Which ‘long shots’ can win the Indianapolis 500?

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INDIANAPOLIS – There are many favorites that can win Sunday’s 103rd Indianapolis 500 (11 am ET on NBC). There are the four Team Penske drivers including pole winner Simon Pagenaud, defending Indy 500 winner Will Power, NTT IndyCar Series points leader Josef Newgarden and three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves.

Ed Carpenter Racing is stacked with its three drivers starting 2, 3 and 4 including, in order, Ed Carpenter, Spencer Pigot and Ed Jones.

Andretti Autosports is always a contender at the Indy 500 and Alexander Rossi, winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500, leads that brigade with a ninth-place starting position.

Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing is also a threat as is former winner Takuma Sato and five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon.

No matter where those drivers start in the field of 33, they have to be considered prime contenders to fight it out at the finish of Sunday’s 500-Mile Race.

But who are the “Long Shots?”

There are several prime candidates that fit into that category and one of the best longshots is starting in the middle of the last row.

NBC Sports.com has analyzed the starting lineup and picked these seven drivers as “Long Shots” that could possibly win the 103rdIndianapolis 500.

WISE PICKS

James Hinchcliffe – Despite starting 32ndin the 33-car starting lineup, Hinchcliffe was a solid pick to make the field on Saturday if he had not crashed in the Turn 2 wall with his primary car in the first round of qualifications. It was unlike 2018 when his car was slow on its original run, had a vibration issue on its second run and the clock ran out with Hinchcliffe still in the qualification line to take the track.

INDYCAR PHOTONow that the popular driver from Canada is in the race, the former Indy 500 Pole winner is very capable of driving through the field and making his way into the top five, just as Rossi did in 2018.

Keep an eye on the No. 5 Arrow Honda on Sunday because he’s going to be putting on a show in his charge from the rear of the field.

Ryan Hunter-Reay – The 2014 Indy 500 winner starts 22ndafter struggling to find speed during Saturday’s qualifications. IndyCar’s “Captain America” won the 2014 race starting 19th, so he knows it can be done and he’s just the driver to do it. In the last three Indy 500s, Herta’s DHL Honda has led 81 laps.

Colton Herta – How does a driver starting fifth qualify as a long-shot. Well, he’s only 19 and he is starting his seventh career NTT IndyCar Series race. Herta has a chance to break Troy Ruttman’s record as the youngest Indianapolis 500 winner. Ruttman was just 22 when he won the 1952 Indy 500 after race leader Bill Vukovich crashed with just nine laps to go after leading 150 laps.

Herta is calm, cool and poised, especially for a teenager. A victory by Herta would be huge because he’s already gathering interest from fans in his age group that are the future fans of IndyCar. He already won a race this season when he became the youngest winner in IndyCar history with his victory at Circuit of the Americas. His Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda is fast and Herta already drives like a savvy veteran.

DECENT PICKS

Charlie Kimball – He is the only one of the three drivers at Carlin that made the Indianapolis 500 starting lineup. Kimball, an NTT IndyCar Series race winner with Chip Ganassi Racing at Mid-Ohio in 2013, has been a solid performer in past Indianapolis 500s. He finished third in 2015 behind race winner Juan Pablo Montoya and Power. He finished fifth in the 100thIndianapolis 500, eighth in 2012 and ninth in 2013.

INDYCAR Photo He had an engine issue that dropped him to 25thin 2017, his final year with Ganassi. Last year, driving for the startup Carlin team, he finished 18th.

Kimball’s driving style is perfectly suited for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway because he is always calm and in control. Racing in the Indianapolis 500 is like driving through a severe storm with high winds for 3-1/2 hours, so it takes a steadiness and calmness to succeed.

Conor Daly – Another popular driver with the fans, Daly has struggled in the past in the Indianapolis 500. But this year, he landed what he calls the “ride of a lifetime” at Andretti Autosport. It’s the No. 25 United States Air Force Honda and he has made the most of his opportunity this month. Daly starts 11th, right beside teammate Mark Andretti in 10thand in the row behind of the favorites, Alexander Rossi in ninth.

The three drivers can group together early in the race and advance forward.

This is Daly’s best ride at the Indy 500. Now, it’s time for him to deliver.

Graham Rahal – Stuck in 17thstarting position, Rahal is fully capable of racing to the front from mid-pack. This is actually one of Rahal’s better starting positions in recent years at Indy. He started 30thlast year and 26thin 2016 and 2013. If his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team finds the right setup on Race Day, Rahal could be there at the end to fight it out. He is confident the addition of engineer Allen McDonald can make that happen.

BOLD GAMBLES

Felix Rosenqvist – Starting way back in 29thpotions, the rookie driver from Sweden has a lot of miles and passes ahead of him to make it to the front of the Indy 500 field. But he is driving a Chip Ganassi Racing Honda and that in itself gives him a fighting chance.

INDYCAR PhotoJR Hildebrand – An adjunct professor at Stanford University, Hildebrand was Indy’s ultimate “Heartbreak Kid” in 2011 when he was leading the race, heading to the checkered flag on the final lap and crashed in the Turn 4 wall. The late Dan Wheldon went on to win after Hildebrand’s “Bill Buckner” moment. He’s a much different driver eight years later and a Hildebrand win for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing would be his ultimate redemption.

Jack Harvey – He finished third in the most recent NTT IndyCar Series race two weeks ago in the INDYCAR Grand Prix. His career is on an upward trajectory. Last year, his team made a huge gamble on fuel strategy that could have paid off if there had been one more caution. Harvey was in second place, but running low on fuel, when he had to pit six laps from the finish.

There are many drivers capable of winning the 103rd Indianapolis as this is the closest field from the pole speed to 33rd position in history. This is also a race where that has a few surprises end up in the top 10 and even top five, some of them may not be on this list.

And that’s what makes them “Long Shots.”

Behind the scenes of how the biggest story in racing was kept a secret

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In a world where nobody is able to keep a secret, especially in auto racing, legendary business leader and race team owner Roger Penske and INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles were able to keep the biggest story of the year a secret.

That was Monday morning’s stunning announcement that after 74 years of leadership and ownership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Hulman George Family was selling the track, the Indianapolis 500 and INDYCAR to Penske.

In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports.com on Thursday, Miles revealed the extreme lengths both sides went to so that nobody found out about this deal ahead of time. That included meeting with Penske at his Detroit offices early on Saturday mornings and late on Sunday nights.

The most important way of keeping it confidential was containing the number of people who were involved.

“We thought it was important to keep it quiet until we were ready to announce it,” Miles told NBC Sports.com. “The reason for that is No. 1, we wanted employees and other stakeholders to hear it from us and not through the distorting rumor mill.

“That was the motivation.

“We just didn’t involve many people. For most of the time, there were four people from Roger’s group in Michigan and four people from here (IMS/INDYCAR) involved and nobody else. There were just four of us. We all knew that none of the eight were going to talk to anybody about it until very late.”

Even key members of both staffs were kept out of the loop, notably Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, who admitted earlier this week he was not told of the impending sale until Saturday when he was at Texas Motor Speedway for the NASCAR race.

Both Penske and Miles realize the way a deal or a secret slips out is often from people far outside of the discussions who have to get called in to work to help set up an announcement.

Miles had a plan for that scenario, too.

“On Saturday, we had to set up a stream for Monday’s announcement,” Miles said. “We came up with an internal cover story so if anybody saw what was going on, there was a cover story for what that was, and it wasn’t that announcement.

“The key thing was we kept it at only those that needed to know.”

It wasn’t until very late Sunday night and very early Monday morning that key stakeholders in INDYCAR were informed. Team owner Bobby Rahal got a call at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Racing legend Mario Andretti was also informed very early on Monday.

At 8 a.m. that day came the official word from Hulman & Company, which owns the Indianapolis 500, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR as well as a few other businesses, that Penske was buying the racing properties of the company. It was an advisory that a media conference was scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It was a masterful move by both Penske and Miles.

Penske is already famous for keeping one of greatest secrets in racing history in 1993 and 1994. That is when his famed racing team along with Ilmor Engineering created “The Beast” – a 209 cubic-inch, pushrod engine that was designed, developed and tested in total secrecy. A small, select group of Team Penske mechanics were involved in the top-secret project and were told by Penske that if word of the engine leaked out, “it would be like cutting your paycheck.”

Nobody talked.

History repeated itself with the biggest racing story of the 21st Century, the sale of the world’s most famous race course that hosts the largest single-day sporting event in the world – the annual Indianapolis 500.

When INDYCAR held its “Victory Lap” award ceremony on Sept. 26 in Indianapolis, Miles told the crowd of an impending announcement that would be big news for the sport.

Was he coming close to giving away Monday’s announcement?

“No, that was about a sponsor announcement that will be coming along later,” Miles said on Thursday night.

Penske is one of America’s greatest and most successful business leaders. He is also the most successful team owner in auto racing history with 545 wins in all forms of racing including a record 18 Indianapolis 500 wins, a record 16 NTT IndyCar Series championships as well as two Daytona 500 wins and two NASCAR Monster Energy Cup championships just to name a few.

Penske was not the only bidder, but he was the one who made the most sense to the Hulman George Family, because it was important to find an owner who believed in “stewardship” of the greatest racing tradition on Earth more so than “ownership” of an auto racing facility and series.

“There were a number of parties that were engaged in thinking about this with us,” Miles revealed to NBC Sports.com. “There were a couple that got as far as what I call the ‘Red Zone.’

“Then, Tony George reached out to Roger Penske on Sept. 22.

“Price and value were always important, but the thing that nobody could match was the attributes that Roger could bring to the table, in terms of his history of the sport, his knowledge of the sport, combined with his business sense.

“He was viewed as the leader from a legacy or stewardship perspective, which was a very important factor.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

McLaren IndyCar boss breaks down team’s first test since missing Indy 500

Arrow McLaren Racing SP Photo
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McLaren Sporting Director Gil De Ferran left Sebring International Raceway last Tuesday with a much happier outlook than when he left the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 19.

That was when McLaren and famed two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway ill-prepared. They failed to make the 33-car starting lineup for the 103rd Indianapolis 500.

That day in May, De Ferran vowed that McLaren would return.

Last Tuesday, what is now known as Arrow McLaren Racing SP after purchasing into Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, De Ferran was back to evaluate the team’s NTT IndyCar Series effort.

Instead of Alonso in the cockpit, it was the team’s recently named full-time drivers for 2020 at the test. That included 20-year-old Pato O’Ward of Monterrey, Mexico, the 2018 Indy Lights champion and 22-year-old Oliver Askew of Jupiter, Florida, the 2019 Indy Lights champion.

O’Ward was in the car for the test with Askew watching from the pit area.

“Pato did a great job, did not put a foot wrong, got on to it straight away and it was all good,” De Ferran told NBC Sports.com. “It was a positive day on all fronts. To work together, to build the team together and embark on this team together was very positive.”

De Ferran is a two-time CART champion with titles in 2000 and 2001 when he was with Team Penske. He also won the 2003 Indianapolis 500 for Team Penske before retiring as a driver at the end of that season.

Since then, he has been involved in numerous Formula One, IndyCar and Sports Car efforts. As McLaren’s Sporting Director, De Ferran is involved in both Formula One and IndyCar.

Arrow McLaren Racing SP also includes partners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson. Arrow also has a financial stake in the team in addition to serving as sponsor.

The chance to work with two young drivers is something that has De Ferran excited.

“They are both very young, but they have been around for a while,” De Ferran said. “It’s not like these guys are completely clueless about racing. They have been racing ever since they were kids. Generally speaking, as a trend in motorsports, they start much younger than I did. They move to cars at a younger age and tend to reach this level of the sport at a younger age then when I was coming up.

“Although they don’t have a lot of experience in IndyCar, several members of the team can help in their development. These guys are very accomplished and top-level guys. They have won a lot of races and championships before getting the nod from our team.”

Last week’s test was part of INDYCAR’s evaluation of the new aeroscreen that will be on all cars beginning in 2020. Arrow McLaren Racing SP is a Chevrolet team. Honda team Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan also participated in the test with four-time Champ Car Series champion Sebastien Bourdais as the driver.

This was the only test that Arrow McLaren Racing SP will conduct in 2019. Testing time is severely limited De Ferran said it won’t be back on track until the 2020 regulations take effect.

Arrow McLaren Racing SP has already experienced some controversy after the team said several weeks ago that popular driver James Hinchcliffe would not be driving for the team. He remains on the payroll and is expected to be at the track in a public relations capacity.

That has angered many IndyCar fans who are huge fans of the popular Canadian driver.

“I have nothing more to add to this than what was said at the time,” De Ferran told NBC Sports.com. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s head-down. We have to go racing. We are on a journey here together with this partnership and two young drivers that are very accomplished and have a lot of talent. Our job is to deliver the results on the track.

“That is where my focus is. I’m completely focused on improving every aspect of everything that we do trackside.

“One thing I guarantee you, whatever we start, to have that focus to improve everything that we do we will continue to move forward. It was like that when I was driving, and it was like that throughout my professional career away from the cockpit. We will keep looking for opportunities to improve.

“Eventually, good things will happen.”

It was just Day One on the track, but after seeing this team struggle at last year’s Indianapolis 500, McLaren took its first step in returning as a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team.

“This is the beginning of a journey that we embarked on several months ago now and you do a lot in the background,” De Ferran said. “The guys from SPM and us have put a lot into this partnership. Behind the scenes, we have been working hard together.

“We’re all racers, man. We want to see cars on track. This has been like a little check off the box and it feels good that we were on track.

“We have a long journey ahead, but it’s good to be working together, at the race track, how the car is handling, the engine is working and how the drivers do.

“First day on the track for Arrow McLaren Racing SP. It’s a good day.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500