Drivers eagerly awaiting Sunday’s Indianapolis 500

Indianapolis, Ind. – With the 93rd Indianapolis 500 only a few days away, the 33 drivers have returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to begin final preparations for one of the biggest races in the world. Preceding the famed race, they have been engrossed in personal appearances, sponsor functions and continuous media interviews, and next of their agenda is Carb Day — the all-important final hour of practice before Sunday’s race.

Front-row drivers Helio Castroneves, teammate Ryan Briscoe and 2007 winner Dario Franchitti have the prime starting spots for the 200-lap race, but they all understand you can’t win the race on the first lap and you must be around to finish. Regardless of their starting position or their years of experience, the drivers can’t wait for the action to begin.

“Waiting is not for me, even though I have been doing this since I was 11 years old,” Castroneves said. “Let’s get moving. It is so great on Sunday morning when you approach Gasoline Alley and the crowd is going crazy. All of a sudden you realize you are part of the show. When you start the engine, it is such a great feeling.”

The two-time winner expressed his confidence in the race’s outcome. “You give it 100 per cent, but you have barriers and obstacles that can stop you from winning. While I am the one driving the car, there are other things that are out of my control.”
Leading the field to the green flag is a thrill for Castroneves, and he likened the start to releasing wild animals from a cage.

Teammates Franchitti and 2008 winner Scott Dixon are confident that their Target Chip Ganassi team should be race favorites, even though others are conceding the race to Team Penske.

“The race outcome is fairly wide open,” Franchitti said. “Two years ago people didn’t even think about me and a few others, but we showed them. My desire to win it again is stronger than ever, but you can do is give it your best.”

Dixon, too, exuded confidence. “It will be tough to pass during the first 15 laps but after that, things should shake out. One thing you can’t afford to do is lose spots.” The talented driver regards Team Penske, Andretti Green Racing and a handful of others as favorites.

One thing he knows is that Ganassi has left no stone unturned in his quest for victory. “Chip (Ganassi) has missed out on a few that he should have won,” Dixon noted. “And he puts the 500 at the top of his list, and the team has been pushing very hard to succeed. Everyone is giving 110 per cent.”

Asked how it would feel to become a repeat winner, Dixon stated, “To be on the short list of repeat winners would be amazing to do.” But he believes the cars are too much alike for anyone to be a distinct favorite.

Graham Rahal starts from the inside of the second row and he would like nothing better than to become the youngest winner. “It would be hard to put in words, and I would love to win the race for Paul (Newman) and the team,” the second-generation driver said. “It would be pretty cool and would be great for the sport, plus my life would never be the same.”

Marco Andretti starts eighth and he believes Carb Day will tell his team how well they can be expected to do. “I’ve gotten so close in the past that it makes me even hungrier to win it,” he said. “It hurts to come so close and not win.”

Crowd favorite Danica Patrick said it will take a lot of luck to win the race and also a great deal of patience has to come into play. Michael Andretti heads her team and she confirmed that listens closely to his advice. She indicated you have to try very hard and not have to second-guess yourself the day after the race.

Raphael Matos, the fastest rookie qualifier, holds down the 12th starting spot, and he’s a dark horse going into the race. But his Luczo Dragon team seems to have the wherewithal to make a run for the front. For guidance, he leans on four-time winner Rick Mears and previous winner Gil de Ferran. Matos indicated the race is more mentally demanding than it is on the physical side.

Fourteenth-place starter Vitor Meira, who races under the A. J. Foyt colors, said he intends to get at least seven hours sleep the night before the race. “I must sleep well, so I want to wake up feeling good,” the Brazilian said. Driving for Foyt can have its pluses and minuses, but so far, Meira has only seen the positive side. “A. J. (Foyt) has been awesome with me. He knows everything about this place and racing, so anything he says I try to absorb. A. J. talks to me and everyone else at the same level, plus he is open to ideas.”

Former winner Dan Wheldon starts far back in the 18th spot, but he is confident he can march through the field. “You know who is around you and you know how they are going to be,” he said. “You must get into a good rhythm and start to work your way forward. It is not rocket science and you must understand what your car is capable of.”

He said his Panther team made significant progress during Sunday’s final practice session.

Expectant father Alex Lloyd has a double dose of pressure come race day as his wife, Samantha, may well give birth to their second child on or before race day. Assuming she hasn’t given birth by Sunday, she has pledged to be in his pit stall during the race, even though her doctor indicates she should be resting.

For John Andretti, qualifying was like winning the race, and he’s thrilled just to be in the starting field. “We took some big chances at the end, but they paid off,” he said. “I have great confidence in my team and when Larry Curry said it would be all right, I believed him.” The popular driver received lots of advice as the clock wound down, but his radio wasn’t working well, so he didn’t hear them. “Johnny (Rutherford) was trying to talk with me, but I couldn’t hear him as I was talking with my team.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay, who ALSO qualified at the last minute, will start 32nd but he’s thrilled to be there. “Starting in the last row hopefully just makes for a happy story at the end,” he said. “These guys have built a fast race car and we will be tuning on it during the race. In my rookie year in 2008, I learned a lot in traffic. A year ago guys that were faster than me all month I passed during the race, which gives me optimism this time around. I won’t take any huge chances but I must make things happen. It is a day of hurried patience.”

Hurried patience applies to all 33 starters and they would like nothing better than to flip the calendar forward to get the Greatest Spectacle in Racing underway. As someone said, one driver will exit the race happy and 32 others will be mad.

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