NTT IndyCar Series: The Indianapolis 500 Presented by Gainbridge Preview

Front Row starters for the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway: Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon and Marco Andretti. © [Andy Clary/ Spacesuit Media]

Front Row starters for the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway: Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon and Marco Andretti. © [Andy Clary/ Spacesuit Media]

by Paul Gohde

It’s not May. Memorial Day is past and NFL football is about to start. Leaves will be falling soon. But here we are, previewing the 104th Indianapolis 500; a race that will at best be viewed on television or for some through a small opening in the outer fence of the track while sitting on lawn chairs off of 16th street in Speedway, IN as some do when no fans are permitted to attend the race. Such is the situation in the year of the COVID 19. Some say that we are lucky to be having the race at all, and that is probably true. But practice and qualifying are over and Carb Day practice and the race itself are on the horizon. All we have left to do is cheer for Fernando Alonso in what could be his final 500, see what Marco Andretti can do as he leads the field to the green from an unfamiliar starting spot, and enjoy the ups and downs that are the Indianapolis 500. “Gentlemen…”

Race Facts: This is the 104th 500 and speeds in practice and qualifying were increased by a turbo boost which added 45hp to qualifying speeds that came within 5-6 mph of the four-lap record set by Arie Luyendyk (236.986mph) in 1996. However, that boost is not available on race day. The race continues to be 200 laps/500 miles and should take a bit less than three hours to complete depending on what happens on the 2.5-mile, four-corner oval. Team Penske has won the 500 18 times dating back to Mark Donahue’s 1972 victory for Roger. Andretti Autosport is next with five. Twenty-one drivers have won from the pole giving Marco Andretti about a 20% hope of a win. As has been the count since 1991, three veteran drivers have each won here four times. AJ Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears have accounted for 12 trips to Victory Lane among them. Helio Castroneves will likely take his last 500 ride for Team Penske as he strives to join the “Four Wins” club in what could be his final 500.

Recent Race History: 2019 winner Simon Pagenaud became the first French driver to win the 500 in more than 100 years. He drove his Penske Chevrolet around Alexander Rossi’s Andretti Autosport Honda with less than two laps remaining for his first 500 win. He also won the Indy Grand Prix earlier in the month and captured the 500 Pole for a sweep of May.

2020 Season So Far: Standings: 1. Scott Dixon (3 wins) 244 points… 2. Pagenaud (1) 195…3. Josef Newgarden (1) 191…4. Pato O’Ward (0) 162…5. Will Power (0)142… and 9. Felix Rosenqvist (1) 120.

Notes: TV: Final Practice, Friday,11:00 a.m. ET, NBCSN…Pre-Race, Sunday,1:00 p.m. ET, NBC…Race 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC…There are eight previous 500 winners in the field, the most since 1992: Castroneves (3), Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Rossi, Takuma Sato, Will Power and Pagenaud each with one…Five rookies are in the 500 field: Oliver Askew, Dalton Kellett, Pato O’Ward, Alex Palou and Rinus VeeKay…Two ovals remain on the IndyCar schedule, both at Gateway Motorsports Park on August 29/30…Johnny Mantz was the most recent of four drivers to finish the race without making a pit stop. He was seventh in 1949…The winner’s Borg-Warner trophy was first handed out in 1935 and was valued at $10,000. Today it is estimated to be worth $3.5 million…The Indianapolis Speedway grounds cover 963 acres and has 17 grandstands and six tunnels…The 500 record for race entries occurred in 1984 when 117 cars filed for garage spots. Many of those, however, were back-up or reserve cars in case of an accident or other trouble during the long “Month of May”.

The Grid: Just 33 cars were entered; the smallest number in several years. Every car entered qualified for the race and fortunately no team went home empty handed. As to the lineup, drivers from 13 countries will give the race a truly international feel. Four Andretti Autosport cars are in the first three rows for Honda while the lone Chevrolet in the “Fast Nine” is Rinus VeeKay (4th).

Our Take: It’s always difficult to predict the outcome of any 500-mile race, but the Indianapolis 500 is even more so. With four turns, high speeds, and a multitude of pit stops, truly anything can, and usually does happen. This season of the pandemic has made us all alert as to what odd/unexpected things can and do happen. They all seem to have become the norm. With no fans in the world’s largest capacity sports venue, some of the excitement and build-up to the start will have the edge taken off. Hopefully, that will be remedied by 2021 and that 500 will return to being the race that we’ve known for the past 109 years with all its traditions.

They Said It: Marco Andretti, No. 98 U.S. Concrete Andretti/Herta/Curb-Agajanian Honda: “I was emotional. I was screaming after the (pole) run. The place means so much to us as a family…I think coming off of how bad last year was for me in the race (finished 26th, five laps down), it made this so much better…I think (the car) is a collective effort, honestly. I think it’s the guys rubbing on the car in the shop all the way through the off season. We put an emphasis on this race and Honda bought it as far as outright pace …Horsepower makes life so much better here at the Speedway…I was joking with dad (team owner Michael) that this is probably my third legitimate shot as far as outright pace in 15 years…When I lost the 500 in 2006 you saw me mad because I knew that it is possible 15 years later I (still) haven’t won yet.”

Fernando Alonso, No.66 Ruoff Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet: “I approach this race (he qualified 26th) knowing the next two years is going to be impossible to come (to the 500). I will have to miss qualifying to do so. I will not be with McLaren next year in F1 (having signed a two-year contract with Renault). This is the way it is at the moment. I’m here ready to enjoy the event. Let’s see in the future what are the possibilities. If you eventually win one day the race, maybe that opens the possibility for different things.”

Next Race: August 29/30 Gateway Motorsports Park, Bommarito Automotive Group Doubleheader, Madison, Illinois





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