A Preview of the 2017 Indianapolis 500
Anyone can win the Indy 500. Or can they?
The Indy 500 is a race that anyone can win. 500 Miles ... 250 laps of the 2.5 mile super speedway ... Anything can happen.
When the green flag waves at the start, every single car is contender for a cold bottle of milk. But as it does so often in racing, shit happens. As the race goes on, the field of contenders evolves. Let's take a quick run through the field as well as a few race variables that will have an impact on how things shake out.
We'll go by teams, based on the highest starting position.
Chip Ganassi Racing
Chip Ganassi is fielding four cars in the Indy 500. Scott Dixon, who won here in 2008, took pole with an untouchable time. Series vet and 2013 winner Tony Kanaan starts 7th. Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball will start 15th and 16th. Dixon and Kanaan are hungry for another win here, and their teammates will be eager to join them up front. With four cars spread out over the first half of the field, they are in good shape to keep a car or two up front.
Ed Carpenter Racing
Driving his own car, Ed Carpenter was the only one who got close to take pole from Dixon. He's started from pole at Indy twice. He's the step-son of Tony George, who owns the track and used to run the Indy Racing League, so maybe he has some insider information on the best line to take. Carpenter's teammates are JR Hildebrand, who starts 6th, and rookie Zach Veach, who starts 32nd, which is second to last on the grid.
Ed and JR have the speed to win, but it's going to take some mad skills to stay out front. Veach will have to play wing man to slow cars up as the field spreads out if he doesn't find a way through the pack with a quickness.
2016 winner Alexander Rossi is 3rd, and the highest place starter of the six Andretti cars. He may have had some bad luck, followed by good luck that got him the win last year, but he wants to run up front all day and win this year. His teammates are 2012 almost-winner Takumo Sato (4th), two-time Formula One Champion Fernando Alonso (5th), 2006 almost-winner Marco Andretti (8th), 2014 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay (10th), and rookie Jack Harvey (27th). These fellows take up five of the first ten spots on the grid. Sato is also an F1 veteran, and Rossi has driven in F1 as well. This is Harvey's first IndyCar race, though he has had a successful run in several open-wheel series, including Indy Lights. Harvey starts towards the back, but has a fast car if he dares to push it in his first IndyCar race.
Statistically and strategically, Andretti Autosport has the best shot of sending one of their drivers to victory. The team can try different pit strategies, which is what helped Rossi win last year. If some of them fall a few laps down, they'll be there to help their teammates.
Will Power leads the way for Penske, starting 9th. Juan Pablo Montoya is 18th, Helio Castroneves is 19th, and Simon Pagenaud is 23rd. Some how, Power has never won here; but Castroneves has in 2001, 2002, and 2009. Montoya has won in 2000 and 2015. All four could be contenders for a win if they get a little lucky. Power has a better shot than the rest as the others have just been off the pace through practice and qualifying.
With four cars on track, teamwork makes the dream work. Some cleaver "blocking" and quick pit stops could do the job. Speaking of pit stops, Team Penske won the Pit Stop Challenge on Carb Day. They've actually won it for the last 17 years. Making up a position in the pits is still making up a position. It's something that could prove critical.
Dale Coyne Racing
What can you say about the little team that could? Sebastien Bourdais should have been fighting for pole. His horrific accident in qualifying was just devastating to the team. But they persist. Rookie Ed Jones starts 11th, which is pretty good. His teammates are one-off racer Pippa Man in 28th, and Bourdais' replacement James Davison who will start 33rd, which is last. Because he didn't set a qualifying time, he goes to the back of the grid.
Everyone knows these cars have pace in them, it's just a matter of making it happen. Davison will be running a much different wing than the rest of the field. It's larger and creates more drag, but it gives him more downforce. That downforce will help massively while running traffic, which he'll be doing. Maybe, just maybe they can find some magic and win it for Sebastien, who is out of the hospital and doing quite well, all things considered.
A.J. Foyt Enterprises
Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly start 24th and 26th. This just isn't the year for the Foyt cars. They just don't have a the pace to be running at the front. These two drivers are the first of the true long shots to win. But never count Foyt out. A.J. will having these two pushing as hard as they can until the end.
Gabby Chaves starts 25th for the newly formed Harding Racing. This is the team's first race, with plans to run a few more times later this year, and then full-time in 2018. The goal here is for Chaves and the crew to run a clean race and finish.
Spencer Pigot and Sebastian Saavedra will start 29th and 31st. Juncos is another new team making their debut here. They've run teams in The Road To Indy feeder series, so they know what they need to do. And much like Harding Racing, they'll just be looking for their drivers to finish on Sunday.
Lazier Partners Racing
Buddy Lazier won the Indy 500 in 1996 and was the pre-CART merger Indy Racing League champion in 2000. He keeps coming back to race the Indy 500. He doesn't stand a chance in hell at winning, so why come back year after year? Wouldn't you, if you could?
The Race Factors
There will be crashes and safety cars. Sometimes, the safety car giveth, sometimes the safety car taketh away. Laps. We're talking about laps here. If you time a pit stop just right with a safety car, you can gain a lap on everyone who doesn't come in. But if you get it wrong, you could find yourself a lap down with no way to claw it back.
Going off-strategy on pit stops can work sometimes. It helped Rossi last year, as did fuel saving. He made one less stop than everyone else and crossed the line running on fumes, but in first place. Being first on the last lap is all that counts.
Drivers who run a clean race will be up front. The less contact one makes with both the other cars and the wall means less time in the pits with an unscheduled stop or a drive-through penalty. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it's almost a guarantee that someone in the top 10 will throw their race away over a stupid mistake.
Fernando Alonso. Everyone will be gunning for him. No matter how chummy the series regulars have been with him all week, they are all going to want to say they beat the two-time Formula One champion. The problem is that Alonso isn't here for fun, he's here to win. No matter how chummy he's been been with the other drivers all week, once the race starts, all friendships are on hold until after the checkered flag flies.
Honda engine reliability could be a huge factor in the race. Over half the field is powered by them. Will they all make it to the end?
Never give up and only retire when the car is dead. Someone that's a lap or three down could find themselves up front after a huge wreck and half the field has to pit for repairs. You never know what the track will throw at you, so just keep racing.
That is the inherent allure of this race. Your shot at winning isn't over until someone else has. Sure, Scott Dixion's pole time was unreal, but that's not the speed at which he'll be racing. The littlest thing can turn the Indy 500 completely inside out, and often does. Which is why we watch. You never know what is going to happen.
If you want to find out what happens, the race starts just past 12pm ET on Sunday, May 27. Television coverage on your local ABC network or on the IndyCar website starts at 11am.