The field for the 94th running of the Indianapolis 500 is officially set, and it’s time to start making your picks, and drawing out of a hat. Here’s a look at the drivers, along with a brief summary of what fans can expect from each next Sunday afternoon.
1. Helio Castroneves: Four poles, three wins, the best equipment, the most money, and a first place starting position. That’s what I’d call a favorite. Personally, I don’t think he joins the ranks of A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, and Rick Mears as four-time winners of the event this year, though for the life of me I can’t find reason to support my opinion. Gut feeling, I guess.
2. Will Power: Power began IZOD IndyCar Series by winning the first two races, both coming on street courses. He’s not the most experienced ovalist out there, but he recorded a 5th place finish at last year’s 500, and he’s got some guy named Roger Penske backing him. I hear he knows a thing or two about winning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A victory would send the awesomely named Power into superstardom in the sport.
3. Dario Franchitti: The 2007 winner has been fast all (half) month, and seems to really be enjoying himself, a change for the notoriously prickly Scotsman. Chip Ganassi Racing is the only team realistically capable of running with the Penske boys, and Franchitti is patient and experienced enough that he’s all but guaranteed to be in contention near the end.
4. Ryan Briscoe: Hasn’t been as fast as teammates Castroneves and Power, but he has a pair of Top-10 finishes at the Speedway, and is coming off a 3rd place finish in the IndyCar points title last season. A strong contender, but not a favorite.
5. Alex Tagliani: Tagliani failed to qualify for the races last season, but took over Bruno Junquiera’s ride because of sponsorship issues. He didn’t waste the opportunity, finishing 11th and taking home Rookie of the Year honors. His FAZZT Race Team machine has been competitive all season, recording three Top-10 finishes, and Tags surprisingly held the provisional pole for most of Saturday afternoon. A nice pick if you’re looking outside the “Big Two” teams.
6. Scott Dixon: If I had to pick someone other than Castroneves to have their face engraved on the Borg Warner trophy, it’d be Dixon. He was unbeatably dominant at the Kansas race three weeks ago — the only oval race to date in the IndyCar series — and he’s won at Indy before. Don’t be surprised if Dixon and Helio recreate the famous Al Unser Jr./Emerson Fittipaldi duel of 1989.
7. Graham Rahal: The Rahal Letterman Racing Team made the decision just two short weeks ago to enter a car for Graham, and he surprised everyone by qualifying on the inside of Row Three. Rahal’s first two attempts at the Speedway both ended with him drifting up the track and slamming the wall on his volition. We’ll see this year if he’s learned from his mistakes.
8. Ed Carpenter: The surprise of Pole Day, Carpenter, an Indianapolis, Indiana native and Butler University graduate, has back-to-back Top-8 finishes at Indy. Considering his step-dad was just ousted from his position as head of the Speedway, a win next Sunday would be exponentially sweeter for Carpenter than any other driver.
9. Hideki Mutoh: Mutoh’s always competitive and fast, but he’s never finished higher than 3rd in an IndyCar event and isn’t viewed as a real threat to roll into victory circle.
10. Townsend Bell: The ultimate darkhorse candidate. Unemployed in the IndyCar Series, unknown outside racing circles, and starting the race on the inside of Row Four. He’s fast though, very fast. And he’s teamed up with Chip Ganassi, so you know he has the equipment to compete. It’ll take some luck, but Bell has a serious shot at pulling off the unimaginable.
11. Justin Wilson: The Dreyer and Reinbold team has been a nice surprise early in this season — Wilson ranks 6th in the points standings — but they simply don’t have the horses to pull off an Indy victory.
12. Raphael Matos: Matos was the fastest rookie qualifier last year, but crashed out on Lap 173. He’s won’t win the thing, but he’s worth keeping an eye on — Matos always manages to make an exciting/questionable/reckless move in every race.
13. Mario Moraes: Moraes is like Matos on steroids. He’s both faster and more aggressive, as evidenced by his 7th place start that resulted in a first lap crash and last place finish in 2009. Do yourself a favor and keep your binoculars trained on Moraes on Race Day, you won’t be bored.
14. Davey Hamilton: Hamilton was nearly forced out of racing after a horrific accident at Texas Motor Speedway in 2001, but he returned to Indy in 2007 and recorded a ninth place finish. He’s been back the past two years, and while he’ll have the good wishes of all the Indianapolis sports fans in attendance, he has no real shot at claiming a victory.
15. Mike Conway: Conway’s got a shot at the Top-10, but that’s as far as his expectations go.
16. Marco Andretti: Normally a top contender at the Speedway, the son of Michael Andretti has suffered through the woes of Andretti Autosport all month. If the team can find the magic elixir in time for Sunday’s race, you’ll see Marco quickly vault to the front. If they can’t, well, let’s just say Danica Patrick won’t be the only voice of criticism.
17. Ryan Hunter-Reay: see: Andretti, Marco
18. Dan Wheldon: One of four former winners in the field, Wheldon’s Panther Racing team disappointed on Pole Day. Bet on them being ready come Sunday. Wheldon finished second last year with Panther, and a similar result is well within his capabilities.
19. E.J. Viso: Viso’s yet to finish in his two previous trips to Indy.
20. Tomas Scheckter: My personal favorite, Scheckter probably doesn’t have the speed to compete over the course of the entire race, but if anyone can find extra miles-an-hour, it’s Scheckter.
21. Ana Beatriz: Finishing as the top female driver in the field would be a great accomplishment for the rookie. This is her first experience racing on an oval in an IndyCar.
22. Simona De Silvestro: Ditto for Silvestro. She’s actually made one oval start, but her strength is on the road courses.
23. Danica Patrick: What can you say about Patrick that hasn’t already been said. If she finishes in the Top-10, which is a definite possibility if her team can fix their troubles, she’ll gush with praise and positivity. If she struggles, stay out of her way. Way out her way.
24. Bertrand Baguette: DEFINITION — also-ran: “A horse that does not win, place, or show in a race.” That about sums up the rookie Baguette. Cool name though.
25. Bruno Junquiera: If you draw Junquiera’s name in your pool, don’t let the 25th starting place fool you. His 225.6 qualifying speed would have put him on the inside of Row Three if he’d been able to run on Pole Day.
26. Alex Lloyd: Lloyd’s won at the track before, albeit in an Indy Lights Series car, but still, that has to count for something right? He has the talent to record a Top-10 finish, but whether his Dale Coyne Racing machine is capable is another question all-together.
27. Mario Romancini: A rookie just looking to hang on.
28. John Andretti: A veteran just looking to hang on.
29. Sarah Fisher: Fisher has an affinity for the 500 like no other, so it was hard to see her crying over Jay Howard’s failed last minute qualification attempt. Hopefully next Sunday brings her something to smile about. Not wrecking the car would suffice I think.
30. Vitor Meira: A fan favorite with IndyCar fans, Meira looks to be saddled with a crummy car. Don’t rule out the wily veteran making things interesting, but A.J. Foyt’s only hope is quite the longshot.
31. Takuma Sato: A former F1 driver, Sato is a hard-charging speedster with minimal experience on ovals. Always a recipe for excitement.
32. Tony Kanaan: Things couldn’t have gone worse for Kanaan during quals, but he sucked it up and put the car in the field. I don’t know if he’ll have a car with winning potential, but I can guarantee he’s within the Top-20 after the first lap. Nobody jumps the start like T.K.
33. Sebastian Saavedra: Just lucky to be in the field. Really, really lucky.