Indianapolis 500 Preview

After Looking Into the Past, the Indy 500 Looks to the Future [Indianapolis 500 Preview]

5/23/12 in IndyCar   |   Eric_   |   7716 respect

May 29, 2011; Indianapolis, IN, USA; IndyCar Series driver Alex Tagliani leads the field for the start of the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIREOver the last three years, the Indianapolis 500 and Indianapolis Motor Speedway has looked to its past as it celebrated its Centennial Era. This year, however, the 96th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing looks to the future. For the first time in nine years, there are new cars, and for the first time in seven years, there is engine competition. The result is a lot more variables and a wide open field. Throughout the month, we’ve seen many different teams and drivers spend time at the front of the speed charts, and not just the usual suspects. Here are the big storylines going into the Indianapolis 500 (coverage starts at 11 AM Sunday on ABC).
 
The DW12: Its Biggest Test Yet
 
The new car, christened the DW12 in memory of Dan Wheldon, has so far performed very well in its debut season. While the look of the car may take some getting used to, it has been very racy these first four races of the season. Now though it faces its biggest test. Practice, however, indicates that it will pass that test. There’s been a lot of slicing and dicing in the practice sessions, and while more defending can certainly be expected on Sunday, it’s a good sign that the race will be exciting. The car has also performed well on impact with the wall. There were four wrecks on qualifying weekend, and some of the hits were quite hard. Despite that, all four drivers walked away uninjured. So far so good on that front.
 
The Return of Engine Competition: Honda vs. Chevrolet
 
After six years of Honda being the sole engine supplier of IndyCar, this year Chevrolet and Lotus have joined the fray. After four races, Chevy has the clear edge, having won all four of them. After a flap about turbochargers (it’s a long story, don’t ask), the engines looked even during Indy practice, with Honda possibly having a slight edge. However, IndyCar added boost to the engines for qualifying, and with that, Chevy dominated, taking 9 of the top 10 spots on the grid. Luckily for Honda, that boost will not be available for the race. The Honda teams are hoping that eliminates Chevy’s advantage, but the qualifying shellacking Honda took means their teams are going to all be starting mid pack or worse. That includes their biggest team, Target Chip Ganassi Racing, whose main drivers will start 15th (Scott Dixon) and 16th (Dario Franchitti).
 
The new equipment also introduces reliability as a variable again, something that hasn’t been a factor in years. In the past, it wasn’t just about being fast, it was about the equipment making it through the 500 miles. There are plenty of examples, from the Novi engines of the 1940s and 1950s to the turbines of the late 60s to the Buick V-6 engines of the 90s, of cars and engines that were fast enough to win, but just weren’t reliable enough to get the job done.
 
As for Lotus? It’s been an embarrassment, plain and simple. Most of their original teams have fled their camp, leaving them with two cars. Those two cars have been anywhere from 10 to 15 mph slower than the rest of the field all month, and not surprisingly, they qualified 32nd and 33rd, only making the field because only 33 cars attempted to qualify (sparking another firestorm of rumors as to why that was the case). It isn’t the fault of the teams, Fan Force United and HVM, and it’s not the fault of the two drivers, ex-F1 driver Jean Alesi and promising young driver Simona de Silvestro. It’s the lump of an engine keeping them uncompetitive and potentially unsafe. IndyCar has made it clear than if the Lotuses can’t make a minimum speed during the race (105% of the leaders pace), they will be parked. All indicators are this will happen quickly. The Lotus debacle is easily the biggest black mark on the race, and hopefully it will be resolved soon for the safety of all involved.
 
May 15, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; IndyCar series driver Helio Castroneves seen on the track during practice for the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Mandatory Credit: Michael Hickey-US PRESSWIREHelio’s Drive for Four
 
The Pantheon at Indianapolis is the Four-Time Winners Club, which currently consists of three names: AJ Foyt, Al Unser, and Rick Mears. This Sunday, Helio Castroneves will make his third attempt at joining this group. Helio has seen a resurgence this season, winning the opening race and sitting 2nd in the points. Of course, Helio still drives for Roger Penske and his 16 Indy 500 wins. He starts sixth, and there’s no little doubt that he’ll be right in the thick of it.
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5/23/12   |   Eric_   |   7716 respect

Thanks Debi!

Yeah, I'm definitely rooting for Hinchcliffe and Newgarden. I truly think both are going to be stars if this is a just world. Of course, the #1 guy I'm rooting for is TK.

I'm writing the rankings now. It's so deep I'm having problems deciding on an order.

5/23/12   |   Debi_L   |   11862 respect

EXCEELENT Preview, Eric!

Some thoughts:

Target Chip Ganassi and Andretti Racing do seem to be the favorites for the 500.  They have excellent drivers and excellent equipment.  As you know, I really like RHR and and stoked to see James Hinchcliffe perform in the ride that Danica left, solidly making his own mark in that seat.  She will be forgotten quickly.

I really want Sarah Fisher Racing to do well.  It's a gut thing.  It's also a female thing.  She is one of the only women who stuck it out year after year, doing what she loved to do.  Now that she has a family, and has her own race team, I want her to make an even bigger mark than she did while in the driver's seat.  The little girl playing with the big boys and all.  Now, Bryan Clausen hasn't had much time to make a huge fanbase, but I think he is the kind of driver who will be well liked, and of course, Josef Newgarden is such a sweetheart, who wouldn't want to cheer for him??

The loss of Dan is going to be hard at Indy.  As you said, he won here last year and won't be here to defend.  IndyCar lost their hero, much as the NASCAR world lost Dale Sr in '01.  The emotions that return when visiting a favorite track are strong ones.  I will be crying during the 500, I have no doubt.  And if Helio makes it 4, I'm sure he will be crying too.  Who says racing isn't a women's sport?

I can't wait to read your rankings.  I'm going to do some thinking on this myself and try to come up with my own.  Then we'll see how well we agree.