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2017 Indy 500 driver-by-driver one-liners

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INDIANAPOLIS – As is a quick tradition on MotorSportsTalk, we’ve put together some quick one-liners on the field of 33 drivers set to compete in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Sadly some one-liners stretch to two or three lines. Because words.

Included in the field are seven past winners and four rookies. Past one-liners are linked here (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016).

Without further adieu, the 2017 edition:

Row 1

9-Scott Dixon, Camping World Honda

TDZ: In a year where there’s not been a clear favorite defined or established, the polesitter, in a Honda, the greatest all-around driver in the series and one of the greatest in IndyCar history is the favorite here to win Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, and end a drought for polesitters dating to Helio Castroneves in 2009.

20-Ed Carpenter, Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet

TDZ: A potential hugely popular winner; Carpenter has looked great in both single-car running and in traffic thus far. For the first time since his accident in practice two years ago, vintage “oval master Ed” is back in search of that first ‘500 victory.

98-Alexander Rossi, NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda

TDZ: More relaxed, more experienced and even faster this year than last. If Rossi’s debut month of May was stellar, his sophomore year is next-level. Has a serious chance to defend his crown, but this time would understand the significance in the moment.

Row 2

26-Takuma Sato, Ruoff Home Mortgage Honda

TDZ: Sato is known for his tenacious “no attack, no chance” style but he’s been far more consistent this month – and year – than in recent years. From his best Indy 500 starting position he has by far his best possible win chance, if he can avoid any pitfalls.

29-Fernando Alonso, McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda

TDZ: You’ve heard the two-time Formula 1 World Champion is racing at Indianapolis, right? Perhaps? Maybe? Snark aside, Alonso’s been on it from day one. How he handles the Indy race craft and procedural aspects will define his day. An ideal finish for me? Fourth to eighth, to leave him close enough to the front, but wanting more.

21-JR Hildebrand, Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet

TDZ: Imagining a JR win at Indy – after his infamous final lap in 2011 and contact with Helio Castroneves last year that cost both drivers a shot – is imagining one of the best possible story lines that could drop on Sunday.

Row 3

10-Tony Kanaan, NTT Data Honda 

TDZ: He hasn’t looked especially great in practice, but this is TK, he’s got his usual engineer back in Eric Cowdin and this is Indy. I picked him to win this race preseason, and I’ll be highly surprised if he isn’t in contention late again Sunday. 

27-Marco Andretti, United Fiber & Data Honda

TDZ: A quiet air of confidence is there around Andretti this year that hasn’t been in recent years. This feels his best shot to break back into win contention since 2014, and with Bryan Herta on the box, he has the defending champ strategist in his corner. 

12-Will Power, Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: Thus far Penske’s best driver results-wise in the weeks leading up to the race, Power remains in search of his first Indy 500 win. Could this be the year?

Row 4 

28-Ryan Hunter-Reay, DHL Honda

TDZ: His qualifying draw hurt his chances of a Fast Nine position, but “RHR” has been solid and steady all month. Motivated to get his second ‘500 win and end a long winless drought overall, I fully expect at least a top-three run here. 

19-Ed Jones, Boy Scouts of America Honda

TDZ: The Dubai-based Brit has been the undoubted welcome surprise of the month. He’s been very solid on ovals. Not a likely winner, but could well eclipse Alex Lloyd (fourth in 2010) or the late Justin Wilson (fifth in 2013) as a Coyne top-five finisher.

16-Oriol Servia, Manitowoc Honda 

TDZ: Would it not be surprising to once again see Servia running fourth or fifth with 20 laps to go, after not paying much attention to him all day? That’s the line of note for the popular Catalan in his 200th career start.

Row 5

7-Mikhail Aleshin, SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

TDZ: Other than a hold-your-breath moment in Monday practice, and a line questioning some drivers’ anatomies, the usually “Mad Russian” has been quieter than normal this month. Expect that to change Sunday. 

15-Graham Rahal, Steak ‘n Shake Honda

TDZ: Rahal wanted this to be a better month and a move forward from 26th to 14th on the grid is a good start, but it hasn’t yet looked like a winning month. Rahal’s been good in several ‘500s past and has an ability to charge forward when the car’s right.

8-Max Chilton, Gallagher Honda

TDZ: Chilton entered the oval portion of the month on a high after a strong GP and has carried the momentum through. Perhaps not a winner, but stands a very good chance of bettering his 15th place of a year ago; say maybe seventh or eighth, here.

Row 6

83-Charlie Kimball, Tresiba Honda

TDZ: One of Indy’s more underrated solid drivers – Kimball has finished between third and 13th in five of his six ‘500s – now appears to have the right package at his disposal. Armed with new engineer Todd Malloy, he could surprise once again.

5-James Hinchcliffe, Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

TDZ: Pole last year, 17th this year. It’s been baffling to see the No. 5 car this far down the order, but if the car’s better in race pace than it’s appeared in practice and qualifying, Hinchcliffe can succeed.

22-Juan Pablo Montoya, Fitzgerald Glider Kits Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: JPM will have the world at his disposal as a one-off entry this race. With nothing to lose, they can try a strategy play, a traffic play, or a pure pace play to move to the front from P18 on the grid.

Row 7

3-Helio Castroneves, Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: In his eternal quest for his fourth Indy 500 victory, Castroneves has downplayed the lack of single-lap pace and hailed his race pace. Having been busy all month, it wouldn’t shock to see Castroneves emerge as a winner from 19th.

77-Jay Howard, Lucas Oil/Team One Cure Honda

TDZ: Howard starts 20th for his first Indy 500 in six years, the same place he started in his 2011 debut. He’s been quietly good all month and a top-12 seems achievable with a clean race.

24-Sage Karam, DRR Mecum Auctions Chevrolet

TDZ: With a car that looks dynamic in traffic, and a driver who can make moves like nobody’s business, Karam is an excellent pick to steal the show. Of course, the big question mark here is whether his Mecum car will make it all 200 laps.

Row 8

2-Josef Newgarden, hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: This wasn’t in the script for Newgarden at Penske – his old team starts second and sixth while his new one has four of its five drivers starting 18th or worse. Is there a Newgarden or Penske magic act in store for Sunday?

1-Simon Pagenaud, Menards Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: Pagenaud’s weird season title defense tour rolls into Indianapolis where somehow, he’s finished top-five each of the first five races, led the points prior to qualifying, yet hasn’t looked “on it” all month. From 23rd, it’d be a surprise to see him win.

14-Carlos Munoz, ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet

TDZ: For having finished second twice, plus fourth among his four Indianapolis 500 starts, it’s weird to think of the 2016 runner-up as a longshot. But that’s what a change of scenery has done for him and in a rarity, he’s not got high expectations this year.

Row 9

88-Gabby Chaves, Harding Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: New team that has a lot of Indianapolis success individually elsewhere comes together for a debut run. This car is a hard one to project, but Chaves is a clean and consistent enough driver that a top-15 run could be achievable.

4-Conor Daly, ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet

TDZ: One of Indiana’s favorite sons, Daly and the Foyt team just has not had the speed of the other Chevrolet teams this week. After coming 22nd with a pit fire, then another fire before starting and a crash last year, a quiet top-20 finish would be a welcome run for him this year.

50-Jack Harvey, Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport Honda

TDZ: After a tough start to the month, both Harvey and Shank improve steadily each day. Pit stops for both in an IndyCar setting will be an adjustment but Harvey could be a good under-the-radar driver to watch in its flashy livery.

Row 10

63-Pippa Mann, Susan G. Komen Honda

TDZ: Mann has not had her best month of May in the extra Dale Coyne car, but enters with having finished her last six 500-mile races started since 2014. If she does the same again in 2017, a chance to better 18th from last year beckons.

11-Spencer Pigot, Oceanfront Recovery Chevrolet

TDZ: As last year, a crash interrupted Pigot’s week of practice. The usually steady pair of hands also started 29th last year and improved to 25th; he will look to do better as he’s reunited with Ricardo Juncos for his team’s Indy 500 debut.

44-Buddy Lazier, Lazier Racing-Stalk It-Tivoli Chevrolet

TDZ: Finishing is the first and most simple goal for Indy’s favorite underdog and 1996 champ, who’ve overachieved in limited laps with the Mitch Davis-led crew.

Row 11

17-Sebastian Saavedra, AFS Chevrolet

TDZ: One of several drivers who hasn’t been in IndyCar in a couple years back this year and with a new team. Saavedra will look to replicate his 32nd-to-15th drive with KV in 2014, with Juncos featuring some ex-KV personnel.

40-Zach Veach, Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim Chevrolet

TDZ: The likable young driver has had a challenging first month of May, and will look to finish first; top-20 or better will be a respectable target.

18-James Davison, GEICO Honda

TDZ: Although this is the backup car and the backup driver, Davison’s always a sure bet to be entertaining, fast, and a possible top-15 finisher if all the cards fall right.

Alonso open to options outside of F1 if he can’t find winning project

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Fernando Alonso is not afraid to explore options outside of Formula 1 for 2018 if he is unable to find a winning project as the saga surrounding his McLaren future continues.

Alonso is out of contract at the end of the season, and has been exploring options away from McLaren after three difficult years fighting down the order due to issues with the team’s Honda power unit.

The two-time world champion does not appear to have many options for 2018, and is still talking to McLaren about a drive for next year.

“I’m very open. I haven’t made a decision yet,” Alonso told CNN.

“I’m talking to McLaren, of course, because it’s my team. I think we have unfinished business together to win in Formula 1.

“I think everyone will have their opinion of what we need to be competitive. I have mine. If that happens, I will consider for sure to stay and win with McLaren.”

Should Alonso decide to leave McLaren, the Spaniard confirmed he would explore other options on the F1 grid, but is not afraid to look beyond the sport.

“Formula 1 is still my priority, it’s my life, and winning the world championship is what I’m hoping,” Alonso said.

“If I don’t see any clear project that will allow me to fight for the win, I will look outside Formula 1, but that’s [a decision for] November, December. I will try all the possibilities before that.”

Alonso stole the headlines earlier this year with his entry to the Indianapolis 500 as part of a joint entry between McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport, qualifying fifth and running up the order before retiring with an engine failure.

While Alonso enjoyed his stint in the IndyCar paddock, a full-season ride is not thought to be a serious consideration for him currently.

A future shot at the 24 Hours of Le Mans is also on Alonso’s radar, although the lingering uncertainty regarding the future of the LMP1 class and prototype racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship may put the brakes on that for the time being.

When asked if he felt he had taken his last win in F1 – the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix – Alonso said: “No, no. It will happen.

“I have a feeling it will happen next year.”

Stefan Johansson’s latest blog: Racing facing big challenges ahead

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After a few months off writing, Stefan Johansson’s back with his latest blog after a whirlwind month-plus of news across various forms of racing.

The F1 and IndyCar veteran turned driver manager and seasoned observer of all things motorsports has touched on a number of the challenges all of racing faces in the upcoming months and years in this entry, his latest conversation with Jan Tegler.

Johansson first hits on a fundamental problem within racing: a tight regulatory box thanks to crazy amounts of technology, coupled with escalating costs.

“The fundamental problem in general for pretty much every level of racing is that technology has taken over. Everything is driven by technology,” he writes. “Every racing series is driven by the engineering side instead of the drivers and the sporting side. The cars are far too expensive to run. All of the electronics, all of the aerodynamic development, all of the extra stuff which has become part of the cars today makes them massively more expensive to operate. Then we have all the various methods of simulation which effectively have replaced on track testing, this again is driving up the costs as all this equipment is constantly evolving, and anything involving R&D is never cheap.

“Not only are they more expensive as a whole, components are more expensive and the cars require three to four times the amount of people to run compared to what they used to. In the end, there’s nothing left over due to the costs. The money’s got to come from somewhere. Teams are operating more and more in survival mode, and as such they have to rely more and more on drivers bringing money.”

The next fundamental question is whether race cars and road cars should have similar levels of relevance, or instead be completely separate. Hybrid technology has been en vogue for the last few years, for instance.

“Race cars are made to go fast as they always have been,” Johansson writes. “Nowadays the main emphasis seems to be that road cars are supposed to save the planet, whether that’s valid or not but that’s the argument. Racing and road cars ought to be heading in two completely separate directions, if there is anything to be learned from Racing that could benefit the road car industry, great, but I don’t think the focus should be on that.

“The whole concept with this technology – the philosophy of what race cars are meant to be now – is going completely in the wrong direction in my opinion. This insanely complicated and expensive hybrid technology really doesn’t benefit anyone in racing. The development of the technology for road cars is already as advanced if not more than what we see in the F1 or LMP1 cars. So there’s really no gain. Then you can look at the whole aerodynamic thing on top of it – useless for a road car.

“Part of the problem is the PR the manufacturers produce. Their PR departments have an agenda and of course there’s the political side and that’s another agenda. There are all of these marketing efforts and the racing is just the tiny little bit at the bottom of it. Everything has to conform to all of the non-racing agendas.”

The visual, visceral appeal of driving is another point that Johansson worries has been lost in this era of engineering-driven machines.

“Anyone, even a layman with no knowledge of racing, can appreciate the effort and skill of a driver wrestling a car to make it perform as well as possible at the limit,” he writes. “But a car that does almost everything for a driver, that’s stuck to the road on a track with so much run off area that is virtually impossible to hit anything if you try too hard and go off, that any driver with a small amount of skill can jump in and get within half a second of a three-times world champion – that doesn’t excite people. It doesn’t have the same appeal.”

MONZA, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 02: Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing sits in his car fitted with the halo during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 2, 2016 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

On the Halo coming to F1? Johansson offers this: “It’s now also been confirmed that the Halo head protection will be mandated. It was an inevitable decision in my opinion, once the knowledge is there and it’s for safety there’s no turning back. It’s a knee jerk reaction to something that should have never happened in the first place if any level of common sense had been applied at Suzuka when Jules Bianchi had his accident. But it happened, it was a freak accident and will in most likelihood never ever happen again, halo or no halo.”

On IndyCar’s new universal kit coming for 2018, he writes, “Aesthetically the new car certainly looks a lot better than the previous ones, it would have been nearly impossible to design one that could look any worse though. I guess this also fixes the disparity between the Chevy and Honda aero but what a pointless exercise the manufacturer aero kits were.”

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 28: Fernando Alonso of Spain, driver of the #29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda, exits his car after his engine expired during the 101st Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

While noting the manufacturer spend, Johansson also notes how much buzz Fernando Alonso generated from his Indianapolis 500 bow: “If the penny hasn’t dropped that maybe it’s not new car designs we need, but instead a much bigger focus on the drivers, who are the heroes that people want to watch. The value of Fernando Alonso racing at Indy this year is probably the best marketing IndyCar has had for the last 20 years.”

And on LMP1’s demise within the FIA WEC as three of the four manufacturers from 2015 have all pulled out? “I can’t see the WEC surviving. If Toyota follows Porsche what is there? What they should do is a pan-American/European championship of some kind. They should create some kind of hybrid series that brings IMSA and the ELMS together, spanning both continents.

“Look at Le Mans this year. The race was almost won by an LMP2 car at almost exactly 100 times less than the budget of the P1 teams – 100 times less! That should tell you something. Sports car racing has to be much more reasonable in terms of the costs. Look at the LMP3 class.”

You can read the full blog post here, for even more insight.

2017 columns:

Additionally, a link to Johansson’s social media channels and #F1TOP3 competition are linked here.

Acura ARX-05 formally revealed at The Quail (PHOTOS)

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After a teaser video was released a couple weeks ago, the formal, full unveil of Acura’s new ARX-05 prototype for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, to be fielded by Team Penske, took place today at The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering, in Monterey.

A photo from a private, VIP event emerged on social media on Thursday night ahead of the proper unveil, but now the car is officially out in the open for all to see.

A striking nose assembly section to the ARX-05, on top of the base Oreca 07 chassis, is perhaps the most notable visual identifier on the car.

The full release and a handful of photos are below.

Acura today unveiled the new Acura ARX-05 prototype race car at The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering. Acura Motorsports will join forces with the legendary Team Penske organization to field a pair of the new Daytona Prototype International (DPi) entries in the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.  

The Acura ARX-05 (Acura Racing eXperimental, generation 5) is the latest in a line of endurance prototypes to be fielded by the brand dating to 1991, just five years after the 1986 launch of the Acura marque. Based on the very successful ORECA 07 chassis, the new ARX-05 prototype showcases Acura-specific bodywork and design features, including Acura’s signature Jewel Eye™ headlights, and utilizes the race-proven AR35TT twin-turbocharged engine, based on the production 3.5-liter V-6 that powers the Acura MDX, RDX, TLX and RLX models.

Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype international (DPi) race car to be campaigned by Team Penske in 2018

“At Acura, Precision Crafted Performance is at the heart of everything we do.” said Jon Ikeda, Acura vice-president and general manager. “Whether it is our production cars or a prototype race car, if you want to be a performance brand you need to perform.”

The multi-year DPi program will be administered by Honda Performance Development (HPD), the racing arm for both Acura Motorsports and Honda Racing in North America. The competition debut of the Team Penske Acura prototypes will take place at the season-opening Rolex 24 in January, 2018. One of the team’s two ARX-05 entries will be piloted by the legendary Juan Pablo Montoya along with sports car champion Dane Cameron. The second driver pairing will be announced at a later date.

“Right from the start, Acura has raced – and done so successfully,” said Art St. Cyr, President of HPD and Acura Motorsports. “We’ve won with the Acura Integra Type R, the RSX, the first-generation NSX and with the Le Mans prototypes. Most recently, we’ve won with the new Acura NSX GT3. The ARX-05 is our fifth-generation prototype, and we expect great things from our partnership with Team Penske.”

Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype international (DPi) race car to be campaigned by Team Penske in 2018

DPi rules require manufacturers to use one of four approved prototype chassis, fitted with IMSA-homologated, manufacturer-designed and branded bodywork and engines. In the case of the ARX-05, the bodywork was developed by a team led by Acura Global Creative Director Dave Marek.

“We created a variety of initial sketches, then pared those down a handful of potential designs. Next came aero and wind tunnel model testing, and time for the engineers to have their say,” Marek recounted. “The design continued to be refined throughout the testing and evaluation process, until we came up with a final treatment that met our performance goals while maintaining Acura styling cues. It’s been an exciting process.”

Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype international (DPi) race car to be campaigned by Team Penske in 2018

The Acura ARX-05 will add to a rich legacy of Acura sports car racing successes, including the 1991-93 IMSA Camel Lights manufacturer and driver championships; 50 IMSA and American Le Mans Series class or overall race victories (through Watkins Glen 2017); and the 2009 American Le Mans Series manufacturer, driver and team championships, in both the LMP1 and LMP2 classes.

Based on the “J35” family of engines found in Acura MDX, RDX, TLX and RLX production vehicles, the Acura AR35TT engine has powered class winners at the 12 Hours of Sebring (2011-13); the 24 Hours of Le Mans and LMP2 World Endurance Championship (2012).  The engine also powered entries to American Le Mans Series LMP2 titles in 2012-13; and the overall winners at the Rolex 24, 12 Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans in 2016.

Acura Motorsports currently campaigns the Acura NSX GT3 in the IMSA GTD category with Michael Shank Racing – where it has already won at Detroit and Watkins Glen this season – as well as with Real Time Racing in the Pirelli World Challenge GT division.

Following today’s official unveiling, the Acura ARX-05 will also be on display at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion (August 19) and on the Concept Lawn at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance (August 20).

Manor alters No. 24 crew line-up for WEC Mexico

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Manor’s Jean-Eric Vergne will be joined by two new drivers in the No. 24 Oreca 07 Gibson for the upcoming FIA World Endurance Championship round in Mexico following a revision of the team’s line-up.

Manor fielded ex-Toro Rosso Formula 1 and current Formula E racer Vergne alongside Jonathan Hirschi and Tor Graves in the No. 24 Oreca through the opening three rounds of the season, the trio recording a best finish of fourth in the LMP2 class at Le Mans.

Vergne was replaced by Roberto Merhi for the last round at the Nürburgring due to Formula E’s clashing commitments in New York, but will be joined by an all-new line-up for the next race at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City on September 3.

Matt Rao returns to Manor’s LMP2 line-up after featuring last season ahead of a move to Signatech Alpine for 2017, acting as its silver-rated driver.

Vergne and Rao will be joined by British racer Ben Hanley, who moves onto his third team of the WEC season after featuring for TDS Racing, DragonSpeed and G-Drive Racing so far this season at Spa, Le Mans and the Nürburgring respectively.

Manor’s No. 25 Oreca line-up remains unchanged, with Vitaly Petrov being joined by Simon Trummer and Roberto Gonzalez for Mexico City.

Click here to see the full entry list of the 6 Hours of Mexico.