The 93rd running of the Indianapolis 500, the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, takes place this Sunday. As usual, it will be the only IndyCar Series race that 98% of those watching will see all year. For those 98%, I present this guide of what to look for during the race.
Speedway at 100 Indianapolis Motor Speedway turns 100 this year, and this race kicks off a 3 year celebration that’s been dubbed the Centennial Era (it’s 3 years in order to take it the 100th anniversary of the first 500). Thus, expect corny features like the video above (not that I’m complaining; I eat that stuff up).
Five Favorites? Indy Star writer Curt Cavin caused some controversy at the beginning of the month when he declared that only five drivers had a real chance to win. Those drivers are Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe at Penske, Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon at Ganassi, and Tony Kanaan at Andretti/Green. While it set off the blogosphere, the fact is Cavin was right. It’s probably going to be one of those five, and of those five, the best of the month have been the Penskes. Helio will start on the pole with the Briscoe second.
Youth Movement When looking for someone who can upset the favored five, watch the three drivers in the race who can become the youngest 500 winner ever (22 years and change). Marco Andretti has always run strong at Indy, with a second and third on his resume already. It would be a huge story if Marco could break the Andretti Curse on the 40th anniversary of granddad’s Mario lone victory.
The other son of a great, Graham Rahal, also comes in with much momentum. He’s already won two poles this season and qualified fourth for the 500, the only interloper of the Fave Five in the first two rows. We’re just scratching the surface with this kid’s talent and potential, and this could be his true breakout.
The final youngster is the most surprising: 20 year old Mario Moraes. Last year, he led part of the race due to pit strategy, and it was a minor miracle he didn’t take out half the field with his incompetence. This May, though, Moraes has done a 180. He qualified seventh, and was among the fastest during second week practice, when cars are prepared for the race. Moraes is now a legit dark horse to win, something that seemed unfathomable at the beginning of the month.
About Danica I never really know how to say things different about Danica’s chances, because they’re the same as they are every year. She’s on a team that can win and she likes the track. However , her track record is nowhere near the caliber of the top five. If I were doing odds, she’d be around the 8th or 9th choice, which is still in the ballpark of having a chance to win, but second tier.
Also, note her car is black and orange this time.
The Return of PT In the closing laps of the 2002 race, Paul Tracy was closing fast on a desperately saving fuel Castroneves. Just as Tracy was about to pass (or was in the middle of passing) Helio, a crash happened elsewhere and the yellow light came on. The IRL ruled that Tracy passed under yellow, handing Helio his second Indy win in what many still believe was a political decision based on animosity from the open wheel split. Tracy hasn’t been back to the Speedway since until this year. For Paul, this race is about redemption, both of 2002 and of events post-unification that have left him rideless. Simply put, a good run could get Tracy back into a car full-time.
Other Notes Yes, that is a pink car, driven bravely by Alex Lloyd, who starts 11th…Richard Petty comes to the 500 for the first time as a co-owner of the #43 car, painted Petty Blue and driven by John Andretti…Sarah Fisher and (unfortunately) Milka Duno join Danica as women in the field, for those who still care about that sort of thing…For the NASCAR crowd, Stanton Barrett did not make the race.
Predictions My heart says Kanaan. He’s led the race all seven years he’s run at Indy, but still hasn’t led the last lap. However, he’s been a step behind the Penskes and Ganassis all month.
Thus, my pick is Helio Castroneves. Helio is on a roll, first from beating his tax evasion rap, then from winning the pole. Add Penske power and Helio is my pick to win his 3rd Indy 500 and take his place among the greats. Other predictions:
- Briscoe and Will Power both finish in the top ten to complete the Penske dominance.
- Defending champ Scott Dixon's luck runs out to some degree, and it costs him the race.
- Marco and Graham Rahal both contend and have good finishes, further cementing them at IndyCar's future.
- Danica finishes 7th or 8th, around where her talent level takes her.
- Paul Tracy spends most of the day in the top 10, but doesn't necessarily finish there.
Of course, anything can happen in 500 miles. Starting at 1:00 Sunday on ABC, we’ll find out who will sip the milk as Indy 500 champion, closing out another month of May and Memorial Day weekend tradition at the world’s greatest race track.