It’s More Than Just A Number
The official entry list for the 97th Running of the Indianapolis 500 was released yesterday with few surprises – except that there are only thirty-three cars entered for thirty-two drivers. For the most part – that’s a good thing. There was a time just a couple of weeks ago that it looked doubtful if they were going to be able to hit the magic number of thirty-three cars. You have to go all the way back to 1941 to find a year when less than thirty-three started the race. That was due to an early morning garage fire on Race Day that eliminated the car of George Barringer. Sam Hanks had been injured in a crash before the race and also didn’t start.
There have been more than thirty-three on a few occasions. The last time that happened was back in 1997, due to the controversial “25/8 rule” – that I won’t get into. If you don’t know what the 25/8 rule is, consider yourself lucky and don’t worry about it.
Now it looks as though there might possibly be some bumping next Sunday. For the good of the sport – that’s good. But if your favorite driver is at the back of the field, that could be a bad thing. That’s part of the allure of this great event. You only have to go back as recently as 1995 to see that twelve drivers tried, but failed to make the race. In 2011, we considered it great drama that five drivers got bumped. No drivers were bumped last year. More than likely, if anyone gets bumped this year – it probably won’t be more than one. With sponsorship being such a sought-after commodity right now – it is not great to be bumping a committed sponsor’s car out of the race. But hey – that’s racing.
Most know that I’m a huge fan of Pippa Mann. It’s not because she’s friendly to me – she’s friendly to all of the IndyCar bloggers. It’s because of what she does for the sport. She is probably the best ambassador this sport has. She is constantly out promoting the IZOD IndyCar Series – not only to businesses and potential new sponsors, but she is exposing it to potential new fans – especially young female fans.
Her sponsor for this year’s race is CyclopsGear – a boutique line of recording eyewear. Unless I read the press release wrong, they wanted to go racing in NASCAR, but Pippa convinced them to run the Indianapolis 500 instead. That’s what she means to this series and that’s why I’m a big Pippa Mann fan – plus the fact that she’s an excellent driver
At first glance, one would think that she may be considered in danger of being bumped, since she is in Dale Coyne’s third car. Quite honestly, I don’t think I can ever recall Dale Coyne running a third car anywhere. His second car is generally not that fast. James Jakes failed to qualify in 2011, yet qualified seventeenth last year – four spots higher than his teammate Justin Wilson, so his cars can get the job done. One would hope that the third car that Pippa will be driving will be as fast as the car that Ana Biatriz will be driving.
If one of those cars is on the bubble – I think back to 2011, when Pippa made the field in a second one-off Conquest car, but her full-time teammate, Sebastian Saavedra did not. Pippa started thirty-first that day. She ran well and finished twentieth in her rookie effort. Had it not been for some not-so stellar pit work by her crew, she could have finished higher. She also dealt with a malfunctioning water bottle all day, and was dealing with some serious cramping issues due to dehydration late in the race – yet soldiered on to a decent finish, especially for a rookie. So if there is bumping and a Coyne car is in trouble late Sunday afternoon – I don’t expect it to be Pippa’s.
Townsend Bell has been confirmed at Panther Racing. He had been expected to sign with Sam Schmidt’s team, but his deal with the movie Turbo was contingent upon him driving a Chevy since the bow-tie manufacturer has a arrangement with DreamWorks. That’s certainly not the first time a financial arrangement has made for strange bedfellows at Indianapolis. It won’t be the last either.
One of the more intriguing one-off efforts has Conor Daly running the No.41 car at AJ Foyt Enterprises. When that deal was first confirmed, I think many thought his talents would be wasted there. Now with the resurgence going on at Foyt’s team; those same doubters are now expecting great things from the second-generation driver.
Others are expecting great things from AJ Allmendinger as he runs his third race at Team Penske. I’m not so sure. The way things have been going there, I think they need to put a lot of focus on Will Power and Helio Castroneves. Helio has a shot at becoming the next four-time winner, while Will Power just needs a good finish to get his season out of the toilet.
One part-time driver that I do think is going to shine is Ryan Briscoe. You have to think he is not traumatized by the lack of results at Team Penske – his former employer. He has motivation to show The Captain and other team-owners that passed on him that they made a mistake. Briscoe has always been fast at Indianapolis. You have to think that a Ganassi car will be fast enough to get the job done.
Michel Jourdain, Jr. didn’t excite me in his prime. He is now thirty-seven and trying to jump-start his career in the third car at Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing. He qualified twenty-second and finished a forgettable nineteenth in last year’s race with Rahal. I expect about the same this year.
Despite the fact that Tony George once said he thinks that thirty-three is just a number, we fans know better. I’m not quite sure what he was thinking when he made that statement, and I suspect his grandfather was spinnning in his grave (again) when he uttered that infamous phrase. Perhaps the day will soon come when they can no longer fill the field at Indianapolis, but I don’t even want to think about the reaction and the perception of what that would mean. With the Lotus situation last year, engines were hard to come by. The remaining two manufacturers have had plenty of time to prepare for this year’s race. Add to that, there have not been near as many unauthorized engine changes this season, so engine supplies should be ample.
One thing I’ve never been real clear on; is how binding this list is. Is it fluid? Can it be added to or is this the carved in stone list? If this is it, then that means a thirty-fourth car has to come from this list. The one unnamed car on this list is the No.40 from Ed Carpenter Racing. Any other car for a thirty-fourth driver would have to take away a back-up car from someone else.
It used to be that when there were two weekends of qualifying, a team would get their primary driver safely in the field and then put a backup car out there for the highest bidder the following week. That gave them a few practice days for the added driver to get up to speed and get the proper sponsorship livery on the car. I guess with this current condensed format, deals are conditional – if a primary car gets safely in on Saturday, the deal gets done Saturday night and the new driver gets in the car Sunday morning and qualifies that afternoon. That can be a tall order.
As Curt Cavin pointed out the other night, it’s not a car, engine or driver’s money situation now – it’s a matter of which teams have the ability to add cars. Besides Ed Carpenter having an unassigned car, KV is also rumored to be the destination of Bryan Clausen. Buddy Rice is believed to be headed to Schmidt, but that is still up in the air. Jay Howard appears to have money, but as of right now – no takers. The Lazier brothers are both trying to squeeze in, but that doesn’t seem likely either.
The next few days promise to hold some intrigue as deals start coming together. Ideally, you would want to get something sooner than later. Opening Day is Saturday and track time is crucial. But the intrigue is an annual ritual that is part of what makes this month so special.