Big accolades, checks and laughs at Indy 500 Victory Awards Celebration

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MotorSportsTalk recaps the Indianapolis 500 banquet night, which brought the curtain down on a successful and more buzz-worthy Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

By Chris Estrada: Another Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway wound down last night with the Victory Awards Celebration, where ‘500’ winner Ryan Hunter-Reay was the guest of honor.

The American driver, who held off Helio Castroneves in the second-closest finish in Indy history, took home $2,491,194 from a total purse of more than $14 million.

RHR led 56 laps after starting 19th; the last time a driver led the most laps in the ‘500’ from a lower starting position was in 1975, when Wally Dallenbach Sr. paced 96 circuits after rolling off 21st (a blown piston relegated him to a ninth-place finish).

Castroneves just missed becoming the fourth four-time winner of the ‘500,’ but picked up a tidy sum of $785,194 for his runner-up performance. Third-place finisher Marco Andretti will have to wait another year to break the Andretti Curse, but still banked $585,194.

Carlos Munoz followed up his eye-opening debut in last year’s ‘500’ with a steady run to fourth last Sunday, and that earned him a check for $449,194. Juan Pablo Montoya netted $441,944 for finishing fifth in his first ‘500’ since winning his only other Indy start in 2000.

Sunoco ‘500’ Rookie of the Year honors went to NASCAR star Kurt Busch, who started 12th and finished sixth in his IndyCar debut for Andretti Autosport. His total winnings of $423,889 included a $25,000 bonus from Sunoco.

Busch ran the ‘500’ in his quest to run the full 1,100-mile ‘Double’ of Indy and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Unfortunately for him, Busch was stopped at 906 miles when he suffered an engine failure in the ‘600.’

By Tony DiZinno: The Indy 500 banquet night is traditionally a great night of viewing. For as stressed, on edge and focused as the drivers, crews and teams have to be for the rest of the month, the banquet is a great chance for everyone to reflect, relax, crack some jokes, and soak up all the moments that made this month magical.

You also get to see a side of the drivers that you don’t for the rest of the month. Personalities emerge as the guys take chances to riff on each other, all in good fun.

Graham Rahal kicked the night off with earning $341,194 for finishing 33rd and last, and then made the comment that if he or Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammate Oriol Servia didn’t win, he hoped Hunter-Reay did. Scott Dixon took that line a bit further when he said, “Graham Rahal, you told me the same thing.”

And then… we got to James Hinchcliffe and Ed Carpenter. On Tuesday before the race, front-row starters Hinch and Ed enjoyed having some playful banter in Milwaukee. But on Sunday, the two collided in Turn 1 as Townsend Bell made it through on the outside.

Luckily, the immediate frustration of both drivers being out on the spot on Sunday shifted back to pleasantries and banter when these two took the stage to accept their prize money.

Hinchcliffe was introduced by a Justin Bieber song (songs were picked based on the driver’s native country or hometown… Hinch is Canadian), and the “Mayor” promptly ripped on the selection committee for the choice.

Asked whether he and Carpenter had kissed and made up, Hinch replied, “Soft lips. Soft lips. You’re a lucky woman, Heather (Carpenter, Ed’s wife).”

But Carpenter got the last laugh when he came up next. “His check isn’t big enough; if it was, he’d have proposed,” Carpenter joked, which sent the room into an uproar. “Sorry how it worked out, Kirsten.”

Seriously, INDYCAR, get these two a show soon…

Anyway, through the rest of the field, rookie James Davison’s speech stood out as he got ultra emotional in calling his first start “the best day of his life.” Alex Tagliani paid tribute to wife Bronte by saying “Yes, she’s hot … she’s got the heart of an angel.” Simon Pagenaud paid tribute to the entire month saying, “We won 50 percent of the race in May so we’ll share that with Ryan!”

Busch was overcome by the moment, too. “I’ve done the Daytona 500… the Coca-Cola 600… and the Brickyard 400… but the Indianapolis 500 will blow you away,” he said. “I’m blown away by the challenge of the open-wheel world. My career was at a crossroads.”

Lastly Hunter-Reay took the stage with a measured, polished and thankful speech to round out the night.


Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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