The 101st Indianapolis 500 should prove to be one for the ages, with its reputation as a landmark race only reinforced this year.
The race has always made up the triple crown of motor racing, along with the Monaco Grand Prix and Le Mans 24 Hours. Whilst it’s always had this place at the centre piece of motor sport, this year the race has found its prestige enhance massively as double Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso has decided to try his hand at America’s greatest race.
Amid a very poor F1 season with McLaren so far, the Spaniard shocked the racing world by announcing last month that he would forgo the centre piece Monaco GP to contest the Indy 500. With the help of F1 engine supplier Honda he has joined the top line Andretti Autosport team. Having a double world champion in the race has brought the race to an whole new audience across the world, something that will make sure that whatever happens this year the race will be matching the Monaco Grand Prix in terms of worldwide attention. Let’s take a look at the grid this year.
#1 Menards Team Penske Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Simon Pagenaud
Frenchman Simon Pagenaud has proved himself the benchmark in the Indycar series since joining Team Penske at the beginning of 2015. After impressing with smaller teams he has used his promotion to a front line team to finally showcase his evident skills.
He won the championship last year with five wins, and this year has not yet finished outside the top five in the opening five races. So far things have proved slightly more difficult on ovals however. Pagenaud won earlier this season on the only oval race of the season on the short Phoenix oval. Last year Pagenaud finished 19th in the 500, and in qualifying for this years 500 only one Penske entry has qualified in the top 15.
Pagenaud starts 23rd which will make his race that little bit more difficult to win. This year it appears the Chevrolet runners are at a slight speed disadvantage to their Honda rivals, with only three of the fast nine being Chevy powered. Pagenaud is far too talented to discount for victory, although it may prove a surprise coming from so far back in the grid.
#2 Hum by Verizon Team Penske Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Josef Newgarden
Josef Newgarden has been rewarded for his promising runs with smaller teams, firmly establishing himself as one of the next promising talents within Indycar. He has carried on this promise with his move up to Team Penske for this season.
He won on only his third race at the Alabama Grand Prix, currently sitting fourth in the points. Qualifying for the all important 500 did not go well for Newgarden, as he will start only one place ahead of team mate Pagenaud in 22nd. With a 500 mile race and a Team Penske it’s impossible to discount Newgarden, but it certainly will take him time to move forward plus he will have to avoid being involved in trouble throughout the race.
#3 Fuelrewards.com Team Penske Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Helio Castroneves
Helio Castroneves continues to defy his age as he is still running at the front at the age of 42. The Brazilian has been on an upward trend in the last three races, each time scoring a top five finish.
His experience will prove crucial for the 500, as so far the team have appeared to struggle with their top end speed. He starts 19th for the race, but his three race victories in the centre piece event mean that to discount him would be incredible foolish. Some have questioned his outright pace considering his last race win was 2014, but a victory on Sunday will be the perfect repost to those critics.
#4 ABC Supply Co A.J Foyt Enterprises Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Conor Daly
Daly appears from the outside to the suffering from the dreaded sophomore slump after a rookie season that showed flashes of promise last year. Moving to A.J Foyt Enterprises this year his best result has been 14th at Phoenix.
Whilst the results may not show it Daly is a talented racer who may tip to be a future top line driver in the series. He starts 26th for the 500 but the A.J Foyt team are well versed with the race and Daly will likely move up during the race. Whilst he would be a shock winner any top ten result would be a good one for both team and driver.
#5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsport Dallara DW12-Honda: James Hinchcliffe
James Hinchliffe has regularly proved one of the most popular drivers on the Indycar grid, but since moving to Schmidt Peterson motorsport he has struggled for top line results.
He came back from a massive accident in qualifying for the 500 in 2015 to claim pole for last years race, and at Long Beach this year he claimed his first victory since the accident two years ago. The Canadian however starts from 17th this year, so he will need to have a car that runs well in traffic. For him he would be a popular winner this year.
#7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsport Dallara DW12-Honda: Mikhail Aleshin
Mikhail Aleshin has proved himself a solid Indycar driver over the past two years, showing flashes of promise much like Conor Daly. When your competing with a team with slightly smaller resources it’s always that little harder to impress, but the Russian has shown flashes.
He has adapted well to ovals, starting seventh last year and 13th this year. From here he will be ahead of most of the pack, and if he can adjust his car to work well in the traffic he will likely finish in the top ten come the chequered flag. For a European based racer with only two previous starts at Indianapolis this will be a very good result.
#8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara DW12-Honda: Max Chilton
F1 refugee Max Chilton has found the adaption to Indycar tough, although he did equal his best ever result last time out on the Indianapolis road course. Chilton has the proven Chip Ganassi team behind him to help aid his move to the Indycar series.
He starts the race from 15th which is a respectable position, and in a series as highly competitive as Indycar is he could well finish in the top ten if he can use his F1 race craft to good effect. Any Chip Ganassi entry has a chance and he is already improving on his 22nd starting place from last year. He finished 15th this year and to improve on this would be a good result for Chilton.
#9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara DW12-Honda: Scott Dixon
Scott Dixon has rightly become a colossus within the Indycar paddock. The Kiwi is a four time series champion and appears to be in a great position to add to his 2008 Indy 500 victory.
He has enjoyed a strong start to the season with three podiums from the opening five races, as he currently leads the points standings. On top of this he claimed pole for the 500 with a 232.164mph average across his qualifying run. He has looked in a dominant mood this season and he will enter the race as the favourite thanks to his strong start to 2017.
#10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara DW12-Honda: Tony Kanaan
Tony Kanaan returns for his 16th Indy 500, aiming to repeat his 2013 500 victory. So far this season it’s been a mixed bag for Kanaan, with two top ten finishes coupled with a 20th place finish last time out on the Indy road course.
Kanaan starts the race from a good position in seventh, which puts him in a great position for the race. If he can avoid getting mired in the midfield battles he has a good chance of victory. He has the Ganassi team behind him and the Honda package has so far proved the faster around Indy. He has all the parts in place to achieve a second victory, the rest in his and lady lucks hand.
#11 Oceanfront Recovery Juncos Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Spencer Pigot
This #11 entry is an interesting one as it sees driver Spencer Pigot reunited with the Juncos racing team with which he won the 2015 Indy Lights feeder series. Juncos are making their debut at the Indycar level, and for this team experience is something they are lacking.
Pigot enjoyed a fractured debut season in Indycar, although this season he has already scored two top ten finishes from four races. He qualified down in 29th for the race, in what is surely a learning year for the team especially.
He finished 25th last year and this will be something he will want to improve upon with another years experience. He has plenty of talent does Pigot he just needs to find the right package to compete at the front. Whilst that might not be this year a top 15 result for a team and driver so inexperienced could be considered a good result.
That wraps up part one of my preview of this weekend’s Indianapolis 500, I hope you enjoyed it and part two will be posted very soon. Any thoughts or comments on the article, let me know in the comments section below. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.