We have been waiting for this. For months when the season first started, and then additional months when it was moved from May to August. We switched from saying “Is it May Yet” to “Is it August Yet”, and yes some of us used that as a password (not anymore, work makes me switch my passwords every six weeks). It is officially August. In two short days we will have the Indianapolis 500. Yes things are different, but what has changed is this race. Thirty-three drivers will still go two-hundred laps around the 2.5-mile track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We’ll see countless drivers have their hopes dashed, and only one driver will enter immortality.
Last year we were privy to a masterful race full of passes between leaders, a duel to the end, and some fancy footwork. Santino Ferrucci took home Rookie of the Year for the race, and earned it by not only being the highest finishing driver – but also some great moves to avoid a crash through the grass at IMS. Rossi made great moves and gains. As usual, a fuel issue messed up a pit stop, but a yellow flag helped him. He and Simon gave a great chase towards the end of the race. He finishes the race in second, and as he said the Chevys are fast, and he couldn’t catch up. Ultimately, the race belonged to Simon Pagenaud. He led 116 out of 200 laps. He ran a perfect race. No issues, no mistakes. He traded laps with Rossi the final ten laps, putting on a show for the fans.
This year will be interesting. We will see a true battle between the engine manufactures. Honda has proven that they perform the highest non-tow speeds, but the Chevy cars are able to cut through traffic quicker. Both are necessary in a race, but with eight out of the nine starts being Hondas…one of them gets a good breakaway and they could lead for quite some time. That’s not saying Hondas don’t have the speed in traffic, earlier in practice Marco Andretti laid down a lap with one of the fastest times recorded. He later went on to win the pole, ending a thirty-plus year dry spell for the Andretti family. Of course he still has to finish the race, and the Andretti Curse is a real thing. Of course we did have a Chevy in the Top 9, and any driver is going to put down speed if they get clean air. It is going to be interesting to see if there is this trade off of powers between Honda and Chevy.
Track temperature is also going to be a huge factor during this race. This year, for television reasons, the race starts at 2:30 pm. That track will have countless hours of relentless summer sun heating it up. When that track gets hot, the drivers can’t make the passes. When talking about qualifications, JR Hildebrand indicated, “after 115 or 120 degrees track surface, it starts to get really slick out there”. Of course the weather in Indiana has been a bit up and down in August we started the month off with unseasonably cool temperatures. The forecast can say one thing, but it can change by the time we all wake up on race day morning. Also speaking of weather, late-August in Indiana can bring summer storms. Indiana summer storms aren’t cute. They’re sudden massive deluges that will flood that track. That 2:30pm start time is a gamble.
Who do I think will win? Rossi. He didn’t have a great showing in qualifications (he made the Fast 9 but couldn’t get speed out of that car). That tends to light that competitive fire even more in him. He’s not had a fantastic year and I do think he’ll take the days between qualifications weekend and Carb Day to get everything locked down. Another good bet is going to be Zach Veach. Zach has been the slowest of the Andretti Autosport cars, so however you bet he’s going to be the cheapest, but he’s gone out daily and shown consistent improvement. I don’t think he’ll win, but he’ll place higher than he started and hopefully his car doesn’t catch on fire again.
I would caution you against putting money on Helio Castroneves. I know. You’re going to want to. It’s Helio. Maybe he’ll win his fourth. He won’t. It’s been a few years since he’s had the full time INDYCAR ride. Plus he’s starting in traffic, and Helio likes to get up front and lead. Most of his wins have been like that. Wish him good luck, be nostalgic, but don’t bet on him. Also, since we choose first outs on the podcast (which you can listen to our latest episode on the 500 here), don’t put any money on Patricio O’Ward. He’s a good driver and he has talent. However he’s starting mid-pack. That’s always where things get a bit pear-shaped and he’s the rookie in that bunch – as he did not race in this race last year. I don’t think it’ll be his fault, but he won’t have that experience of Indy to guide him through the bunching up in the middle.
I know that for all of us, Sunday is going to feel weird. All traditions have been put aside for this year. Even if I wasn’t going to the race, there was coffee and race traffic with my mom. For years now it’s been getting ready and walking through Speedway to the track. That won’t happen this year. Don’t let that stand in the way of enjoyment. Make this a special year with other activities. I’m watching in a backyard with friends in Speedway, we may not be at the track, but we’ll hear the cars. Friends are still coming in to watch the race (on television we don’t have magic passes) and we’re doing a lot of touristy things in Speedway. If I can recommend you do one thing, it would be to support your local businesses. Grab adult beverages from a local brewer or distillery. Order in food from a local restaurant. This goes double for anyone in or around Speedway. I know this sucks, but we still get to see the Indianapolis 500. We will still see amazing racing.