team has done a fantastic job getting me up to speed and making me comfortable. It’s been a strange day because I’m not really sure if I’m doing the next session since I don’t know when Mikhail [Aleshin] is arriving or if he’s arriving. So I’m going to work overnight as if I’m driving tomorrow morning, and if not, then hopefully I can help out the team somehow.”

The third practice session begins at 11 a.m. CT and local time from Road America. Qualifying is today at 3 p.m. CT and local time and airs at 4 p.m. CT/5 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Renault denies speculation Kubica could enter Monza FP1

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Renault Formula 1 chief Cyril Abiteboul has denied speculation suggesting that Robert Kubica could appear in first practice for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in September.

Kubica raced in F1 between 2006 and 2010, with his final full-season in the sport being completed with Renault before sustaining severe injuries to his right arm that appeared to end his single-seater career.

After a number of years in rallying, Kubica has recently tested a number of different cars, culminating in an outing in a 2012-spec Lotus F1 at Valencia earlier this month.

The reportedly-impressive test has led to speculation that Kubica could be capable of making a full-time return to F1 in the future, with paddock chatter in Montreal suggesting that an FP1 run-out at Monza was being discussed.

However, Abiteboul was quick to shoot this down during Friday’s FIA press conference, saying that it would not be happening.

“No, absolutely not. I don’t know where this is coming from and I can completely wipe that one out,” Abiteboul said.

“Robert has been a family member of the Enstone team, and Eric on my right knows what I mean. He has been very close and very loyal. The team in Enstone, which is a very small group of people, actually have been very loyal to a number of drivers.

“People feel very loyal and feel they owe something to Robert for making something big in their life and there was this opportunity that we give to him, that we could afford to him to drive again, because it was actually a marketing event that got cancelled, so we had a car available at the track and we offered that opportunity to him.

“Robert is going through some form of program to try to understand what he can do. He has been driving a number of cars, Formula E, GP3, F2, LMP2, you name it, so I think he wants to understand what he can do as part of his sort of rehabilitation program.

“We’ll see. There is nothing else that is planned for the time being, apart from a marketing event at Goodwood, where he will be driving the same car, E20, in front of Lord March’s house.”

Kubica’s links to the Renault seat come at a time when Jolyon Palmer is coming under increasing pressure after a point-less start to the year, leading to suggestions he could be replaced mid-season.

“Our situation is very clear: he has a contract with us,” Abiteboul said of Palmer.

“We are completely committed to helping him get through the period, which is a tough period, that’s obvious.

“He has no ultimatum, but having said that he has to deliver, like every single member of the team.”

Bottas tops final Baku F1 practice ahead of Raikkonen

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Valtteri Bottas closed out Formula 1 practice for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku at the head of the field after edging out Ferrari rival Kimi Raikkonen in the closing stages of FP3.

Bottas led Mercedes to the top of the classification in final practice with a fastest lap of 1:42.742 to finish 0.095 seconds clear of Raikkonen, the pair having exchanged blows in the final 15 minutes in the battle for P1.

After a mixed Friday, Mercedes appeared more comfortable through final practice as Lewis Hamilton completed the top three, four-tenths down on Bottas’ time.

Ferrari, meanwhile, was left to rely on Raikkonen at the front as drivers’ championship leader Sebastian Vettel suffered a setback.

The German driver was forced to pit with 20 minutes to go due to a problem on his car – an apparent hydraulics issue – prompting his mechanics to set to work quickly in a bid to resolve the problem ahead of qualifying.

After finishing both FP1 and FP2 as the fastest driver, Max Verstappen could not complete a hat-trick in FP3 as he was forced to park up at the side of the track late on, citing a shutdown on his car after reporting an earlier engine issue.

Joylon Palmer was another driver to hit trouble, suffering an engine fire in the early part of the session that meant he had to park up in the run-off area. After crashing out of FP2 on Friday, the already-under pressure Briton will head into qualifying on the back foot, if indeed Renault can fix his car in time.

Back on the timesheets, it was Daniel Ricciardo who followed the top three, taking fourth for Red Bull. Despite his stoppage, Verstappen did enough to take sixth in FP3, trailing Force India’s Esteban Ocon.

Felipe Massa wound up seventh for Williams ahead of Daniil Kvyat and Lance Stroll, while Sergio Perez took P10 overall.

Qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 9am ET on Saturday, with a re-air at 1pm ET on NBCSN.