Photo: Honda/Rose Parade

RHR to lead Rose Parade in Acura NSX, to kick off 100th Indy 500 chat

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Usually race drivers don’t wind up driving the pace car until years after their active career has come to a conclusion. See Rutherford, Johnny and Luyendyk, Arie as two modern day examples of Indianapolis 500 champions taking that approach.

Consider Ryan Hunter-Reay’s New Year’s Day opportunity an exception, then, and a very cool one at that.

Hunter-Reay will be driving a new 2016 Acura NSX to lead the Tournament of Roses Parade – albeit trading his 225-230 mph top speed for a 2.5 mph top speed he’ll have to maintain for 5.5 miles, or two hours and 12 minutes.

Next year’s Rose Parade presented by Honda is the 127th edition. Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indianapolis 500 and 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion, will lead the field including Honda’s “Nature’s Hope” float along with 43 others.

The event takes place New Year’s Day at 11 a.m. ET, 8 a.m. PT on a number of networks, including NBC (others include ABC, HGTV, Univision, RDFTV).

For Hunter-Reay, who’s experienced a cool amount of items in his career, getting to lead the field joins the list of awesome opportunities.

“We discussed it for the 2015 Rose Bowl after winning the ’14 Indy 500, but the timing didn’t add up,” Hunter-Reay told MotorSportsTalk.

“We put it up now with the NSX hitting the road. It’s perfect timing. I’m honored to be representing the sport and IndyCar and Indy 500, as winner and champion.

“It’s a huge opportunity. First push for the 100th running of the 500.”

Hunter-Reay is yet to see the new 2016 NSX in person; the car has come a long way from a “prototype” it was when it made demonstration laps at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course a couple years ago.

“This’ll be the first time to go,” he said. “It’s a new year’s tradition. It’s pretty cool to get to do it as American champion.”

Hunter-Reay’s presence in the Rose Parade is a rarity for an IndyCar driver. Two-time Indy 500 winner Rodger Ward, who won in 1959 and 1962, was in the 1963 Rose Parade on the state of Indiana’s “Memorable Moments in Indiana” float. A replica of Rodger Ward’s 1962 Indy 500-winning roadster was on the float.

As for the Rose Bowl itself, Hunter-Reay said although he doesn’t have a particular favorite between Iowa and Stanford, he’ll lean more towards the Big Ten team.

“I don’t really have skin in the game. (But) I’d have to go for Iowa, (considering I have) three wins and the second place. That’s a special place. One of my favorite spots to go to.”

His day job, of course, is driving the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport.

You can see a full infographic of RHR’s Rose Parade game plan, below.

InformationGraphicRHRRoseParade

Alex Palou fastest as several go off course during IndyCar practice at IMS

IndyCar Harvest GP practice
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
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Alex Palou paced the opening practice Thursday for the IndyCar Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

The Dale Coyne Racing rookie turned a 1-minute, 10.177-second lap around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course in his No. 55 Dallara-Honda.

Jack Harvey was second, followed by Colton Herta, points leader Scott Dixon and Max Chilton.

PRACTICE CHART: Click here to see the speed rundown from Thursday’s session

FRIDAY AT IMS: Details for watching Race 1 of the Harvest GP

Qualifying for Friday’s race will be at 6:20 p.m. ET Thursday on NBC Sports Gold.

Will Power, who won the pole position for the July 4 race at the track, spun off course with just more than a minute left in the session after the left rear of his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet made slight contact with the right front of Alexander Rossi’s No. 28 Dallara-Honda.

Power was among several drivers who went off track, but there were no damaged cars during the session. Marcus Ericsson missed the final 5 minutes of the practice after being penalized for causing a red flag with a Turn 8 spin.

Arrow McLaren SP drivers Pato O’Ward and Helio Castroneves, who is driving for Oliver Askew (who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms), also veered off course as did rookie Rinus VeeKay and Santino Ferrucci.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was in attendance at the session before racing Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Johnson will be driving a partial schedule of road and street courses in IndyCar next season for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Literally, the smallest of details, I can pick up on,” Johnson told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “It’s been really nice today just to see how a session starts and obviously to jump on the radio and listen to how the systems work and then obviously you get into the car and the setup and such. I’m at ground zero right now, a 45-year-old rookie trying to learn my way into a new sport essentially.”

Johnson told Lee his sponsorship hunt to run a Ganassi car “has gone really well. The fact that I’m here today and ingrained so deeply in the team is a great sign of where things are going. Looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a car soon and hopefully having some announcements for the world to see soon, too.”

Fans were in attendance Thursday for the first time this season at IMS, which is allowed a limited crowd of 10,000 for its races this weekend.