Indy 500 Notes: Bourdais earns best Indy finish; mixed fortunes for part-timers

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Sebastien Bourdais completed a fruitful Month of May on Sunday, picking up his best-ever Indy 500 finish two weeks after collecting a Top-5 (fourth) in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Starting 17th, Bourdais (pictured, No. 11) stayed in mid-pack for much of the race’s long duration under green (the first 148 of 200 laps ran caution-free), but rose into the Top 10 on Lap 147 and eventually came home seventh.

“Not a great day, but a good day,” the four-time Champ Car title winner said. “We struggled a bit with the car the whole month, but we stuck with it and got the best out of it today.

“We didn’t start in the front so it was a challenge to get there. Overall, it was a strong performance, a good result and we got double points. Now we move on to Detroit [next weekend].”

Prior to Sunday, Bourdais’ best ‘500’ finish was 12th in his inaugural appearance in 2005.

Let’s take a look at how some of Sunday’s part-time and one-off drivers fared…

21-J.R. Hildebrand (Ed Carpenter Racing; started ninth, finished 10th)

Hildebrand, the 2011 ‘500’ Rookie of the Year, had an up-and-down Sunday. He was an early charger and hung around the Top 5 in the first half of the race, but a tire issue developed and forced him to pit, knocking him as far back as 22nd.

Undeterred, Hildebrand steadily came back and rose as high as sixth at Lap 141 before settling for 10th in the end.

“Any day that you are not sitting in victory lane and drinking the milk, it’s a disappointment,” he said. “For us…It’s frustrating because we had a really good car. We had an issue with a tire that got us out of the pit sequence. The car got bad with the tire issue. I had to pit or I was going to crash.

“But the car was fast. We passed a ton of guys today, including in the end. It was nice earlier when we jumped from ninth to third and I was running with Ed.”

16-Oriol Servia (Rahal Letterman Lanigan; started 18th, finished 11th)

Grip issues kept Servia from advancing further at the end, but the Spaniard was also bothered by what he saw as too much clutter on the track.

“We had a good race overall but I was really hoping that the track offi­cials would decide to sweep the marbles like they should,” the open-wheel veteran said.

“Because we had around three quar­ters of the race under green so there were a lot of marbles and pieces of debris out there and that’s why you couldn’t pass anybody, which is a shame because you can’t go side-by-side.

“I don’t know why they decided not to clean the track. It could have been a much better race.”

68-Alex Tagliani (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing; started 24th, finished 13th)

Tagliani battled a loose condition on his race car, a matter that couldn’t be solved quickly due to the long, caution-free portion of the race. But eventually, the team found a sweet spot with the balance and turned in good pit stops to make up some time.

As for his overall experience with SFHR, the Canadian came away impressed with the usually single-car outfit.

“Until you work with a team, you don’t know what it’s like,” he said. “Hopefully it’s a team that will become a two-car program, and I’ll be right there when that happens.

“It’s definitely a team with potential, and if one day they become a two-car team, with what they showed me this month, it’s definitely something I’d be interested in looking at.”

63-Pippa Mann (Dale Coyne Racing; started 22nd, finished 24th)

A mechanical problem that emerged after her second pit stop forced Mann to come in again and put her several laps off the pace. But while the race didn’t go that well for her, she was still able to accomplish an important goal on Sunday.

“I’m really pleased we were able to go out there and exceed our 400 lap target for the month, to raise funds and awareness for Susan G. Komen in the fight against breast cancer,” she said. “It’s been an honor to carry the Susan G. Komen Running Ribbon this month.”

91-Buddy Lazier (Lazier Partners Racing; started 33rd, finished 32nd)

The 1996 Indy winner was the second driver to bow out on Sunday at Lap 87, with the team confirming on social media that it was due to a clutch failure.

2016 Knoxville Nationals champ Jason Johnson succumbs to injuries from sprint car crash

Photo courtesy Jason Johnson Racing official Facebook page
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Former Knoxville Nationals champion sprint car driver Jason Johnson has died from injuries suffered in a crash Saturday night in a World of Outlaws race at Beaver Dam (Wisconsin) Raceway).

Known as the “Ragin’ Cajun” for his aggressive style of racing, Johnson, 41, passed away this morning, according to an announcement by WoO. He was one of the most respected and well-liked drivers on the circuit by both fellow competitors and fans.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Johnson, a Eunice, Louisiana resident, was racing for the lead in the main event on the one-third-mile clay track with eventual race winner Daryn Pitman, when Johnson crashed on Lap 18 shortly after a restart.

Johnson’s car left the track surface in Turn 3 and flew through at least one billboard adjacent to the racetrack, according to media and witness reports.

It took rescue workers several minutes to extricate Johnson, who was taken by ambulance to a local hospital before being airlifted to Aurora Summit Hospital in Summit, Wisconsin, according to the Journal Sentinel report.

How many will remember Johnson:

Johnson, who won the 2016 Knoxville Nationals – the sport’s biggest race – in Iowa in storybook fashion, had been a primarily part-time racer on various sprint car circuits from 1998 until he went full-time on the Outlaws series, capturing Rookie of the Year honors in 2015.

MORE: Knoxville win should be big boost to Jason Johnson’s season, career

Johnson had 12 wins on the Outlaws circuit, including two victories this season.

The Journal Sentinel also posted a statement from SLS Promotions, which promoted Saturday’s race:

“Everyone at SLS Promotions offers our deepest, most sincere thoughts, prayers and condolences to Bobbi Johnson (Jason’s wife), Jaxx Johnson (the couple’s son) and the entire Johnson family and JJR Racing team.

“Jason was a great competitor and true ambassador for the sport. It was an honor and a privilege to work with him during his time on the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series trail. Jason will never be forgotten”

Other notables also commented on his death on social media:

According to the Journal Sentinel, Johnson is the second driver in four years to die at the small track northwest of Milwaukee. In September 2014, Scott Semmelann, 47, was killed there while practicing for an Interstate Racing Association event.

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