Archive for April, 2017

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. announces retirement from the NASCAR Cup Series, following 2017 season.

INDIANAPOLIS (Wednesday, April 12, 2017) – The Indianapolis 500 has attracted another world champion to its driver field.

McLaren announced today that Fernando Alonso, Formula One’s two-time champion and three-time runner-up, will compete in the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on May 28.

Alonso will drive for Andretti Autosport, which has won four Indianapolis 500s, including last year’s race with Verizon IndyCar Series rookie Alexander Rossi at the wheel of the Honda-powered Dallara. Honda also powers Alonso’s car on McLaren’s Grand Prix team.

Alonso becomes the ninth driver to enter the 500 with a world championship on his resume. In recent years, Nigel Mansell’s participation in 1993 as the reigning F1 champion was the most celebrated, with media interest at a fevered pitch. Mansell finished third.

Alonso’s decision to join this year’s 500 field adds to the momentum of the race and the Verizon IndyCar Series. Last year’s 500 was sold out for the first time in history and broke attendance marks. The Verizon IndyCar Series has seen television ratings increases each of the past three years, a combined 55 percent, and Alonso’s participation should provide an even greater spotlight on the month of May activities.

“The entire INDYCAR community – competitors, fans, media, everyone – is delighted and excited at the prospect of a driver as brilliant as Fernando making his debut in our series,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company, which owns Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Verizon IndyCar Series. “Even better, he’ll be making that debut in the greatest race of our year, the world-famous Indy 500.”

Alonso has 32 grand prix victories and 97 podium finishes in 275 F1 starts. Competing in his 15th F1 season, Alonso became the youngest champion in series history in 2005 at age 24 and backed it up with another title the following year.

Alonso strives to win the 500 as F1 champion Graham Hill did as a rookie in 1966. Jack Brabham, Jim Clark, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti and Nelson Piquet also drove in the 500 as one-time world champions, while Alberto Ascari, Jackie Stewart, Jochen Rindt and Jacques Villeneuve won F1 titles after competing in the 500.

“I’m immensely excited that I’ll be racing in this year’s Indy 500 with McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport,” Alonso said. “The Indy 500 is one of the most famous races on the global motorsport calendar, rivaled only by the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Monaco Grand Prix.”

McLaren has a storied history in the Indianapolis 500. Company founder Bruce McLaren fielded a car in the 1970 race, although he failed to qualify in it. The next year, after McLaren died, Mark Donohue qualified a Penske-entered McLaren in the second position but completed only 66 laps and finished 25th. In 1972, Donohue won the 500, the first of a record 16 for Team Penske and the first of three McLaren victories at IMS. Johnny Rutherford won the other two, in 1974 and ’76.

This appearance in the 500 comes 38 years after McLaren’s most recent attempt at IMS and Alonso’s car will carry the same papaya orange McLaren livery. Both of Rutherford’s McLaren victories came in cars of this color. Alonso’s car also will carry many of McLaren’s grand prix partners.

Andretti Autosport owner Michael Andretti has a link to McLaren, too. He raced for the F1 team in 1993 alongside Ayrton Senna.

Alonso has never raced an Indy car before or driven on a superspeedway, but Andretti thinks the talented 35-year-old driver can overcome that inexperience with the amount of track time afforded competitors in May. Andretti demonstrated his point through Rossi’s victory a year ago.

“I’m confident that I’ll get to grips with it fast,” Alonso said of the transition to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the 500. “I’ve watched a lot of Indy car action on TV and online, and it’s clear that great precision is required to race in close proximity with other cars on the far side of 220 mph. I realize I’ll be on a steep learning curve, but I’ll be flying to Indianapolis from Barcelona immediately after the Spanish Grand Prix (May 14), practicing our McLaren/Andretti car at Indy from May 15 onwards, hopefully clocking up a large number of miles every day.

“I know how good the Andretti Autosport guys are. I’ll be proud to race with them and I intend to mine their knowledge and expertise for as much info as I possibly can.”

Andretti Autosport has won the 500 with four drivers: Tony Kanaan (2004), Dan Wheldon (2005), Dario Franchitti (2007), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014) and Rossi (2016).

“Could history repeat itself? Stranger things have happened,” Miles said of another possible rookie winner. “But whether or not Fernando wins this year, I’m thrilled that the name of McLaren will be returning to Indianapolis. Three times in the 1970s the Indy 500 was won by a driver at the wheel of a McLaren – one win for Mark Donohue and two wins for Johnny Rutherford – and I’m sure Johnny will be at the Brickyard again this year to cheer on his old team.

“Last but not least, we should all remember Bruce McLaren, the team’s founder, a brilliant driver-engineer-entrepreneur who was tragically killed while testing a McLaren M8D Can-Am car at Goodwood 47 long years ago and who will finally and rightfully be inducted into the Auto Racing Hall of Fame this year.”

McLaren will be inducted in May along with Franchitti, the three-time 500 winner and four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion.

Miles credited Alonso, Andretti and Zak Brown, the executive director of McLaren Technology Group, for assembling the deal. Brown called Alonso “the best racing driver in the world.”

“Could Fernando win this year’s Indy 500? Well, I wouldn’t be so silly as to make any such rash prediction, but I expect him to be in the mix,” Brown said. “Put it this way: the team he’ll be racing for won the race last year, using the same Honda engine, and he’s the best racing driver in the world. That’s quite a compelling combination.”

The addition of the Alonso entry brings to six the number of cars Andretti Autosport has entered in this year’s 500. Full-season drivers Marco Andretti, Hunter-Reay, Rossi and Takuma Sato will compete, along with rookie Jack Harvey, who was named to drive the No. 50 Honda on Sunday.

Practice for the 101st running of the 500 begins May 15. Qualifying is May 20-21. Ticket information for the race is available at IMS.com.

James Hinchcliffe gives team owner Sam Schmidt a hug after winning the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach -- Photo by Christopher Owens

James Hinchcliffe gives Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team owner Sam Schmidt a hug after winning the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach – IndyCar Image by Christopher Owens

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LONG BEACH, California (Sunday, April 9, 2017) – James Hinchcliffe is all the way back now.

The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver, seriously injured in an Indianapolis 500 practice crash nearly two years ago, recorded his first Verizon IndyCar Series win since the incident by taking the checkered flag at the prestigious Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Driving the No. 5 Arrow Honda, Hinchcliffe crossed the finish line 1.4940 seconds ahead of Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais, the winner of last month’s season opener.

Hinchcliffe’s last win came at NOLA Motorsports Park in April 2015, a month before the crash caused when a suspension piece on the car broke at 220-plus mph on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. Hinchcliffe returned to racing last season and captured the Indianapolis 500 pole position, but had yet to win another race until today.

“To finally do what was goal No. 1 when we set out at the start of the season, to get back into winner’s circle, to do so as early in the season as we have, as convincingly as we did, was great,” said Hinchcliffe, who recorded the fifth victory of his seven-year Verizon IndyCar Series career.

The Canadian and “Dancing with the Stars” Season 23 runner-up took the lead for good on the 63rd of 85 laps around the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit that hosted Indy cars for the 34th consecutive year. A full-course caution on the same lap to tow in the disabled car of Alexander Rossi helped Hinchcliffe save enough Sunoco E85R fuel to make it to the end and he held off Bourdais in a three-lap dash to the finish following another yellow when Ryan Hunter-Reay, who had been running second, stopped on course with an electrical issue.

“After Indy and personally me for Toronto, this is the biggest one to win,” Hinchcliffe said. “I’ve had a lot of luck here. We’ve been really quick here in the past and to finally get to victory lane here is more than I can put into words.

“This place has a lot of history, that’s what drivers really care about. The greatest of the greats have won here. Toronto, Indy and this place were on my bucket list to win before I die, and it’s nice to check one off.”

Bourdais, driving the No. 18 Trench Shoring Honda, recovered from rear wing damage sustained from debris when the cars of Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball made contact on Lap 1. Coupled with his win March 12 in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, it gave Bourdais a 19-point lead over Hinchcliffe in the championship after two of 17 races.

“The fuel saving we could achieve today with the performance we had on the Honda was amazing,” said Bourdais, the four-time Indy car champion who won three straight Long Beach races from 2005-07. “I’ve always been pretty comfortable saving fuel and that one sort of came to us today.”

Josef Newgarden finished third in the No. 2 Verizon Chevrolet, earning his best Long Beach result and first top-three finish since joining Team Penske this season.  “It’s always good to get the first podium out of the way for the Captain,” Newgarden said of team owner Roger Penske. “It was a pleasure to drive this weekend. Verizon gives us great tools at Team Penske. It’s nice to get this one out of the way. Hopefully, now we can hunt down some wins.”

Last year’s Long Beach winner and Verizon IndyCar Series champion, Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, charged from last on the 21-car starting grid to finish fifth. Bourdais’ teammate at Dale Coyne Racing, Ed Jones, placed sixth to notch his second straight top-10 finish to start his rookie season.

Last-lap contact between Mikhail Aleshin and JR Hildebrand sent Hildebrand’s No. 21 Preferred Freezer Services Chevrolet into the Turn 1 tire barrier. According to INDYCAR Medical Director Dr. Geoffrey Billows, the Ed Carpenter Racing driver sustained a broken bone in his left hand, was not cleared to drive and will be re-evaluated later this week. Aleshin was penalized by INDYCAR for blocking and moved back one position in the final results to 12th place.

“At the end of the race, we all were bunched back up because of that last yellow,” Hildebrand explained. “I was on reds and had a little bit for at least the handful of cars in front of us. On the last lap, I was making a move on Mikhail Aleshin, and I could tell he was struggling. I was out of push-to-pass, so I was trying to make a proper, full-out pass down the front straightaway. He had been starting to move over, not a major blocking maneuver but enough to assert his line. He hit the brake a lot earlier than I was expecting and I ended up running into the back of him. In doing so, it ripped the steering wheel from my hand, and I ended up tweaking it. At the end of the day, to come home with an 11th place finish isn’t terrible. It is a bummer though as we were certainly on our way to finishing in the Top 10 and now we are in a bit of a jam going forward. Hopefully, I can get back to it here before the next race.”

The next event on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule is the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama from the Barber Motorsports Park 2.3-mile permanent road course in Birmingham, Alabama. The April 23 race airs live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.