Ten things to know aboutthe Indianapolis 500
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – The 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 is Sunday, with a wide-open field and a pair of drivers trying to join the elite list of four-time winners.
Two Americans start on the front row, along with Carlos Munoz, an unknown Indy 500 newcomer who grew up idolizing Juan Pablo Montoya – a fellow Colombian who won “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing” as a rookie.
Lurking back in the sixth row are Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti and Takuma Sato, the three drivers who raced for the win last year.
Here’s 10 things to know about Sunday’s race:
There are two drivers trying to win their fourth Indianapolis 500 to join an exclusive club that currently only has three members. Rick Mears was the last driver to win a fourth Indy 500, joining A.J. Foyt and Al Unser Sr. in the group in 1991. Now 22 years later, both Franchitti and Helio Castroneves both have a shot Sunday at grabbing win No. 4. Franchitti is the defending race winner, while Castroneves picked up his third victory in 2009.
Marco Andretti will start on the front row in third, the highest starting spot of his career. No matter how Andretti starts his season, he always goes into the Indy 500 as a contender because of his race craft at the speedway. It just so happens, though, that Andretti is off to the best start of his career this year, and is second in the standings. He also feels far more confident about his chances this year than he did last season, when he said the race was “mine to lose.” He’ll be trying to break the “Andretti Curse” that has plagued the family and made Mario Andretti’s 1969 victory its only win.
Bar set high
Last year’s race was considered one of the best in Indy 500 history as Franchitti, Sato and Dixon raced down the stretch for the win. Sato spun and wrecked as he attempted to pass Franchitti on the final lap, and the Scot sailed to his third victory. Dixon finished second and Tony Kanaan wound up third, as three of Dan Wheldon’s closest friends swept the podium on a day dedicated to the late driver. It set the bar high for Sunday, but three different winners in the first four races of the season has raised expectations that this year’s race could be another thriller.
AJ Allmendinger is making his Indy 500 debut 7 years after he left open-wheel racing for NASCAR. He had the best job of his career with Roger Penske when he was suspended last July by NASCAR for failing a random drug test. Penske has given Allmendinger a second chance in IndyCar, and there are some who believe he’s got a solid chance to win Sunday. Allmendinger starts fifth, but his Penske Racing teammates believe he’s got the best car of the group and has deftly handled traffic all month. Allmendinger figures if he wins the race, Penske will have to add more races to his schedule. So far, next week’s doubleheader at Detroit is all Allmendinger has planned this season.
Good Will hunting
Will Power went into the Indy 500 last year riding the momentum of three straight victories. He’s not won a race since, though, and said this has been the most low-key month of his career, because he’s ranked 18th in the IndyCar standings. His races this year have been plagued by problems no fault of his own. The tone was set in the season-opener at St. Pete, where J.R. Hildebrand hit Power’s car while under caution. Although Power has 16 career victories, he’s never won on an oval, and has never won an IndyCar championship – leading him to lament he’s never won anything important. A win Sunday would take care of that.
The field of 33 cars has a red, white and blue feel this year, with 11 Americans in the race. Leading the charge is Ed Carpenter, the local guy who starts on the pole for Sunday’s race. An American driver has not won this race since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006. Four-time winner Foyt has an American in the field with newcomer Conor Daly, and believes an American winner would give the race and the series a boost. “I think what made Indy as great as it was before [was] that 90 percent of the drivers were American drivers,” Foyt said. “I think that’s where everybody builds a big fan base. Our hero is going to Indianapolis, and we want to follow him.”
Honda vs. Chevy
It seems to be deja vu for engine manufacturer Chevrolet, which dominated all the practice sessions for a second consecutive year. But it was Honda who claimed the big prize last season, with signs that it had some more speed on Carburation Day. It happened again this year, as Honda driver Simon Pagenaud shot to the top of the speed chart in the final practice session, and Honda drivers claimed six of the top 10 spots.
Pride of Japan
Among the Honda drivers who has a chance to win Sunday is Sato, the current IndyCar points leader. He became the first Japanese-born driver to win an IndyCar race last month at Long Beach, and he nearly won in Brazil until James Hinchcliffe snatched the victory away with a pass in the final turn. Sato is trying to overcome last year’s nightmare finish in which he went for the win on the final lap, but spun as he tried to pass Franchitti.
There are a series-tying four women in Sunday’s field after Katherine Legge arrived last week, pieced together a deal to drive a third car for Sam Schmidt, and qualified it in the field on her first day back in an Indy car since last September’s season finale. It remains to be seen just how competitive the women are on race day. Legge was eighth-fastest on Carb Day, but it’s Simona de Silvestro who may have the best chance to run up front. Driving for KV Racing this year, she’s shown speed with a Chevrolet engine and nearly scored a podium finish at St. Pete. Ana Beatriz and Pippa Mann are the other two women in the field. The stakes were raised by Danica Patrick, who qualified fourth in her 2005 debut and became the first woman to lead laps at Indy.
Home sweet home
There’s a familiar feel to the Indy 500 this year as Jim Nabors returns to sing “Back Home Again in Indiana” a year after missing the race because of heart surgery. A video of him performing the song at his home in Hawaii was aired instead. Florence Henderson, an Indiana native who played Carol Brady on TV’s “Brady Bunch,” traditionally sings “God Bless America,” but is skipping the race because of illness. Indiana singer-songwriter Jon McLaughlin will perform instead. Christian music singer Sandi Patty will perform the national anthem for a record sixth time.