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DiZinno: Final thoughts, musings, observations on 2017 Indy 500

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INDIANAPOLIS – With the month of May now complete, here’s some final thoughts on this year’s full rundown of Indianapolis 500 festivities:

  • Takuma Sato will be a class winner. Sato’s already got the respect of the paddock and the adoration of the Indianapolis fans, and his welcome appreciation and understanding of what he achieved on Sunday will stand large for however long he continues to compete in the race. At age 40 though, and with what he’s been through over the course of his career in both F1 and IndyCar, you could tell how much this sunk in at the moment. Sato’s old reputation for crashing has definitely subsided in recent years and he’s already making the most of the media rounds. He’ll be a good champion.
  • Andretti Autosport’s six-pack strategy worked. With six cars in the race, at least four of them for Andretti Autosport boasted realistic win chances. Sato emerged from a group that also included Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi and Fernando Alonso, before all three hit trouble later in the race. Marco Andretti held on to eighth despite losing a rear wing end fence while Jack Harvey’s month of gradual improvements came to a halt in the Michael Shank Racing with Andretti car when he got collected by debris from Conor Daly’s car, through no fault of his own.
  • INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 28: Fernando Alonso of Spain, driver of the #29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda, leads Helio Castroneves of Brazil, driver of the #3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet, during the 101st Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

    Helio Castroneves drove one of the best races of his career. Sometimes it’s hard to properly appreciate Castroneves, but what he did Sunday in a car down on power and after also losing one of his rear winglets was one of the most impressive drives he’s done in 20 years, bar none. None of the other Chevrolets had a particularly realistic shot, but Castroneves drove most of the race with a car seemingly set up for qualifying in the race. It doesn’t ease the sting of his losing out on a fourth ‘500 win, but he gave everything he had and then some for Team Penske.

  • Fernando Alonso lived up to the (excessive) hype. On-track, Alonso did all he needed to do and then some. He proved his point; he was a definitive victory contender with his drive in the race, the capper to a month where he hit all the key notes he needed to both on-and off-track. And he rolled with all he needed to do, never saying the wrong thing or acting the wrong way in public sphere. His acceptance speech for Sunoco Rookie of the Year was gracious and humble. While he did well, as the month wore on, it became obvious the hype shifted from adoration to overkill, and indeed the story line of Alonso vs. “The Other 32” often superseded the remaining competitors. Indeed Alonso’s presence was good for IMS and for the Indianapolis 500, and good for PR value for both him and McLaren, although his winning Sunoco Rookie of the Year raised some eyebrows. But the circus moves on without him to Detroit next weekend, and normalcy will be restored to the galaxy.
  • Revenge of the old guys. A year ago, youth dominated the top-five and top-10. Sunday, the 40-year-olds had their day. As noted by IndyCar Radio’s Nick Yeoman, with Sato (40), Castroneves (42), Tony Kanaan (42) and Juan Pablo Montoya (41) in the top six, and with Oriol Servia (42) poised to have finished near them if he didn’t get collected in the final accident, there’s a good chance five of the six 40-somethings in the field could have all been in the top six or seven. Even Buddy Lazier, now 49, was more competitive this month than in recent years thanks to Mitch Davis’ input, and could have ended in the top-20 had he not had his accident at Turn 2.
  • INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 28: Scott Dixon of New Zealand, driver of the #9 Camping World Honda, stands alongside his daughters during driver introductions ahead of the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

    Two lucky escapes. Although Sebastien Bourdais did sustain the multiple pelvic fractures and fractured right hip, he’s already working hard on the road to recovery. And Scott Dixon survived one of the more horrific looking accidents in recent memory on Sunday. We could already joke about it once Dixon was checked and released. INDYCAR has made headway on safety enhancements over the years and the combination of the HANS device and SAFER barrier were paramount to both drivers – and the others involved in accidents this month – to keeping the field safe. Some cries for canopy protection were made, as could be expected, but it’s worth noting how fast Dixon was already climbing out of his car in the race, and how quickly Bourdais wanted to get out but couldn’t after his smash.

  • Reliability a welcome story line to see back. The Honda camp would probably argue otherwise, but there was something magical about seeing booms and pops like the days of old, because it meant the Hondas were pushing the envelope like hell. Chevrolet runners had a quiet confidence their aero and reliability edge could steal them the race, but Honda’s pace and skill set from its pack of 18 drivers netted them the win. Knowing the outcome was in doubt as Ryan Hunter-Reay, Charlie Kimball and Fernando Alonso all fell by the wayside was fascinating to watch, and it opened doors for the likes of Sato, who won, and both Ed Jones and Max Chilton who were third and fourth.
  • Former Carlin teammates Jones, Chilton emerge at head of the young guns. In a good race for a number of Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires graduates, it was former Carlin teammates Jones and Chilton who ultimately led the way as Honda’s – and IndyCar’s – surprise revelations among the young chargers. Jones, 22, and Chilton, 26, were competitive from the word go this month and never looked overmatched for the moment. As IndyCar has not had a first-time race winner since Alexander Rossi at last year’s Indianapolis 500, both of these two have thrown their hat in the ring to be next up among the first-timers. Carlos Munoz made the most of his day with A.J. Foyt Racing and ended a more than solid 10th. Lots of others impressed, notably Gabby Chaves in Harding Racing’s debut and Sebastian Saavedra and Spencer Pigot, the latter of whom held on to a brutally handling car for Juncos Racing’s debut. James Davison also did a nice job in his progression through the field before his accident late on.
  • INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 28: Scott Dixon of New Zealand, driver of the #9 Camping World Honda, leads the field during during the 101st Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

    Elsewhere in the field. Neither Graham Rahal nor Oriol Servia were able to parlay pace into a result for RLL Racing. A puncture resigned Rahal to 12th after he led, while a potential top-three for Servia went begging when he got caught up in the five-car accident. … Penalties also sabotaged the days for Ed Carpenter Racing’s pair of Ed Carpenter (work in a closed pit) and JR Hildebrand (jumped a restart), leaving them an unrepresentative 11th and 16th. … Carpenter (front wing loss), Mikhail Aleshin (sidepod damage), Simon Pagenaud (rear wing assembly damage), Jones (hole in the nose) and Marco Andretti (lost rear wing end fence) were all among those who had to press on with damage during the race, on a chaotic afternoon where a lot of bits of bodywork flew. … Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden had rare off months, never fully able to contend for Team Penske, which was hard to fathom. … Similarly, it was a tough month for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with multiple engine issues, relatively anonymity from the usually exciting Mikhail Aleshin, a tough end for James Hinchcliffe and an early end for the returning Jay Howard, who’d been fine all month but didn’t cover himself in glory with his accident and then blaming Ryan Hunter-Reay after his crash. … Quiet credit to Pippa Mann who endured a tough month dialing in the feel of her Dale Coyne Racing Honda, but pressed on anyway for a ‘500 career-best 17th place. She’s now finished her last seven 500-mile races in IndyCar in a row dating to 2014. … Alternator problems affected Sage Karam before his DRR Mecum Auctions Chevrolet could ever really get going. … It was hard not to feel a bit for Stefan Wilson this month. Having stepped out for Alonso’s seat to materialize and then finding out he didn’t get Coyne’s seat as a fill-in for Bourdais were two blows to him. One hopes he’ll be in this race next year, beyond the promises.

The normalcy of the IndyCar schedule, albeit after a crazy week for the crews in tearing down their speedway cars and prepping their street course cars for the Detroit doubleheader this weekend, resumes on Friday.

Andretti Autosport endures tough Road America outing

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All four of the Andretti Autosport drivers encountered significant problems during the Kohler Grand Prix, and none of them were able to salvage finishes inside the top ten as a result.

Most notably, Takuma Sato endured the most difficult weekend of the four-car armada after suffering a pinched nerve in his neck on Saturday, which forced him to miss the morning warmup.

And things didn’t get any better during the race, as a lap 28 spin exiting the Kink saw him lose a lap and forced him to play catchup even more than he already was. Although Sato managed to finish the race, hardly insignificant given his neck injury, he did so in 19th after starting 20th in what proved to be his worst race since winning the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

“It was a tough weekend and tough race,” lamented Sato. “I injured my neck during practice Saturday morning. We started in the back row, tried to make a push up, but I caught an accident. The engine was stalled and I wasn’t sure if we could continue, but the safety crew came and fired up the engine, so I came back to the pit, buckled again and I was able to keep going. In the end we made the finish, but we need a better weekend.”

His teammates did not fair much better. Alexander Rossi, who qualified a disappointing 15th, ran a four-stop pit strategy, and while he cycled into the top five at one point, an issue with the front wing saw him fall to 13th at the finish.

Alexander Rossi was fast Road America, but an issue with the front wing dropped him back in the field at the end. Photo: IndyCar

“I think we started with a good strategy, going for a four-stop race after starting 15th, but it all caught up to us on that first yellow,” Rossi explained. “Luckily, we had already gained track position and speed running on open track. We had an issue with our front wing, which ironically or not, is the same issue we finished the race with here last year, so we definitely need to figure out exactly what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay, too, had strong pace, even leading the Sunday morning warmup and running inside the top ten late in the race. But, contact with Charlie Kimball while battling for sixth broke the front wing on the No. 28 DHL Honda, and Hunter-Reay languished in 14th at the checkered flag.

Ryan Hunter-Reay was was 14th at the checkered flag after battling inside the top ten late in the race. Photo: IndyCar

“Charlie (Kimball) made a late block and took off my front wing. I had a good race going until Charlie moved out late like that, it’s just really unfortunate,” Hunter-Reay said of the incident.

Meanwhile, Marco Andretti battled a litany of problems, ranging from throttle issues to a broken pit speed limiter, which resulted in a drive-penalty for speeding during a round of pit stops. Andretti was a lowly 18th at the finish.

Marco Andretti battled a host of problems during the Kohler Grand Prix. Photo: IndyCar

“We started eighth, but ran into throttle problems. We went off track on the first stint because the throttle stuck wide open. We came into the pits to try to fix it and got hit with a pit lane speed violation because my pit lane limiter wasn’t working. We still weren’t getting full throttle – I was barely hitting sixth gear,” he lamented afterward.

Sato remains in the top five in the championship, now sitting fourth, 56 points behind leader Scott Dixon. Rossi sits ninth, with Andretti and Hunter-Reay 13th and 15th respectively.

 

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Kimball, Chilton quiet but solid at Road America

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While Scott Dixon scored victory for Chip Ganassi Racing, two of the team’s other drivers enjoyed quietly solid days at the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America.

Charlie Kimball, in need of a strong finish after being stricken with bad luck so far in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, scored his best finish of the year with a fine run to sixth place. While he was never a part of the battle for victory, he was “best of the rest” for most of the day and enjoyed a solid, mistake-free run.

“Overall a really solid day for the Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing team,” Kimball said afterward. Though he admitted tire management in the race’s third stint hampered his efforts, he was more than pleased with the end result.

“That third stint, I don’t think I managed the Firestone alternates as well as some of the guys around me,” Kimball revealed. “You saw that with (Will Power) with a better in and out lap. That was disappointing, because I think we could have maybe had a shot at a top five. Overall though, to fight off some competitors for that last stint after the final yellow felt good and it felt good to bring it home in sixth for the guys. Kind of a semi-trouble free weekend and pretty happy with it.”

Teammate Max Chilton, too, scored a solid ten finish, the Briton finishing ninth. However, unlike Kimball, Chilton lamented not being able to finish higher on a circuit where he feels very comfortable.

Max Chilton during qualifying for the Kohler Grand Prix. Photo: IndyCar

“It’s not how we wanted it, especially after how quick we were (in the morning warmup),” said Chilton, who started seventh and was second fastest in the morning warmup. Like Kimball, he struggled with tire management, and an untimely caution when he was on the primary black tires put paid to his chances of a better finish.

“Something just wasn’t working for us. On a set of reds, we were struggling massively and then we went to the blacks, which would’ve been alright, but then the safety car came out and everyone else had longer life on the reds and I was struggling again.”

With the Kohler Grand Prix in the books, Chilton currently sits 11th in the championship, three points behind tenth-place Ed Jones, while Kimball remains 18th, 72 points outside the top ten.

Mahindra to give M4Electro Formula E car public debut at Goodwood

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Mahindra Racing will debut its new car for the fourth Formula E season, the M4Electro, at the famous Goodwood Festival of Speed later this week as part of a bid to beat the existing open-wheel electric record for the hillclimb.

As part of its preparations for season four of Formula E, set to start in Hong Kong at the beginning of December, Mahindra has already hit the track with the M4Electro in private testing.

Full-season drivers Felix Rosenqvist and Nick Heidfeld have both completed running in the car, while Indian actress Gul Panag has also taken part in a test.

Heidfeld will give the M4Electro its first public outing at Goodwood and look to become the first driver to hold two records at the hillclimb.

The German driver holds the overall hillclimb record of 41.6 seconds at Goodwood, set back in 1999 in a McLaren MP4/13 Formula 1 car.

“We’re excited to bring Nick and the M4Electro to Goodwood in a bid to set the fastest open-wheel electric record on the hillclimb,” Mahindra team boss Dilbagh Gill said.

“We are always looking to push the boundaries as a team and we couldn’t think of a better way to introduce the season four challenger to fans and automotive enthusiasts alike than at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.”

Qualcomm named title partner for New York Formula E race

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FIA Formula E has announced that technology company Qualcomm will be the title partner for the upcoming New York City ePrix as the all-electric series gears up to hit the United States in three weeks’ time.

New York City will play host to its first motorsport event in Red Hook on July 15-16, acting as the penultimate round of Formula E’s third season.

Qualcomm has been a key partner for Formula E since the series’ inception in 2014, and will now act as the New York race’s title partner after acquiring the naming rights, as announced on Monday. The event will be formally called the ‘Qualcomm New York City ePrix’.

“As one of our founding partners – and now for the first time a race title partner for one of the most anticipated races of the season – Qualcomm Technologies’ continued support and commitment to Formula E has been instrumental,” Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag said.

“We share many of the same values in the field of innovation and technology transfer, which we’ve already seen with unique wireless charging concepts.

“I’m looking forward to making history in New York by bringing Formula E to the Big Apple for the first time – it’s going to be an unmissable event.”

Derek Aberle, president of Qualcomm Incorporated, added: “Qualcomm inventions enable widespread innovation, just as motorsport fuels the evolution of the automotive industry.

“Formula E, including this Qualcomm ePrix race in New York City, is a great testbed for our automotive breakthroughs such as wireless electric vehicle charging.

“We look forward to continuing our collaboration with Formula E to promote the benefits of the latest vehicle technologies as cars become more connected, autonomous and electric.”