Indianapolis 500 Preview
So Race Day is almost here. Not only is it the day we’ve been waiting for all month; it’s the day we’ve been waiting on for over a year, since last year’s race was run on May 24th. If you are a race fan, tomorrow is what your entire world revolves around. Yes, there are the curmudgeons that think that this race is simply one of seventeen and this is just a lot of senseless hype. They snicker at those of us who really get into everything that is the Indianapolis 500. Those people just don’t get it and I feel sorry for them. Their pseudo-intellectual snobbery is preventing them from enjoying one of the greatest sporting traditions in the world.
So after all of the analysis about what this race means to the American fabric of today, all of the looking back at races gone by, the fun and debauchery of meeting up with Roy Hobbson on qualifying weekend and the debate over the new qualifying format; it’s now finally time to turn our attention to this year’s race.
Although you probably knew I would say this; I expect a good race. As in most races at the historic oval, there are several storylines that will be worth watching. Probably the one most people will be following is Helio Castroneves going after his fourth victory at the Speedway and joining the select club of only three other four-time winners – AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears. Most that have been reading this site know that I’ll be pulling for Helio, first and foremost. But that doesn’t mean that I’ll be bummed if he doesn’t pull it off.
There is also the largest contingent of women drivers in the field – with four of them set to take the green flag tomorrow. Danica Patrick is being upstaged by two newcomers that have proven to be better with the fans and also showing better results on the track. Ms. Patrick did herself no favors by publicly slamming her crew in public. Although there may be some truth behind her accusations, it was a classless move on her part to publicly blast them. Her twenty-third starting position is her worst starting position in her previous five starts at the Speedway.
Sarah Fisher will be starting further back, on the outside of row ten. Sarah and her team have had a disappointing month. I wasn’t sure if Jay Howard would qualify for the race, but not only did he fail to qualify – Sarah struggled to make it herself. I hope she can at least have a clean finish. They cannot withstand big repair bills and run their planned schedule beyond May.
Simona de Silvestro and Ana Biatriz are the two female newcomers, and both have shown promise. This is only the second start in the IZOD IndyCar Series for Biatriz, but so far she has had a clean month and is the highest starting female – starting on the outside of the seventh row. Simona de Silvestro starts one place behind her. She is running the full IZOD IndyCar Series and has done well, although the results don’t necessarily show it. She is with a second-tier team at best, and has done wonders with that car – especially for a rookie. All Ms. Patrick has on either of these two rookies is experience. If Danica is still in the series next season, I’ll be willing to bet that these two are outperforming her regularly.
Mercifully, Milka Duno did not make the race. That is one less thing that drivers will have to contend with tomorrow. Again, I’ll say it – she is a nice person and a great ambassador for this sport. She just doesn’t need to be competing at this level. If only she had decent equipment.
Before this season started, I would have pegged Alex Tagliani as a dark horse to even make the Indianapolis 500. Now I wouldn’t even call him a dark horse to win it. He is a full-fledged contender. What he and his Fazzt Racing Team have done on a small budget, should be used as a model for other fledgling teams coming into the sport. They should also give hope to those that are thinking about entering the IZOD IndyCar Series. They have done everything right. I would not be surprised at all to see Alex Tagliani drinking milk tomorrow afternoon.
I also continue to be impressed with his teammate, Bruno Junqueira. To be the fastest qualifier on Sunday after only a handful of laps shows the strength of his team and his skills as a driver. He should certainly be in a car full-time.
Including Ana Beatriz, the entire Dreyer & Reinbold team got into the field on the first day. They weren’t spectacular in qualifying, but solid. They have a driver in the fourth row, fifth row and two in the seventh row. The only DRR driver I consider to be a threat tomorrow is Tomas Scheckter. The rest of the DRR contingent is simply too inexperienced on ovals to be a factor at the front of the field.
There are a couple of teams I can’t really put my finger on. Panther Racing and de Ferran Dragon Racing both have the potential to do great things, but haven’t done anything spectacular – other than Ed Carpenter putting his Panther Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka into the top-nine. Either of these teams could have great runs or lay an egg – I have no feeling either way for them. Another team I don’t know what to expect is Rahal-Letterman with Graham Rahal in the car. He had a good qualifying run, but he has to face his nemesis every single lap – the turn four wall.
There were several disappointing teams. KV Racing Technologies looked promising all week. Takuma Sato and Mario Moraes both crashed on Saturday, setting the team back. Earlier in the week, EJ Viso crashed. None of those three could have been happy with their qualifying speeds. The only KV car to not hit the wall at the track – did so figuratively, as Paul Tracy surprised everyone by not even making the race. Another disappointment was the AJ Foyt team. The family feud was regrettable, the No. 41 car didn’t make the field and Vitor Meira had a slow qualifying effort and will start on the outside of row 10. I had originally said that Vitor could be considered a dark horse. I think I’ve changed my mind.
The obvious disappointment is the five-car team of Andretti Autosport. Besides Danica Patrick’s poor starting spot – the entire team performed poorly. Tony Kanaan’s troubles have been well-documented, but I think he did a wise thing by going back to his rebuilt primary car and dropping only one starting spot in the process. Marco Andretti is the highest AA starter in the sixteenth slot, alongside his teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay. John Andretti will roll of on the inside of row ten.
And that brings us back to the front-runners. Team Penske is looking very strong, as usual. Target Chip Ganassi Racing has been up there, but not quite as spectacular as the Penske’s. Although Dario Franchitti is on the outside of row one, he doesn’t seem to be making a whole lot of noise – so he’ll probably win. There is a third car connected to the Chip Ganassi stable in a relationship with Sam Schmidt Motorsports – Townsend Bell in the No. 99 HerbaLife car. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bell outperform his full-time Ganassi counterparts tomorrow. Townsend Bell hasn’t driven an IndyCar since last May, when he finished fourth. He is fast and eager to prove that he belongs in a full-time ride.
So who will win it? I hate to put the hex on someone because my picks are usually disastrous (except last year when I picked Helio) – but I’m going for two in a row and pick Helio Castroneves. If it’s not Helio, then my heart is going for Tagliani – with Kanaan as my extreme dark horse.
I’ll arrive in Indianapolis sometime early this afternoon. There is no scheduled track activity, but I always bore my carload with my annual pilgrimage to the museum on the day before the race. We will have two teenagers with us that don’t share my love for the history of the Speedway, but they can either embrace it or be bored. I have to gawk at all of the cars from yesteryear.
I may have a late afternoon or early evening post and then, as I did last week – I’ll start tomorrow with a repeat of the Race Morning post I ran last year. But then, I’ll be blogging and tweeting (@Oilpressureblog) up until time for the race and then after the race. However, I don’t care to be posting during the race. Sorry, but I want to watch and enjoy the race.
Check back late this afternoon.