The greatest race in the world generally has some interesting storylines associated with it, and when they drop the green flag at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this Sunday, there will be no shortage of such for this year’s Indianapolis 500. From a battle for supremacy between engine manufacturers, to the presence of a revered Formula One champion in the starting field, there’s more than enough to entice the hard core race fan and plenty to draw the interest of those still riding the wave of excitement generated from last year’s celebrated 100th running of the event.
As always, the Verizon IndyCar series serves as a testing ground for the automotive industry, and currently there is a healthy but contentious battle between Chevrolet and Honda in terms of not only winning the series title, but also the marquee event at IMS. While both have had their day in the sun historically, Honda has shown a resurgence this season, and their prowess was on full display during qualifications for the 500, with two of the top three spots in the front row secured by those piloting cars powered by Honda. 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon of Ganassi Racing set the pace and captured the coveted pole position with an average speed of 232.164 mph, which was nearly one-half-mph quicker than Ed Carpenter’s Chevrolet-powered mount, which came in at a rather stout 231.664 to capture the second starting spot. 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi completed the front row with an average speed of 231.487.
While pole qualifying was, as always, dramatic, the even bigger story at the Speedway this month has been the arrival of Formula One stalwart Fernado Alonso, who has opted to miss the Monaco Grand Prix this year in F1 and run the Indianapolis 500 for McLaren and Andretti Autosport.
The ultra-talented Spaniard has adapted to the high-speed oval at 16th and Georgetown in a manner that can only be described as remarkably smooth, and the ease with which he has orchestrated the transition clearly has not gone unnoticed by his fellow competitors.
While his team is already stacked with two former 500 champions, Alonso has drawn the majority of the attention, and the first-time participant has brilliantly balanced his media obligations with his responsibilities behind the wheel. He, too, showed muscle during qualifications when he registered an average speed of 231.300, which was good for fifth on the starting grid. With a balanced car and quality pit stops on Race Day, he’s more than a legitimate threat to win the coveted event in his initial foray. That would undoubtedly set off an international media frenzy and provide even more spotlight on both his storied driving career and the Indianapolis 500 itself. “Fernandomania” is real, and it’s a great shot in the arm for the series.
Notes: Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport has had a quiet but quick lead-up to the race and is firmly in the mix to win it for the second time in his career. The 2014 winner, who is worth the price of admission in terms of the aggressive manner in which he approaches race restarts after caution situations, will more than likely be in the mix all day. Ditto for 2013 Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan. While he could not match his teammate Dixon’s pole speed, Kanaan can manage a race car as well as anyone in the business and will be a force to be reckoned with.
Perennial juggernaut Penske Racing was left on the outside looking in for Race Day as a result of their unusually poor showing in qualifications. Will Power was the quickest of their impressive stable of drivers with an average speed of 230.200, which was nearly 2 mph off the pole speed. All the Penske pilots stated their Chevrolet-powered cars were well-balanced, and that alone makes them a concern to the Honda drivers on Race Day.
There are a total of seven former winners in the field for the 101st Indianapolis 500, with Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya and Buddy Lazier joining the aforementioned in the fray.
Sebastien Bourdais survived a horrifying crash during qualifications and is resting comfortably in the hospital locally after undergoing surgery to repair multiple pelvic fractures and a fractured hip. Telemetry showed the G-force load to be at 100 upon impact, as the car was traveling over 200 mph when he drove nearly head-on into the wall. Safety measures that have evolved in the past 20 years clearly saved his life. The talented Frenchman should be able to drive again, but the best news of the month is he’s still on this earth with his wife and children.
Tickets for the Indianapolis 500 are still available and can be purchased at the IMS ticket office located at 16th Street and Georgetown Road. If you cannot attend, the race will also be broadcast live on the IMA Radio Network and can be heard locally on 1070 AM and 107.5 FM. The ABC telecast, while blacked out locally, will be rebroadcast Sunday evening on WRTV-6.
Danny Bridges, who will be attending his 48th consecutive Indy 500 this weekend and predicts Marco Andretti will pull in to Victory Lane, can be reached at (317) 370-8447 or at Bridgeshd@aol.com.