IndyCar

Why has this been a tough month on some good teams at the Indy 500?

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INDIANAPOLIS – As his Dallara-Honda violently vibrated and slammed the pavement at roughly 225 mph entering the fourth turn of his last qualifying lap, Oriol Servia found an unusual higher power.

“I did something that never came to my brain before,” Servia said about the lap that put him in the field of the 102nd Indianapolis 500. “ I prayed to Firestone. I promise you I went into the corner and my brain was like ‘Firestone, please, please, please, please. Hold my car to the ground. Please hold my car to the ground.’”

Whether the divine intervention of a tire supplier was the determining factor, Servia qualified 26th with an average speed at 225.699 mph – capping a nightmarish day in which the Spaniard entered the 2.5-mile track believing he had a shot to make the Fast Nine and left with a newfound appreciation for the nail-biting experience of failing to qualify for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“I was honestly a nervous wreck,” Servia said. “I honestly felt what it would feel not to make this race. Those minutes, my heart felt in such whole … I can only imagine how Hinch felt. I couldn’t even breathe in that moment. I’m out. I’m not in the race. That just tells you what a fine edge it is.”

At least there was solace for Servia knowing he wasn’t alone. One of the biggest stories entering the race was James Hichcliffe, who is ranked fifth in the points standings with SPM Racing, getting knocked out of the event after starting from the pole position two years ago.

Servia’s Scuderia Corsa entry is aligned with Rahal Letterman Racing, which also struggled with Graham Rahal. Dale Coyne Racing, a mainstay that has won in each of the past two seasons with Sebastien Bourdais, claimed the last spot with Conor Daly and had a third driver, Pippa Mann, bumped.

Meanwhile, relatively inexperienced teams such as Juncos Racing (with rookie driver Kyle Kaiser) and Harding Racing (Gabby Chaves) outqualified some of the bigger names. Alexander Rossi, the 2016 winner as a rookie with Andretti Autosport, will start from the last row in 32nd.

Why have so many good teams struggled with slow cars while also making some sloppy mistakes this month at the Indianapolis 500?

“It’s very competitive, more than ever,” Servia said. “There’s not one team that doesn’t deserve to be in the race, not one driver. It’s just so close.

“It’s a new car, so everyone is still trying to figure out the sweet spot. And it’s a fine edge. It’s just very easy to trip and get completely out of the sweet spot.”

And it actually can benefit the underfunded teams, says Team Penske’s Will Power, because of its simplicity.

“A small team can work it out pretty quickly,” Power said. “And you look at the support system that the manufacturers have, like Chevy, which a lot of those new teams had, they get a lot of good aero information from the support that Chevy gives them.”

Of course, there also was a perplexing lack of execution that contributed to the disappointment. Hinchcliffe’s team inexplicably ran out of time for its last qualifying attempt after a server tire vibration scuttled his last hope.

“It’s unbelievable that Hinch didn’t make it in, which didn’t come down to car speed, it came down to execution there,” Power said. “That was totally preventable. It was kind of surprising. I just don’t know what happened there, He could have so easily been in the field.

“It shows you can’t take all this lightly. You have serious consequences for small mistakes. They could have logistically prevented that quite easily.”

Said Servia: “It just took a couple of missteps to be completely off. They obviously mismanaged the day, because I think they did have the speed to qualify.”

Another factor was that Hinchcliffe was in a Honda, whose horsepower clearly was at a disadvantage to Chevrolet’s in qualifying.

“I think you saw two kinds of categories between the engine manufacturers, and performance too, when it came to qualifying, so that made it quite difficult,” said 2008 winner Scott Dixon, who was the second-highest qualifying Honda in ninth. “I think we were all shocked, as everybody was, with James Hinchcliffe.

“Sometimes, you can just have a bad touch. I’ve been in those scenarios at the Speedway, where you start the first session with your teammate and you’re like ‘Wow, where’s the two miles-an-hour difference?’ And you search for it constantly, and it never appears. You just don’t know why it happens. But I’ve been here, I’ve been at other tracks too in that scenario, and it’s frustrating. I really feel for Pippa and Hinch, who were bumped out. You actually forget how cruel Bump Day is, since we haven’t had it for so long.”

After thrilling ‘Evel Live,’ Travis Pastrana back in action this weekend

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It’s been 2 ½ months since Travis Pastrana channeled his inner Evel Knievel in “Evel Live” in Las Vegas on July 8.

The legendary motorcycle stunt rider and rallycross driver successfully replicated three of Knievel’s most infamous career motorcycle jumps, capped off by jumping – some would call it flying – over the fountain at Caesar’s Palace.

All without a scratch or any type of malfunction.

“It was awesome,” Pastrana told NBC Sports’ MotorSportsTalk in an exclusive interview. “Obviously, to do something live, a live stunt which hasn’t been done, is cool.

“And just the nostalgia, to live a day in Evel Knievel’s boots, literally, was awesome. To have the whole Knievel family out there, his three kids, and my mom and dad all out there, it was just a real awesome day.

“And to have the chance to jump the Caeser’s (Palace) fountain, probably the most infamous and iconic stunt location in the world. All that added up to be a really, really great event and I think it came off really well.”

MORE: Travis Pastrana successfully completes all three of Evel Knievel’s most famous jumps

MORE: Travis Pastrana’s goal to replicate 3 of Evel Knievel’s most famous jumps: ‘Try not to die’

LAS VEGAS, NV – JULY 08: Travis Pastrana peforms during HISTORY’s Live Event “Evel Live” on July 8, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for HISTORY)

Pastrana spoke at length about the logistics of setting up the three jumps in two different venues, getting from Point A in one part of Las Vegas to Point B (Caesar’s), and dealing with potential weather concerns.

“That’s the greatest part about Nitro Circus (Pastrana’s company) is having an amazing team so that when an idea like this comes up, we can make it turn into fruition and a possibility,” Pastrana said. “The idea came up less than a year before it was pulled off.

“I couldn’t have been more proud of my team and all the guys there. When we called Caesar’s, we thought for sure they were going to say no. Then they said yes.

“Then we talked to the Knievel family and they said, ‘this is going to be great. Go ahead.’ It was like, be careful for what you ask for because it just happened. And then we had a bike just like Evel’s, although a more modern day (version).”

While Pastrana and his team pulled off everything seamlessly, there was a lot of worry and concern, especially on Pastrana’s part, since he was the focal point of the stunt, which was televised live.

“I didn’t sleep at all the night before,” he said. “And then everything just worked out. It’s what you hope for, for sure. But with every race, every event, everything, there’s always something like a $5 part break in a half-million dollar vehicle. Something always goes wrong.

“The fact that everything went as well as it could – I mean, they were calling for 80 percent chance of rain with wind gusts up to 60 mph (on the day of the event).

“And the storm kind of went 20 miles south, it didn’t get that windy, and you have to think to yourself, ‘Man, that was a live event, and representing Evel Knievel, the stunt man of Vegas, you’ve gotta go for it.’”

Pastrana vowed to perform the stunts rain or shine. But if it had rained, he had his doubts that he’d be able to pull it off.

“Successfully, probably not,” the 34-year-old Pastrana said with a laugh. “That was the thing, what I had said coming up to it.

“When Evel got to Wembley Stadium (to do his infamous 13-bus jump in 1975), he said, ‘Look, the busses are bigger than they are in the U.S., I miscalculated the distance, this bike is not going to go as fast as I thought it would go. I’m not going to make it, but I told you guys I was going to put on a show, and I’m going to deliver.’

“That’s why I wanted to be the guy on this particular stunt. I can’t tell someone else when there are bad conditions or the bike is overheating or something else is going wrong to go, but with Nitro Circus and our history, and his family there, it just has to go, no matter what happens. We were just real fortunate and lucky that it all worked out.”

Pastrana jumped the fountain at Caesars Palace to wrap up a night of replicating three of Evel Knievels most infamous career jumps. Photo: Getty Images.

While he certainly enjoyed doing them, the Annapolis, Maryland native said it’s unlikely he’ll have any more Evel-like jumps in his career.

“This was a perfect storm,” he said. “Everything was just lined up on this one. For me, that was not my last hurrah, if you will, but as far as doing a big stunt, I did my biggest stunt I’ve ever done last year with the double back-flip 360 and kind of realized, you know what, I’ve been lucky long enough, let me just focus on my family.

“But then this came up, and I was like, ‘Put me in, coach.’”

Pastrana returns to the track this Saturday and Sunday for the third annual Nitro World Games at the Utah Motorsports Campus (formerly known as Miller Motorsports Park) near Salt Lake City.

Saturday will feature Nitro Rallycross (NRX) Qualifiers and Heat Races, including some of the biggest names in the sport including Pastrana and rival Ken Block having some “unfinished business,” as well as Scott Speed, Tanner Foust, Patrik Sandell, Steve Arpin, Mattias Ekstrom, Chris Atkinson and Timmy Hansen.

Pastrana and Ken Block have some ‘unfinished business’ in this weekend’s Nitro World Games near Salt Lake City. Photo: Nitro Circus.

On Sunday, the action includes the FMX Best Trick Finals, NRX Semi-Finals and Finals and FMX Quarterpipe Finals.

Among FMX Quarterpipe competitors are Colby Raha, Jarryd McNeil, Axell Hodges, Elijah Aldoff, Corey Creed and Kohl Denney.

And among riders and drivers taking part in the Best Trick Finals are defending champ Harry Bink, along with Pat Bowden, Christian Meyer, Josh Sheehan, William Van den Putte, Blake Williams, and Davi Johnson.

“Having the opportunity to kind of reinvent the sport for the American audience and for the drivers – I mean, we have Talladega-sized berms – right and left turns, dirt and pavement, huge jumps, there’s a triple-crossover,” Pastrana said. “World Games is basically the bigger of international sports. We take the most exciting sports, the biggest air, the least technical … and try to make it even bigger.

“I couldn’t be more excited. I think it’s going to be real exciting for the drivers, lots of options. It’s not a track that’s just built for a one-off event, it’s going to be a permanent place here so people can come out here and practice and keep getting better like European tracks do. So it should be good.”

Pastrana said Nitro Circus does over 70 live shows around the world per year, but he’s also excited about preparing for a lengthy residency in Las Vegas beginning next March.

Given all the things he’s accomplished over his career, Pastrana was asked if there’s anything remaining on his bucket list that he still hopes to do.

“I love racing, I love competing and I feel like I’ve competed in almost everything all over the world,” he said. “But the Daytona 500 is something … and I’ve never done a drag race. So those two would be pretty cool, wouldn’t they?”

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