No. 946
May 16, 2018
 

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Fumes


Monday
May182009

FUMES

May 20, 2009



Compelling stories power the 2009 Indianapolis 500.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

(Posted 5/18, 10:30AM) Detroit.
Next Sunday, a field of 33 drivers will take the green flag for the 2009 Indianapolis 500, and compelling stories abound throughout the starting grid. It's shaping up to be a titanic battle between the three most powerful teams in the IndyCar Series, obviously, with Penske Racing, Ganassi Racing and Andretti Green Racing leading the charge with a stellar group of drivers each capable of a win, and it would be no surprise if the winner came from these prominent racing stables.

Will pole-sitter Helio Castroneves win his third "500" after emerging from the struggle of his life in a Miami court room? Or will his teammate Ryan Briscoe - starting next to Castroneves in the front row - be out to replace the disappointment of missing the top qualifying spot with his first win in the Memorial Day classic and the fifteenth for the vaunted Penske Team? But then again Dario Franchitti should have a say in the matter too. Starting from the third spot in his Target Chip Ganassi Racing entry, Franchitti is hell-bent on putting his forgettable NASCAR experience behind him from last season and capturing his second win in the greatest single motor race in the world. And then there's Scott Dixon, the leader of the Ganassi Racing operation and one of the top talents in the sport, who will be starting from the middle of the second row and going for his second consecutive win. He will be tough on Sunday. And Penske and Ganassi both have drivers in their third entries who could be a factor in "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing," with Will Power for Penske and Alex Lloyd for Ganassi both having enough raw talent to win even though their lack of Indy 500 racing experience would suggest otherwise.

And what about Andretti Green? Tony Kanaan is clearly overdue for a win at The Speedway, and I would expect him to be right there all day on Sunday. And let's not forget Danica Patrick, who seems to thrive on the sport's grandest stage and who is now a legitimate threat to win the Indianapolis 500 every time she starts the race. And then there's Marco Andretti, the talented youngster who has yet to deliver on the ridiculously high expectations set for him, but who is capable of running up front on Sunday. And Hideki Mutoh, another tremendously talented young gun who seems to have taken to the Speedway.

And what about the wild cards, like Graham Rahal, Paul Tracy and Dan Wheldon? Rahal - at 20 years old the youngest driver in the field - is rolling off in fourth position after a terrific qualifying run, the exact position his father Bobby started when he won the "500" back in 1986. And Tracy, the now grizzled open-wheel veteran with the kind of race craft and Indy 500 experience that could definitely be a factor next Sunday. Even though Tracy feels the place owes him one don't expect him to wait for a handout, he'll go after his first victory in the Indianapolis 500 flat-out. And Dan Wheldon, the 2005 Indy 500 winner now back with his original team - Panther Racing - after playing musical chairs and becoming the odd man out at Ganassi, will be out to prove that his first win was no fluke while taking his home boys at Panther to their first victory.

And what about the two speed merchants, Mario Moraes, who starts from the seventh slot and who has been blistering fast all month running alone or in traffic and Raphael Matos, the fastest rookie qualifier in the field and the driver who many insiders feel has as much talent as anybody on the grid? Don't be surprised if either one of these guys is contending with 10 laps to go in the race.

And there could be a few surprises on Sunday, too, with guys like Bruno Junqueira (since replaced by Alex Tagliani, see "Horizon" - ed.), Robert Doornbos (another rookie with deep open-wheel experience) and Tomas Scheckter in the field.

(For the record, I see the race coming down to a race-long fight between Castroneves, Briscoe, Franchitti, Dixon, Kanaan and Wheldon. But my pick for Sunday is Helio Castroneves, it would be so Hollywood after his struggles, but then again so fitting too. My dark horse picks are Graham Rahal, Danica Patrick and Raphael Matos.)

At any rate this will be the closest matched field by time in Indianapolis 500 history. 3.0967 seconds separate fastest qualifier Helio Castroneves and slowest qualifier Ryan Hunter-Reay. The previous record was 3.2422 seconds set in 2001. This is a factor of the spec-racing nature of the cars, of course, but because of that it's also realistic to assume that any one of 15 drivers could come away with the win on Sunday.

So those are the personalities, compelling stories and statistics that set the table for next Sunday, but as racing enthusiasts know, the Indianapolis 500 is much bigger than that.

Incredibly enough, the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 will be celebrated in just two short years - 2011 - and it remains the single most important motor race in the world. Despite all of its problems - both self-induced and thrust upon it over the last decade - the Indianapolis 500 is still the one race every driver and team owner dreams of winning and covets more than any other. And at the same time the Indianapolis Motor Speedway - an enduring monument to speed that has withstood the test of time through world wars, triumphs and tragedies and economic travails large and small - remains the greatest race track in the world.

There is nothing, and I mean nothing like the start of the Indianapolis 500. It's simply the most electrifying moment in all of sport. For those who have never experienced it in person, you must put it on your "things to do before I pass on" list, and for those who have experienced it firsthand and plan on going again, you know you'll never forget it - or get enough of it.

Here's to a safe and exciting race.

 

See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" hosted by Autoline Detroit's John McElroy, with Peter De Lorenzo and auto industry PR veteran Jason Vines this Thursday evening, May 21, at 7:00PM EDT at .

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Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD

(Courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Indianapolis, IN, 1965. The great A.J. Foyt waits to go out for another practice session at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Considered to be one of the greatest drivers this country has ever produced, if not the greatest (the debate over A.J. vs. Mario will go on forever), Anthony Joseph Foyt Jr. left an enduring mark on the motorsports scene. The Houston, Texas native began racing in 1957 and went on to accomplish many spectacular feats during his career. Foyt became the first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 (1961, 1964, 1967, 1977) and competed in 35 straight Memorial Day classics (1958 - 1992). He also recorded 67 victories and 7 national championships surviving many wrecks and personal injuries along the way. He won the 24 Hours of Le Mans co-driving with Dan Gurney in 1967 and the Daytona 500 in 1971 driving a Wood Brothers Mercury, becoming the only driver to have won the Indianapolis 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Daytona 500. Foyt was also a co-driver on winning teams at the Daytona 24 Hours twice (1983 and 1985) and the the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1985. Foyt won in everything he competed in including Indy cars, USAC stock cars, midgets, sprints, NASCAR (7 wins, 9 poles) and sports cars. He also won the International Race of Champions twice ('76 & '77), back when it was still considered an accomplishment. Brilliant behind the wheel but cantankerous and head strong outside of the cockpit, Foyt nonetheless remains one of the sport's all-time greatest champions.

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