Chip Ganassi, Bobby Rahal lead new class of Auto Racing Hall of Fame inductees

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Chip Ganassi (pictured), Bobby Rahal, Bill Simpson, Jimmy McElreath, and Leo Mehl are set to be inducted next week into the Auto Racing Hall of Fame, which primarily honors the most important figures in the history of the Indianapolis 500.

The induction ceremony will take place during the annual Indy 500 Oldtimers’ dinner on Thursday in downtown Indianapolis. The ARHF currently has 148 members and had its inaugural class of inductees in 1952.

Ganassi and Rahal are probably the best-known figures in this year’s class. While Ganassi has won the Indy 500 five times as an owner, he also was a five-time starter as a driver, collecting a top finish of eighth in 1983. And as you probably know, Rahal won the 1986 Indy as a driver and the 2004 Indy as an owner with American racer Buddy Rice.

Longtime racing fans will also know of Simpson’s contributions to the sport through safety innovations. Recently, the former Indy 500 driver has started to put his expertise to work in football, creating lighter helmets for the sport’s players in a partnership with Ganassi.

McElreath competed 15 times in the Indy 500 from 1962 to 1980, with a best finish of third in ’66. His sixth-place run in the 1962 Indy was enough to net him the race’s Rookie of the Year Award, and he also netted some notable wins in his career at other historical tracks such as Ontario (he won the inaugural California 500 there in 1970 for A.J. Foyt), Langhorne, Trenton, and Phoenix.

Mehl logged almost four decades of service to Goodyear, and the last 17 years he spent there came as its worldwide director of racing – overseeing efforts in series as diverse as Formula One, NASCAR, CART, USAC and more. From 1997-1999, Mehl was also executive director of the Indy Racing League, which is now known as the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Chevrolet hoping it finally has edge on Honda in Indy 500

Photo: IndyCar
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Chevrolet engines have powered some of IndyCar’s biggest wins over the last six years.

Their drivers have won three of the first five races this season, four straight series titles and claimed the top four starting spots in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.

So why is there so much chatter about Chevy vs. Honda in Sunday’s race? It’s the one mountain Chevy continues to try and conquer.

“We have more horsepower at the top end but race running’s going to be different because you’re not going to be flat out,” 2016 series champ Simon Pagenaud said. “You’re going to have to manage your tires, you’re going to have to lift a lot and reaccelerate, and the Honda is really strong at that. So I think it’s going to equalize the race and I think there’s a good chance it will show, which is fantastic.”

Pagenaud knows both engines well.

He spent his first four seasons in the series working with Honda teams before switching to Roger Penske’s powerhouse Chevy team in 2015.

Yet as dominant as Chevy has been over the years outside Indy and as good as Penske’s team has been on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval, Honda continues to have the upper hand in the 500. Their cars have driven to victory lane 12 times over the past 14 years, including a run of nine straight (six coming when Honda was the series’ sole-engine manufacturer).

Chevy has two 500 wins since returning to the series in 2012. But the engine battle is becoming far more competitive even at Indy where the disparity from the top qualifier to the last qualifier was cut from 11.083 mph in 2017 to 5.198 mph this year.

Drivers have already noticed a difference on the track and casual fans who only watch the 500 might pick up on the changes, too.

“It’s certainly exciting for the fans, for us, for the teams,” said three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, a Chevy-powered driver for Penske. “It’s all about the end. Right now, we happen to be competitive so let’s see what happens in the race.”

Last year, Honda grabbed four of the top five spots and powered two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso to the race’s rookie of the year award. The problem: Three Honda engines blew during the second half of the race and those still on the track worried they would face the same fate.

This year, some of those same questions could return after Marco Andretti blew an engine just hours before the start of the IndyCar Grand Prix. Still, Andretti has been fast and qualified 12th for the race.

The new aero kits have drivers complaining about handling and passing on Sunday. Practice and qualifying speeds haven’t provided many hints about what to expect, either.

The practice session Monday was the first time everybody worked heavily on race setups and attempted to run in traffic.

The result: Chevy and Honda each had five cars among the top 10, in practice led by 23-year-old Sage Karam at 226.461 mph in a Chevy. Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champ and 2014 Indy winner with Andretti Autosport, was third-fastest at 224.820 – and No. 1 among the Honda teams.

Chevy, however, posted the top three non-tow speeds with rookie Kyle Kaiser leading the way at 221.107. Marco Andretti wound up fourth at 220.407 and was the top Honda car the list.

Four-time series champion Scott Dixon has learned not to read too much into all these numbers. The Chip Ganassi Racing star qualified ninth and is one of only two Honda drivers starting in the first three rows Sunday.

Last year, Honda took six of the top nine starting spots and had four of the top five cars at the finish line.

“I think there’s a lot of good Honda cars. Hopefully this one is one of them,” the 2008 Indy 500 winner said. “It showed pretty good, I think, in practice. But again it doesn’t guarantee you anything. You’ve got to give it your best, put in the effort and work hard.”

And hope for the best.

“I believe, even last year, even though the Hondas were really strong, we were able to fight in the end,” Castroneves said. “It’s all about being a good, balanced car.”