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Bourdais leads early on Fast Friday before rain hits Indy

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INDIANAPOLIS – Rain has been predicted for parts if not all of Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and just before 1:45 p.m. on “Fast Friday,” it hit – hard.

This not before 32 of the 33 drivers entered for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil banked a combined 599 laps, and the speeds went up by seven mph compared to the best speeds this week.

The speed increase is by design as the boost is turned up from 1.3 to 1.4 mbar on the turbochargers, which gives the 2.2L V6 twin turbo powerplants produced by Honda and Chevrolet an additional 40 to 50 horsepower.

Sebastien Bourdais uncorked the fastest lap of the month to date in a new engine now powering his No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, at 233.116 mph with a tow. Bourdais has had two engine failures this month, one in the INDYCAR Grand Prix last weekend, and a second yesterday in practice at the north end of the track.

The Frenchman is yet to finish in the top-five in the Indianapolis 500 in six prior starts – his best finish is seventh – and he could use a bounce back Indianapolis 500 after early retirements at Phoenix and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Bourdais was one of 22 drivers who eclipsed 230 mph in a tow. That number drops to just six drivers who went 230-plus without a tow, which Bourdais also led at 231.192 mph.

Honda’s reliability issues persisted as a motor issue occurred for Jack Harvey’s No. 50 Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport car, and smoke came billowing out the back of his car. That’s the fifth engine issue within the last week in the Honda camp; the manufacturer is diagnosing the cause.

More to follow.

Speeds are below.

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”