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Andretti’s Indy pole quest comes up short for Rossi, RHR, and more

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INDIANAPOLIS – Andretti Autosport entered Sunday with four bullets in the gun to fire for pole position ahead of the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. All four came up just short, and a fifth had a qualifying speed which would be good enough to start higher, but never had the opportunity.

Nonetheless, Sunday at Indy was still a great day for the Andretti team, even without the glory of pole position.

Before the running on track even got going there was proper drama in the garage, as it was determined to make a precautionary engine change on Fernando Alonso’s No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti entry after issues found near the end of pre-qualifying practice.

What followed next was a tour de force by the Andretti crew to get the engine changed in just over an hour to ensure Alonso hit the 4:15 p.m. tech line to be out for the Fast Nine shootout.

Alonso promptly laughed off the concern of a pre-qualifying engine change, given his regular ailments with Honda’s Formula 1 engine at McLaren there.

“As soon as we decided to change the engine, I saw like 20 people around my car changing parts. That was a truly good thing to experience today, how the teamwork plays here. I was extremely proud and happy of them,” Alonso said.

On track, the runs started first when the Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport entry, rookie Jack Harvey in the No. 50 Honda, had a hairy run. Harvey tattooed the wall exiting Turn 2 but kept his foot in it, and completed his run with a four-lap average of 225.742. He’ll start 27th.

After Harvey, the next Andretti driver to run was Ryan Hunter-Reay, who would have had a shot at the pole purely on speed. In fact, his four-lap average of 231.442 mph was the fourth fastest of the day during Sunday qualifying, with only Scott Dixon, Ed Carpenter, and Alexander Rossi eclipsing his No. 28 DHL Honda.

However, struggles during Saturday qualifying meant he wasn’t quick enough to make the Fast Nine shootout (he was 13th fastest on Saturday). As a result, he could do no better than tenth on Sunday qualifying, despite the dramatic increase in speed, and he will start from the inside of the fourth row on May 28.

However, Hunter-Reay has proven he can win from deep in the field. His 2014 triumph came after he started 19th, and he cracked the top ten in the first stint that year.

Hunter-Reay, therefore, is well-versed in working his way through traffic, and is confident he can do the same thing on race day.

“It was a wild ride. Testament to the team that put a good car together; it’s been that way for a good week and one-half. We just had a bad draw in qualifying, going early when the sun was out yesterday compared to a lot of guys who made it into the Fast Nine later in the day with the clouds came out,” he said. “We did our homework on that one. It was close. That was not a nice four laps; it was on edge. Big time, white knuckle, I’m just catching my breath now.”

It then came time for the quartet of Andretti drivers in the Fast Nine. Marco Andretti was unable to break out of eighth place, but it still sets him up decently in the No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda entry on Sunday.

Next up was Alonso, with the fresh motor. He went out at over 231 mph for his run, and was pleased – but ultimately fell to fifth.

Rossi followed with an even better run, which eclipsed Alonso’s best time. He’ll start third next Sunday as he prepares to defend his shock win of a year ago. While this is the best career start for the driver of the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda in IndyCar – his previous best was fifth at Long Beach earlier this year – it still feels like a slightly missed chance for the native of Nevada City, Calif.

“I’m always disappointed if you’re not in front, but I think it’s a good effort from the team. Seeing Scott’s speed is pretty impressive,” he said. “I know we couldn’t have done that. We’ve got to be content with the front row. It was something that really bothered me last year and for a year actually that we didn’t make the Fast Nine, so yesterday was a pretty big relief, and today was just about trying to go as high up as possible.

“Front row is good. You can win this race from anywhere, so it’s a good place to be, no dirty air, and we’ll just get the race off to a strong start and see where it goes.”

Lastly Takuma Sato, who was second on Saturday, was then second-to-last out on Sunday in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda. He nearly hit the wall a couple times on the run but still ended in fourth place, courtesy of his “no attack, no chance” style that sees him with a best Indianapolis 500 starting position to date. His previous best, also achieved with current engineer Garrett Mothershead, came in 2011 with KV Racing Technology when he started 10th.

“We were pushing so hard – Lap 3 and 4 were so on edge and I brushed the wall, but held on. I’m very happy to be in the second row, obviously, the front row would be nicer but this was a great team effort. I am very happy with where we are starting.”

Great qualifying positions are nice to write about but they haven’t even been a complete precursor for Andretti’s four ‘500 wins.

Rossi started 11th last year, Hunter-Reay 19th in 2014, Dario Franchitti 3rd in 2007 and Dan Wheldon 16th in 2005.

With spots of third, fourth, fifth, eighth, 10th and 27th on the grid, Andretti will look for more success next Sunday with its six-pack of drivers – even if a pole evaded them today.

Kyle Lavigne assisted on report of this story

Dixon finally breaks through at Road America

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – After a year of near misses and frustration, Scott Dixon has finally captured his first win of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.

The driver of the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing has won today’s KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America after leading 24 of 55 laps, and holding off a late charge from Josef Newgarden, best of Team Penske’s quartet.

The win also provides Mike Hull a victory on his 25-year anniversary with the team, a special moment. Dixon is now the eighth winner of the year, and the only active track where Dixon hadn’t led a lap – until today.

Hull made an excellent strategic decision to go with Firestone’s red alternate tires on the second-to-last stint. Following a restart after Takuma Sato spun at the Kink, Dixon then made a spectacular move to Newgarden’s outside going into Turn 1, and completing the move on exit. Newgarden had no counter as he was on Firestone’s blacks at that point.

Newgarden led home teammates Helio Castroneves, who fell to third from the pole, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, as Penske ended second, third, fourth and fifth after sweeping the top four spots on the grid.

Charlie Kimball parlayed an off-sequence strategy to jump up to sixth, with Ed Jones, Graham Rahal, Max Chilton and Mikhail Aleshin completing the top 10.

Tony Kanaan had a heavy accident at the Kink but got out of his car, in the race’s one major incident.

More to follow…

Stroll rewarded with shoey after first F1 podium in Baku (VIDEO)

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Lance Stroll was “lost for words” after becoming the second-youngest Formula 1 podium finisher in Sunday’s chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix, crossing the line third for Williams.

Stroll qualified eighth in Baku before managing to rise up the order as a race of attrition set in at the front, with title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel both dropping back after coming to blows.

Stroll was left running second behind Daniel Ricciardo once Hamilton had pitted for repairs and Vettel had served his penalty, but had Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas bearing down through the closing stages.

In a drag race at the line, Bottas nosed ahead of Stroll by just 0.1 seconds to deny the Williams driver P2, but he was nevertheless able to hang on to third place.

Coming just two weeks after his maiden F1 points finish and following a barrage of criticism in the early part of the year, Stroll was overjoyed with the result.

“I’m just lost for words right now. I don’t even know what to say,” Stroll said.

“I can’t quite realize what just happened. It was a hectic race, people crashing and we stayed out of trouble, I kept my head cool and took it to the end.

“I lost out to Valtteri in the end. I reckon that was probably one of the closest finishes of all time! We were side-by-side across the finish line.

“What a race. I couldn’t believe coming into the weekend that I would be standing on the podium, it’s so amazing.”

Joining race winner and shoey extraordinaire Ricciardo on the podium, Stroll became the latest driver to take part in F1’s strangest tradition – albeit only after Ricciardo checked he was old enough.

Stroll completed the shoey like a champ, and was also informed that he had won the online Driver of the Day vote.

The result also saw Stroll became Canada’s first podium finisher since Jacques Villeneuve in 2001, as well as being the youngest ever rookie to finish in the top three.

Stroll missed out on the overall youngest podium record by 11 days to Max Verstappen, who won last year’s Spanish Grand Prix during his second season of racing in F1.

Ricciardo doubted Baku F1 win was possible, left ‘speechless’ on podium

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A stunned Daniel Ricciardo was left speechless on the podium after claiming his fifth Formula 1 victory in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, navigating a crazy race that he started from 10th on the grid.

Ricciardo survived three safety car periods, two early pit stops and a red flag stoppage to rise through the order and capitalize on trouble for title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, with both dropping back down the order after dominating early on.

Ricciardo moved into the lead when Vettel was forced to serve a penalty for dangerous driving, and went unchallenged en route to victory in Baku from there, finishing 3.9 seconds clear of the pack.

Struggling to form his words initially, Ricciardo said he only thought a podium was within reach after the restart, only for the issues for the leaders to hand him the race win.

“We know there was a chance of the podium after the restart, but then we heard what happened with Lewis and Seb. It was just a crazy race,” Ricciardo said.

“I made an unplanned stop at the beginning. After a few laps we had some debris in the brakes, so we had to stop and clean it. We dropped to 17th place.

“So did I think then that we could win? Absolutely not. I would have put all my money on it that this was very unlikely.

“A crazy race. This is the race we expected last year, with all the safety cars and all the chaos, and we got it this year.”

Ricciardo’s victory came after he crashed out of qualifying on Saturday evening in Baku, resigning him to a P10 start, but was pleased to make up for it in style.

“Yesterday I was disappointed with the mistake. I knew today would be a different outcome,” Ricciardo said.

“I said it yesterday that we had to stay out of trouble and it certainly paid off today. A big thanks to the team, it was nice to get one car home and on the podium.

“I’m honestly speechless. After the race on the cool down lap, I was kind of just giggling like a school boy.”

WATCH LIVE: KOHLER Grand Prix at 12 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to Road America this weekend, with the now 55-lap KOHLER Grand Prix this afternoon.

You can watch it LIVE on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app starting at 11 a.m. CT and local time, noon ET.

Coverage has moved up half an hour from a planned 12:30 p.m. ET start time with the Formula 1 race from Azerbaijan running long.

This moves the Indy Lights second race of the weekend, which was scheduled for 11:30 a.m. ET, with Jake Query and Anders Krohn in the booth and Hargitt in pit lane.

Coverage will run through to 3:30 p.m. ET. INDYCAR: NEXT at the 101st Indianapolis 500 is scheduled from 3:30 to 4 p.m. ET.

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

Helio Castroneves secured the pole position for the race. The full qualifying report is linked here.