Thursday, May 23, 2013

Track Walk: 97th Indianapolis 500

That time of the year has finally come again. The cold days of winter are far behind us with the brisk mornings of early spring slowly fading away. It is late May and thirty-three drivers are preparing for 500 miles.

Will Chevrolet Show Up On Race Day?
For the second consecutive year, we enter Memorial Day weekend with Chevrolet clearly faster than Honda. But if last year taught us anything, Honda will be there race day. What about Chevrolet? The bow-tie brigade took the top ten spots on the grid and thirteen of the top fifteen but after dominating qualifying last year, the Chevrolet teams fell flat on their face. Andretti Autosport and Penske Racing have brought their A-game with each team having 100% participation in the Fast Nine on pole day and Andretti Autosport spent most of their week of practice working on race setup. As the saying goes, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I don't think Chevrolet will get caught with their pants down again.

Can Ed Carpenter Keep Up His Dream Month of May?
One of the nicest guys in IndyCar has a chance to become the most known IndyCar driver on Sunday. The Hoosier is on pole and looking to become the first Hoosier to win since Wilbur Shaw in 1939. It really has been a dream month for Carpenter. Winning pole as an owner-driver over the stalwarts of Andretti Autosport and Penske Racing was a great moment for Carpenter but as I said after pole day, no one dreams of winning pole for the Indianapolis 500. Carpenter knows winning Sunday is all that matters. Carpenter has a top-five finish and two top-ten finishes in the Indianapolis 500 and won the inaugural Freedom 100 in 2003. He is the most recent winner in a oval race and is one of the top contenders on Sunday.

Honda
The Ganassi drivers of Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti and Takuma Sato carried Honda last year. This year the Alex Tagliani and Justin Wilson were the top Honda qualifiers. The Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan team had a rough month with one car failing to qualify and neither James Jakes or Graham Rahal have struggled with speed all month. Ryan Briscoe is the star one-off this year but starts twenty-third. Josef Newgarden was bumped to a second day qualifier but has shown good pace in traffic and is confident. The Ganassi drivers, whether it be Dixon or Franchitti, even Briscoe and Charlie Kimball have a shot and I'd say Sato has the best shot to extend Honda's streak of consecutive Indianapolis 500 victories to ten.

Weekend Schedule
For Carb Day, IndyCar practice will be at 11 a.m. ET with the Firestone Freedom 100 taking place at 12:30 p.m and the Pit Stop Competition at 1:30 p.m. ET. All of Carb Day's activities can be found on NBC Sports Network starting at 11 a.m. ET and ending at 4:00 p.m. ET. ABC's coverage of the 97th Indianapolis 500 begins at 11 a.m. ET with driver introductions at 11:33 a.m. ET and green flag scheduled for 12:12 p.m. ET.

Weekend Forecast
Carb Day calls for sunny conditions with a high of 67 degrees Fahrenheit and zero chance of precipitation. Saturday may be mostly cloudy with a high of 64 degrees Fahrenheit and a 10% chance of precipitation. Race day could be touchy. A few showers are forecasted with a high of 69 degrees Fahrenheit and a 30% chance of precipitation. Hopefully all rain can hold off until after the race Sunday.

Some Facts
While many think Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti can repeat their run to the front, history is against them. On only two occasions has winners come from worse than row five in back-to-back years (1926 and 1927 when Frank Lockhart came from 20th and George Sounders came from 22nd. 1935 and 1936 when Kelly Petillo won from 22nd and Louis Meyer tied Ray Harroun as the farthest Indianapolis 500 winner from 28th). Dixon and Franchitti both start on row six.

Row three has not won the Indianapolis 500 in this Millennium. Kenny Bräck is the last winner from row nine in 1999. Ryan Hunter-Reay is starting seventh. Seventh place hasn't won since AJ Foyt's first Indianapolis 500 win in 1961. The thing on Hunter-Reay's side is both he and Super Tex were born in Texas. Hunter-Reay was born in Dallas.

The most starts by a driver before winning the Indianapolis 500 is 13 (Sam Hanks 1957). Of the twenty-nine drivers yet to win the Indianapolis 500, Kanaan has made the most starts at 12.

Prediction
Chevrolet will win. Honda will have a good day and have at least three cars in the top ten. I am pulling for Oriol Serviá and Dreyer and Reinbold because they need a great day and a win just as bad if not worse than anyone else on the grid. Of course, I am pulling for Tony Kanaan. Picking one to win is tough in this day in age. I'll take (in no particular order), Ed Carpenter, Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay and I will give you the rest of the field. AJ Allmendinger will be the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of The Year. Carlos Muñoz will have a good day but I think he will fade towards the middle of the field. The Ganassi cars will be fine. Sleepers: Townsend Bell, Sébastien Bourdais and Josef Newgarden.