It’s said to be the world’s biggest and perhaps most famous motor race. The fearsome Indianapolis Motor Speedway will play host to the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 this weekend. Badger GP examines the drivers who should, could and probably won’t win one of the biggest prizes in racing.
The Former Winners
Six former Indy 500 winners will grace the class of 2016, the most recent being last year’s winner Juan Pablo Montoya. The feisty Columbian currently drives for the mighty Penske team and must fancy his chances of back-to-back 500s to go with the one he bagged back in 2000. If he does win, he would become only the sixth man in IndyCar history to win back-to-back Indy 500 races.
A troubled qualifying run sees Montoya start from 17th on the grid. His form so far in 2016 hasn’t been fantastic, despite a season opening win in St Petersburg. Since then he’s seen team-mate Simon Pagenaud storm to a hat-trick of wins, but as last year’s Indy 500 proved, you can never really rule Montoya out.
Penske’s other prior Indy 500 winner is Helio Castroneves. The popular Brazilian has won the race on three occasions, his most recent triumph in 2009. Of the four Penske entries, Castroneves has been in the weakest form, and by some margin. He hasn’t won a race since Detroit in 2014 and has struggled for consistency since then. Castroneves starts from ninth having made it comfortably to the Fast Nine group during qualifying. A strong second in the Angie’s List Indy GP at least leaves Castroneves with some hope for a fourth Indy 500 win on May 29th.
The oldest winner in the field will be Buddy Lazier. The forty-eight year old American won the 500 back in 1996 when it was part of the Indy Racing League. This year he will drive the number four Lazier Burns Racing Chevrolet powered car. He’s the least likely former winner to add to his tally, given he hasn’t done more than one IndyCar race in a season since 2005; he has failed to even qualify for two of his last four Indy 500 attempts. For 2016, Lazier unfortunately will start a predictable last on Sunday.
2014 Indy 500 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay is the only current former winner who will be using Honda power. Driving for Andretti Autosport, American Hunter-Reay could spring a surprise on the more fancied Penske and Chip Ganassi squads.
The Hondas have been going well during towed runs in practice at the IMS but beating a pack of four Penskes and four Ganassi cars won’t be easy. A great qualifying run saw Hunter-Reay bag third spot and the last place on the front row of the starting grid.
Four time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon won the Indy 500 in 2008 from pole for the Ganassi squad, but bad luck has meant he has only returned to the top three on one occasion since then. Dixon has been in great form in practice so far in 2016, he posted an un-towed 225.237 on day three. His experience must make him one of the favourites to pick up a second Indy 500. A thirteenth place in qualifying will make Dixon’s job harder than he would have liked.
The Kiwi’s Ganassi team-mate Tony Kanaan is the last former 500 winner on the entry list. Kanaan spent years trying to win his first Indy 500 and finally succeeded in 2013 on his eleventh attempt. He has failed to win in IndyCar since the 2014 finale but Kanaan is a man of such character it would be foolish to write him off. Last year he led the race for thirty laps before he lost control and slammed into the wall at turn three. Kanaan will start a lowly eighteenth in 2016.
The man of the moment is Simon Pagenaud. The Frenchman has won three races on the bounce and is desperate to win his first Indy 500 to stretch his winning run to four. Having gone winless in 2015 and poor previous Indy 500 form suggests that Pagenaud would have to pull something incredibly special out of the bag to become France’s fourth Indy 500 champion.
Penske team-mate and 2014 IndyCar champion Will Power should be a stinging thorn in Pagenaud’s side. Power finished second to Montoya in last year’s Indy 500. It does only feel like a matter of time before Power wins the 500 and what a time it would be to do it on the 100th running of the race. Pagenaud and Power will line up sixth and eighth respectively for race day.
James Hinchcliffe winning the 100th Indy 500 after his terrible life threatening crash last year would truly be the stuff of fairytales. The Mayor of Hinchtown slammed his car on pole with a wonderfully consistent run on Pole Day to take one step closer to that fairytale. Hinchcliffe is a big fan favourite with the IndyCar community so you can be sure if he’s leading on the final lap the roar will be deafening. By winning the 500 he’d also manage something his late hero Greg Moore tragically was never given the chance to do.
Marco Andretti came within a lap of winning the Indy 500 as a rookie in 2006. Sadly since then he’s never finished higher than third as the famed ‘Andretti Curse’ continues to plague the family at the world’s most famous motor race. Marco will start this year’s 500 from fourteenth place but looked to have very promising pace all through practice in the week’s leading up to the race itself. Time will tell if the curse has finally been lifted from a family desperate for another Indy win.
Youngsters Josef Newgarden, Carlos Munoz and Mikhail Aleshin must fancy their chances of a maiden Borg Warner trophy themselves after all three made the Fast Nine on Pole Day. Munoz completely outshone his Colombian compatriot Montoya to grab fifth while Newgarden made sure he was the fastest of the fourteen Americans gracing the 2016 grid in second. Aleshin spent the majority of 2015 on the sidelines after a horror crash at the 2014 Fontana finale. He hasn’t been in the best form so far this season but has been very consistent during the Month of May thus far. The Russian qualified in seventh.
Before May you’d have plunked Townsend Bell under the file ‘no-hopers’. However some fantastic practice runs and a hugely impressive qualifying run sees him start the 100th Indy 500 in fourth place. Bell only runs in one IndyCar race each year, the 500. His highest previous finish was fourth in 2009.
Fellow American Alexander Rossi would have been another driver one wouldn’t have given much hope to prior to this month. A poor start to 2016 for the IndyCar rookie and a splash of bad luck has meant only one top ten finish for him so far. Like Bell a brilliant run on qualifying day, during which Rossi spent most of it inside the top nine, leaves Rossi with a fighting chance at the win. He’ll start from eleventh.
Starting just ahead of Rossi will be IndyCar’s ‘supersub’ Oriol Servià. He’s yet to win in IndyCar but as we’ve seen over the years anything is possible at Indianapolis. A well handling Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car could finally hand Servià a maiden win at the biggest race of them all.
Last year’s Indy pole man was Ed Carpenter. The full time team owner and part time race driver has blinding speed on occasion and with three previous IndyCar wins under his belt it’s clear he has what it takes to be an Indy 500 champion. This year he’ll have to do it the hard way from twentieth.
Both Sebastian Bourdais and Graham Rahal will be hoping for a slice of luck on race day after rather woeful qualifying runs. Bourdais will be taking part in his sixth Indy 500 with a best result of seventh in 2014. He managed nineteenth on Pole Day.
Rahal was perhaps the most disappointed driver in the entire field after qualifying. A storming season last year saw him very close to picking up a first IndyCar season crown. Consistent form so far in 2016 showed promise ahead of the 500, including fourth at the Indy GP two weeks ago. Instead Rahal has been all at sea on the oval in a badly handling Rahal Letterman Lanigan machine. He starts from twenty-sixth.
Glad To Be Taking Part
Former Formula One backmarker Max Chilton won’t be looking to win his first Indy 500 next weekend. Instead the young Brit will be pleased just to finish and gain valuable experience at the fearsome 2.5 mile oval. A crash in qualifying left him with it all to do on Pole Day. He’ll start from twenty-second, a position sadly familiar to him from his F1 days.
Grandson of the late Jack Brabham, Matthew Brabham joins Chilton as a youngster who will simply be looking to finish the 500 miles unscathed and considerable more knowledge than he entered May with. Twenty-seventh was a decent effort for the Australian considering his experience.
Perhaps one of the more heartfelt stories to come from the 2016 Indy 500 thus far has been that of Stefan Wilson. Brother of the late Justin Wilson, so tragically killed in an accident late last year, Stefan is racing this month partly for his brother and also partly for a number of charities. He will start from thirtieth on the grid thanks to help from some of Justin’s 2015 Indy 500 notes and will race with half of his helmet adorned in his colours. Whatever Stefan’s outcome on Sunday, Justin would be very proud of his younger sibling.
Regardless of experience, starting position and past results the winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 will forever be considered an IndyCar legend. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s almost time to start your engines!