The 101st Indianapolis 500 should prove to be one for the ages, with its reputation as a landmark race only reinforced this year.
2016 Indianapolis 500 Preview Part 1
The last weekend of May is always a special weekend for motorsport fans. The most prestigious grand prix on the calendar takes place, the Monaco Grand Prix. Famous the world over it always provides excitement and celebrities flock to watch the on track action. Fans from across the world will be tuning in this weekend, eagerly anticipating the next stage of the Nico Rosberg vs Lewis Hamilton battle.
After the champagne has been sprayed on Sunday, many motorsport fans will be switching their attentions stateside, as another of the motorsport triple crown takes place only hours after the action in Monte Carlo. The 100th Indianapolis 500 is something any self respecting motorsport fan will not want to miss, with furious high speed on track action guaranteed.
The Indycar series has no where near the profile of F1, but in America the Indy 500 is still a major sporting event and will garner a further international audience. With speeds topping 225mph the action could not be more different to that in Monte Carlo. Both are equally considered races that form the triple crown of motorsport, the other being the Le Mans 24 Hours in several weeks time. Let’s take a look at the contenders in this years Indy 500.
#2 Verizon Team Penske Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Juan Pablo Montoya
The reigning champion will want to add a third Indy 500 victory resume, and with Penske he has the perfect opportunity to achieve this. The most high profile name in the series has shown himself to be the front runner in the series for the past season and a half, despite narrowly missing out on the title at the final round last year.
At 40 years old Montoya has lost none of his speed or hunger, which explains why he is such a formidable competitor for his rivals. Despite a good start to the season, Montoya suffered from a plastic bag getting stuck in his radiator on his qualifying run. After this bizarre problem ruined his qualifying he only managed to qualify 17th.
The good thing for Montoya is that the race is 500 miles long, giving him plenty of time to move up the field and back into leading contention. With the knous of Team Penske behind him he will have a great chance to win a second consecutive and third overall Indy 500, ensuring he will be added to the list of Indycar greats. Despite qualifying Montoya is still arguably the favourite.
#3 Pennzoil Team Penske Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Helio Castroneves
The experienced Brazilian prepares for his 16th Indy 500, and is every bit as much a contender for victory as in his previous fifteen. The 41 year old knows the track arguably better than anyone else on the grid, and is in good form going into this Sunday centre piece race.
With two podiums in the first five races he sits third in the points standings, and a win here from ninth on the grid would really give his title challenge serious momentum. Castroneves is another member of the four car Team Penske fleet, something that only enhances his bid for victory. He is a three winner of this event, although his last victory in the 500 came in 2009.
With Castroneves in good form and the might of Team Penske behind him a fourth victory is very much possible for him. His competition will likely come from his team mates and rivals at Chip Ganassi and Andretti Autosport, but Castroneves could overcome them all if things fall his way on Sunday. Don’t be surprised if Castroneves is drinking the milk in winners circle come Sunday evening.
#4 Lazier Burns Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Buddy Lazier
Buddy Lazier returns this year with his annual effort with his family run Lazier Burns racing team. Whilst this is a small one car team with limited resources compared to the bigger teams, this team could spring a surprise come race day.
The team struggled in qualifying with Lazier set to start 32nd, with a speed over 1mph down on anyone else. Whilst it doesn’t seem much, at Indianapolis this is a large difference. It also cannot be discounted the fact Lazier is one of six former winners in this race.
Lazier was one of the original drivers in the Indycar series, winning the 1996 Indy 500 and 2000 Indycar series title. For the past ten years Lazier has focused on one-off entries in the Indy 500, and this will surely hamper him going into the race. Without the experience of the regular series drivers, this will only hamper his preparations for the race. For Lazier a top ten or top fifteen result will be a good effort for this small one car team.
#5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Dallara DW12-Honda: James Hinchcliffe
Canadian James Hinchcliffe provided a great pre-race story by claiming pole position, only a year after a huge accident here ended his season prematurely. Hinchcliffe has lost none of his speed and overcame the traditional big teams with his Schmidt Peterson motorsport entry.
Sitting on pole position puts Hinchcliffe in the best possible position to secure a remarkable victory come Sunday. He definitely has the talent to do it and is coming into the race after scoring his first podium of the season in the Indianapolis road course race only a few weeks ago.
To secure a Canadian victory in America’s premier motor race Hinchcliffe will have to put in a great drive, alongside fast pit work by his team. Both team and driver have the potential to win, they just need to execute under pressure, which is a lot easier said then done.
#6 Preferred Freezer Services Ed Carpenter Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: JR Hildebrand
JR Hildebrand returns yet again to Indianapolis with a one-off entry with Ed Carpenter racing, after racing with CFH Racing last year. Both Hildebrand and Carpenter perform well on ovals and the team have shown the potential to score a great result in the 500.
Whilst he’s likely known for his last corner crash in his debut Indy 500 five years ago, the fact he was a few hundred meters away from winning his debut 500 shows how well he can run here.
Despite being inexperienced compared to his full season rivals, Hildebrand has two top ten finishes from the past two years. This is a huge achievement for a one-off entry with a smaller team. He lines up fifteenth on the grid, but during the race Hildebrand could very well improve from a top ten to top five finish.
#7 DOOM Schmidt Peterson Motorsport Dallara DW12-Honda: Mikhail Aleshin
Mikhail Aleshin has returned to Indycar this year, after switching to sportscar racing last year with SMP Racing. The talented Russian’s season has been solid so far, with a top five finish in the opening round showing his potential once again.
Whilst he’s a European convert Indycar racing, qualifying seventh for the 500 shows Aleshin can become a good oval racer. The Schmidt Peterson team have produced good cars for Aleshin and team mate James Hinchcliffe, with both capable of shocking the major teams with a podium or victory this Sunday.
Whilst Aleshin does not have a wealth of experience in Indycar, he has enough to produce a great result in the 500 with his talent. Watch out for Aleshin as an outside bet for a top five, although even a top ten would be a good result for the Russian and his team.
#8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Max Chilton
Max Chilton prepares for his debut Indy 500, as he still adjusts to the Indycar series and it’s ovals in his rookie season. Despite some limited experience in the Indy Lights series last year, the former F1 racer is doing well adjusting to the series.
With his F1 experience a lot of people may expect him to immediately come in and be competitive, but that’s not realistic. Whilst his results so far have not been spectacular, he is improving with every race and the Indy 500 will only accelerate this.
He’s qualified a respectable 22nd on the grid, and he will likely improve as the race goes on. With the collective might of Chip Ganassi Racing supporting him, he could not be in a better place to become a very good Indycar driver with the likes of Dario Franchitti helping him. For Chilton a top fifteen finish would be a very good result for him, although simply finishing the race will only further his experience with the car and ovals in general.
#9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Scott Dixon
The mild mannered Kiwi Scott Dixon arguably rivals Juan Pablo Montoya as the current series benchmark, with Dixon being the reigning series champion only enhancing this viewpoint.
He won on the series only oval round so far in Phoenix, and sits pretty in second as he looks to win back to back titles. He’s a four time champion and the winningest driver in the field, although he has only managed one Indy 500 win in 2008.
He starts out of position in thirteenth, but expect him to quickly rise through the field like the driver his livery emulates, legend Alex Zanardi. Discount Dixon at your peril, as he always manages to produce good results from nowhere, and this Sunday may be the latest example of this.
#10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Tony Kanaan
Another former winner amongst the Ganassi stable of entries is Brazilian Tony Kanaan, who has so far had an average start to his season. He was always the hard luck story before he won the 2013 Indy 500, with his old luck returning since.
With two successive 26th finishes in 2014 and 2015, it will be hard for Kanaan to do any worse this year. The 41 year old qualified eighteenth this year, and will surely move up the grid once the green flag is dropped.
Whilst he’s always suffered from bad luck at this circuit, he always runs well here and teamed with Ganassi he has the perfect package to win or even finish in the top five. Either would be a great result for Kanaan and would really kick start his season.
#11 Hydroxycut KVSH Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Sebastien Bourdais
Sebastien Bourdais is well versed in the American Indycar scene, having made a name for himself stateside over the past decade. The Frenchman’s best finish in the Indy 500 is seventh in 2014, although he has plenty of Champ Car titles and wins to cement his reputation as a very quick Indycar driver.
It’s been a tough start to the year for Bourdais and his KVSH team, with a best finish so far of eighth in the opening five rounds. Qualifying for the 500 didn’t change his luck, as he posted the nineteenth fastest average speed.
Despite a bad start to the season Bourdais is the kind of driver you can never discount, as he could spring a surprise and produce a great result from nowhere. He will need his KVSH team to produce slick pitstops if he wants a good result, but certainly don’t discount the experienced Frenchman.
That wraps up part one of my Indy 500 preview. I would urge everyone to visit Motorsport.com for the latest news and high quality photos, some of which have been used in this article. Part 2 will be coming in the next few days and finally, thank you for reading. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.