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Rossi Indy 500 win adds to Andretti’s, Honda’s incredible year

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INDIANAPOLIS – Perhaps easy to forget or overlook in the aftermath of the fact rookie Alexander Rossi won the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil was who he did it for, besides himself and his family.

In delivering the victory for Michael Andretti, Bryan Herta and the Agajanians, plus Honda, Rossi has added another incredible race in the world of motorsports to their respective win totals in 2016.

ANDRETTI’S MAGICAL MONTH OF MAY

Let’s start with Andretti, first. We all know what a challenging 2015 season it was for both the Andretti Autosport team, and what also occurred with the overall Andretti company, following the loss of all three of its promoted races (Miami FE, NOLA and Milwaukee) and the dissolving of Andretti Sports Marketing into what is now LST Marketing. Then all that paled in comparison to the loss of driver Justin Wilson at Pocono in August.

Alas, Andretti told me preseason at Phoenix that “the team’s never clicked this well before,” which was a bold statement to make considering the level of dominance the team has achieved before, most notably between 2004 and 2005 in IndyCar.

But this is why he knows his team and knows his people better than I do and considering the amazing month his race team has had, that statement bares more fruit.

Consider the month of May for Andretti Autosport:

  • 1-2 in the Indianapolis 500, led by Rossi over Carlos Munoz, after placing three cars into Fast Nine Shootout (arguably could have had four, had Rossi not been bumped out at the last second).
  • 1-3-4 in the Freedom 100 for Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, led by Dean Stoneman, in the closest photo finish in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history, with Dalton Kellett and Shelby Blackstock third and fourth.
  • Two wins in first two Red Bull Global Rallycross races with Tanner Foust at Phoenix, and a second from defending GRC champion Scott Speed in race two.
  • Double points finish in the most recent FIA Formula E Championship race with Robin Frijns sixth and Simona de Silvestro ninth in the Berlin ePrix, the team’s first double points score of the year.
  • Stoneman also won one of the Indy Lights road course races earlier this month at IMS, his first career victory.

That’s just the on-track side. Commercially speaking the team also completed a late deal with NAPA Auto Parts, following an invitation for the company to the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend and then within a week, Rossi’s car was getting re-wrapped in yellow and blue prior to qualifying. The goal was to maximize NAPA’s exposure over the two weeks – that certainly worked.

Rob Edwards, Director of Race Operations and Engineering for the team and Munoz’s race strategist, made a couple key points of note during a brief chat on Monday morning during the Rossi victory shoot.

He noted that Herta’s presence within the team has, already, evolved into a Dario Franchitti-at-Ganassi or Rick Mears-at-Penske type of advisory/sage guidance role. Herta was always known as a smart, thoughtful driver and it’s become obvious that the addition of the No. 98 team to this group has enhanced the single, unified program.

Additionally, Edwards said that the thinking with Rossi is that this is designed to be the first of more years to come. If they’re not thinking about 2017 yet, it’s not because they don’t want to – as Rossi has said in numerous interviews, keeping the focus on now a would-be potential championship bow in 2016 is the next immediate goal.

Keeping Rossi in the Andretti fold in IndyCar would be good for the series, and good for the team, to not have turnover in the fourth car, as there has been in recent years.

“It works really well together. Again, I have to give Michael the credit,” Herta said of the team partnership post-race. “Back when I drove for him, when we had all those great years together with the four of us, it wasn’t an accident. He chose people based on how they fit in, putting these groups of people together.

“I think he really saw the same thing here, a good fit. I don’t know if he gets enough credit for having the vision of understanding what a team is and not just individuals, but putting a team together.”

“It’s been great. The partnership has been fantastic,” Andretti added. “We’ve always been good friends. It was great to have him back part of our family. Hopefully we’ll stay together for a long time.”

HONDA ADDS INDY TO DAYTONA, SEBRING THIS YEAR

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This win was big for Honda. Getty Images

People don’t know how much this win means to Honda. This is big. This is something that wasn’t just desired, but almost needed, for the Japanese manufacturer whose U.S. operations are out of the Honda Performance Development headquarters in Santa Clarita, Calif., and who endured a trying 2015 season and particularly trying Indianapolis 500.

The tell tale of whether Honda put all its 2016 eggs into Indianapolis will be revealed later, over the final 10 races. And Honda still trails Chevrolet in the IndyCar manufacturer’s championship (858-607).

But for one day, Honda got all the spoils it has been working towards, and has added the Indianapolis 500 win to two other wins of huge magnitude this year – the back-to-back wins in the Ligier JS P2 Honda fielded by Tequila Patron ESM at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

“That 100th running of the Indy 500 had a little bit of everything: clean, long runs at the beginning, followed by unfortunate incidents in the pits mid- race, to finish up as a strategy and fuel economy nail-biter – all the things that make IndyCar racing exciting,” said HPD President Art St. Cyr.

“After dominating the first half of the race, it was gratifying to know that we had enough depth to cover both the fuel economy strategy, and the max power strategy. It makes all the incredibly hard work performed by HPD over the past year worthwhile. Congratulations to Alexander [Rossi] for an incredible performance in his ‘500’ debut.”

The craziest stat of the race for me about Honda? In the first five races of the year, Honda led only 40 of the 612 total laps, with Conor Daly having 29 of those laps out front.

On Sunday, Honda led 129 of 200 laps, from seven different – largely unlikely – drivers: Ryan Hunter-Reay (52 laps, a race-high), James Hinchcliffe (27), winner Rossi (14), Townsend Bell (12), Alex Tagliani (11), Munoz (10) and Bryan Clauson (3).

Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.