Sunday is opening day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and while I still have yet to ever be there in person (though plans are being set for '09), I can say I just like many out there I am pretty excited about the start of the "greatest spectacle in racing". I'll be mostly glued to live timing and scoring and live video through the awesomeness of indycar.com through the month as usual.
For those who are needing it however, I offer a quick rundown of the entrants for this years Indy 500 pointing out the things I think people are generally most interested in; Where all these guys are coming from, as THE biggest race in the world attracts people from all points on the globe, and what are their chances (as of today before any practicing has commenced).
Car # - Driver - Hometown -Win/Threat expectancy
5 = no surprise if they win
4 = not a total surprise just not heavily favored
3 = can win with the right things going their way
2 = would surprise & would warrant crazy excitement and awe
1 = a surprise so unexpected half the field must have been black flagged for going too fast?
#2 - A.J. Foyt IV - Hockley, Texas - 4
A.J. IV is starting to really mesh with his team and the car is getting stronger and qualifying/running better in each showing. However remembering how long this race is and that A.J. may be doing a good deal of mid-pack racing there's the added chance of getting collected in an incident.
#3 - Helio Castroneves - Sao Paulo, Brazil - 5
Helio has won this thing twice before and is usually a lock for at least the front two rows if not front row. Now add up that 2 of his new friends Julianne Hough and Floyd Mayweather will be there, he'll be wanting to show off. The only thing of caution so far is that it seems like Helio is strongly pushing for the one thing he doesn't have on the resume yet (IndyCar Season Championship) however don't forget Helio has long stated his desire to be in the 500's 4-win club.
#4 - Vitor Meira - Brasilia, Brazil - 3
I'm a huge Vitor fan but the '3' seems to fit better at this point as the team has thus far run into a lot of bad luck; and its not the luck but the nature that which most people get down with bad luck I'm worried about. Panther Racing having yet to capture the elusive 500 win, and Vitor yet to capture the elusive win... look for everyone in the speedway and media center to be applauding if it happens.
#5 Oriol Servia - Pals, Spain - 3
Oriol and KV Racing Technology have shown thus far to be a little ahead of the curve on getting to know oval track racing. Add that to having a full month to prepare for Indy and you have a legit threat from the lone entry from Spain; plus his helmet is simply badass.
#6 Ryan Briscoe - Sydney, Australia - 4
One of the two Aussies this year and of the two has better team for this win. Briscoe himself has shown a lot of promise in his return to the ICS but I'm not sure yet if that adds up to a win so much as it may just add up to a Top 7. Theres no doubt he has the drive to win, but I just wouldn't consider him a favorite right now.
#7 Danica Patrick - Roscoe, Illinois - 4
If this race were 200 or 300 miles I'd knock that down to a 3 but being 500 miles long actually plays to Danica's advantage. She will start the race with heavy understeer and will need to make adjustments but with the longer race will have the time to really benefit the changes.
#8 Will Power - Toowoomba, Australia - 2
Like his teammate Oriol; he and KV Racing have shown they can get their cars up to speed, unfortunately this year twice now has Will had a bit of bad luck on the two ovals thus far. Indy is different though, I look at Will as currently the most driven young rookie-ish driver in the field, with the talent to reinforce that drive. If Will can get out of traffic his chances of winning almost double.
#9 Scott Dixon - Auckland, New Zealand - 5
I would think that most are pegging Dixon as the favorite going into May and why not, he should have won Kansas if not for bad luck in pit-timing, and was only beat in Motegi by better strategy. The Target cars are running great so far so its really just a matter of the circumstances of avoiding bad luck (incidents, car parts and pit timing) for Dixon.
#10 Dan Wheldon - Emberton, England - 5
I think 2007 was actually good for Dan because it probably humbled him some and showed that being overly focused/closed is a possibility. I put his chances slightly lower than Dixon for simply that he's a more aggressive/less patient driver which can get you into an incident especially with a longer race; but I think fresh off Kansas, Dan is having fun again and not only is that is great to see but its when Dan is at his best.
#11 - Tony Kanaan - Salvador, Bahia, Brazil - 5
Tony right now is my favorite. He not only has the car, but probably has the most Indy motivation right now. Lets take a look: 2002 led 23 laps got taken out in accident, 3rd in 2003, 2004 leads 28 laps but rain ends race before he gets chance to really run at Rice, 2006 led 12 laps but finished 6th & the worst probably in 2007 leads 83 laps, and should have won until he spun to avoid another crashing car.
#12 - Tomas Scheckter - Capetown, South Africa - 4
The worst part of 2007's 500 was wondering what could have been had Hornish not overly aggressively tried to block Tomas ruining both of their races in the process. Tomas was running a mad pace and most likely had a car to contend for the win. Add that to Tomas's other disappointing list of 500s and the fact that his only real schedule this year is the 500 and add that the car was performing great in Kansas before he had his day ruined twice and it looks good for Tomas in May.
#14 - Darren Manning - North Yorkshire, England - 3
Very funny man who needs more camera time; I'm not sure what to think yet about Darren's chances. One day they have the car feeling great, the next day its being pulled out the race cause it won't handle. when its handling fine though Darren is right in the mix of things. However if Foyt Racing does run the second car then I'd actually downgrade the car's chances to a 2 because of the spread resources.
#15 - Buddy Rice - Phoenix, Arizona - 3
While theres nothing more than many of us would like to see than Buddy winning again and being able to do well (after what has been arguably the worst treatment to a 500 winner ever) his team just doesn't have it; and its further hampered that the team will most likely be spreading all its resources on the 2nd and 3rd cars one of which which will not likely be contributing any valuable information back to Buddy.
#16 Alex Lloyd - Manchester, England - 3
Lloyd was dominating in Indy Lights, but I'm really starting to wonder if it has more to do with Sam Schmidt Motorsports or the drivers they choose because everyone who seems to come through SSM is a contender automatically. The car for the 500 will be ok to good and Lloyd should be a great driver on the track but we honestly don't have much until practice to judge him on.
#17 Ryan Hunter-Reay - Boca Raton, Florida - 4
RHR has looked good so far in this season on the most important thing, making improvements. This is the most important thing for Indy because of the length of the month, and also the length of the race it yields plenty of time for a unit like RHR-RLR to operate best in.
#18 Bruno Junqueira - Belo Horizonte, Brazil - 2
Dale Coyne Racing just hasn't had it yet this year, and for this former 500 pole-sitter that's a real shame because we know he has the talent to run up front, just doesn't seem to have the equipment to get him there... YET. The team has spanking new Dallaras for Indy so we'll have to wait and see if it makes some kind of difference.
#19 Mario Moraes - Sao Paulo, Brazil - 1
A true rookie, on a team just getting thrown into a new car setup, in the biggest race. I'd look for Moraes to be gunning for a finish more than anything in this race, and that's assuming he makes the field. He's had a couple run-ins with the wall so far and the speeds haven't been all that high and that doesn't look good going into sure bumping this year.
#20 Ed Carpenter - Indianapolis, Indiana - 4
Ed's new Menards' Yellow car has been running very well thus far only being brought down by some bad luck here and there. The one thing that I'm worried about for Ed is that it seems the setup they are running right now is burning much more fuel than everyone else, which is fine if the race has plenty cautions in the right spots, but plays very against him should the race run very green.
*#21 - Jaques Lazier/Playa Del Racing? - 2
There are high doubts about whether this car will even make it into practice, but if it does with this driver combination I'd at least warrant it a 2 possible 3 with this combination working so well last year, and thats something considering they are running the "old" Panoz.
*#22 Davey Hamilton - Nampa, Idaho - 3
Davey hasn't yet been confirmed for this car but it looks like he's going to run for Vision for the 2nd year, and with vision showing strong it brings a normally low one-off score up to a 3. While he will be missed on IMS Radio for this race, I'm surely looking forward to seeing him on the track again as there are many reasons to love and root for Davey from being true comeback story 20+ surgeries later after his horrible crash, not to mention a very nice guy, and one who simply loves racing. (Plus Mrs. Wedge used to carpool with the Hamilton family growing up in Idaho)
#23 Milka Duno - Caracas, Venezuela - 1
Some people want to put her in the possible DNQ category but are failing to note Milka has definitely acquired (probably as a result of being with D&R) the ability to at least qualify decently. However that is really only good enough to put it in the field and unfortunately most of us are just crossing our fingers that she doesn't get squirrelly in traffic.
#24 Jay Howard - Basildon, England - 2
Jay hasn't had the qualifying time and car setup since putting the car into the wall at Homestead so the rating isn't as much due to Howard not being talented as it is simply just the team and Jay getting acquainted and getting experience. With a good May they could surely put on a great race, but it has yet to be seen from them to complete a race well from qualifying to finish.
#25 Marty Roth - Toronto, Canada - 2
A lot of people want to bang on Marty but they forget that while he's been around for years, that he is actually a rookie. Before this season he had all of 9 races under his belt with basically all of them being one-off attempts. One thing is for sure though, Marty loves racing and loves Indy and will in time have one of the big teams in the ICS, much like some other current owner attempted drivers.
#26 Marco Andretti - Nazareth, Pennsylvania - 5
Marco right now is my pick for the race. He's flying under the radar but the equipment is there with the rest of them; most have forgotten that he actually should have won Homestead and most missed his great driving in Kansas... so long as he can cut the absent minded rookie mistakes with the half shafts and if he actually can execute the 'Kanaan cold tire passes' that he was trying in Motegi look for him to shock a lot of people, but not me.
#27 Hideki Mutoh - Tokyo, Japan - 3
Hideki has talent for sure, and unlike all the former Japanese races, has a top tier team behind him; he doesn't have yet however the experience and comfort with his new ride needed for the aggressiveness we all know he has. For any of you girls out there that think Hideki is a cutey, it looks like Kanaan is trying to setup Hideki with a girl to help him with learning English.
#33 E.J. Viso - Caracas, Venezueala - 3
Rookie Ernesto reminds me very much of rookie Tomas Scheckter. Both had very hot careers coming into the IndyCar Series, and both so far had rookie seasons flooded with over-aggressiveness. EJ was all over the track blocking and trying to make moves in Kansas, but his aggressiveness showed it could pay dividends in St. Petersburg. This kind of thing doesn't usually work out well for a rookie 500 campaign though because of the lenght of time to contain that aggressiveness... just ask Scheckter...
#34 Jaime Camara - Goiania, Brazil - 2
Jaime has finally gotten to the big leagues, and he has plenty experience under his belt that makes him a good driver to have racing out there on an oval. The lack of experience in the big boy cars but moreso Conquest Racing's so far lack of good aero package on the ovals will hold him back.
#35 Enrique Bernoldi - Curitiba, Brazil - 2
Enrique like many of the drivers in the race this year have plenty experience and background that you know come time and experience they will be contenders in the future, but right now that time and experience just isn't there with him or the team to be a true contender for this race.
#41 Larry Foyt - Houston, Texas - 1
Larry hasn't exactly had the most historic runs at the Speedway, but bringing this entry down even more is the doubt that it may even happen. I think some are actually hoping it doesn't because it will only serve to spread Darren Manning's chances thinner with the crew. I'd like to see Larry on the track because he's been a guy who one would like to see do well but he just doesn't have the driving chops to really even contend in the top two thirds of the field.
#44 Max Papis - Como, Italy - 3
I'm willing to take this entry to a 2 or 4 just depending on the first days of practice...as it looks almost as well prepared as the Luczo/Dragon/Tomas Scheckter. Rubicon Race Team is essentially comprised of a lot of the best parts from Sam Schmidt Motorsports and some of the guys formerly of Kelley racing. These guys know how to race, and so does Papis.
#67 Sarah Fisher - Commercial Point, Ohio - 2
It really would have been nice to see this team run Kansas to get a head start on the program but obviously sponsorship most likely took that in another direction. We'd all love to see Sarah do well but I'm just not sure how it will go as the team is running its first ever race, though the driver and engineers are veterans, there are just certain things that need time to develop.
#77 TBA/Penske/Walker - ??? - 2
Its doubtful this car will see the track, its best chance is to be farmed out to another team. If that team gets assistance from Penske then it shoots to a 3 or 4, but otherwise is just an also ran.
#83 PJ Chesson/John Andretti/Someone Else/Panther Racing - 2
There's a big chance this car won't see the track. If it sees the track with Chesson, I worry about the aggressiveness much like you do with Viso, Panther doesn't put "only good enough to qualify" cars in the field so with the right driver you can at least look at middle contention.
#91 Buddy Lazier - Vail, Colorado - 2
This can quickly change depending on Hemelgarn Racing's car and preparation but theres no doubt Buddy will get this car in the show. He's too good a driver and too smart a good to not be able to make the adjustments to get the car running well. Getting it to run up to speed with the front runners will need to be seen before the threat level is upgraded though.
#96 Mario Dominquez - Mexico City, Mexico - 2
Pacific Coast Motorsports is a good enough team to get this car in the show, but with it being their and Mario's first race with the chassis even the month of May is most likely not an adequate amount of time to make it a contender.
#98 Roger Yasukawa/Alex Barron - Los Angeles or San Diego, California - 3
Can someone please step up and get Greg Beck the sponsorship he needs to run both of these guys? Both drivers are quite exceptional behind the wheel, Roger took Sarah's backup and made it faster than Sarah could in just a day last year, Alex hasn't finished lower than 15th in the 500 and has won in ICS before, both guys deserve the ride, Beck deserves to be full time and shows nothing but commitment, just has a lack of money. Whichever driver gets the ride, expect it to put a decent showing in both qualifying and the race.
#99 Townsend Bell - San Fransisco, California - 3
Townsend dong very well is one thing Buddy Rice is hoping for. Townsend is the teammate Buddy needs full season and the one D&R needs to have in that car to get the setups and to be able to effectively experiment and try out thingsa with the cars. Many forget Townsend may have actually won Motegi had he not got caught by the yellow flags on two different occasions. He got the car running well once and should be able to do it again.
#02 Justin Wilson - Sheffield, England - 3
All you need to know is the radio chatter from last week when the team asked him how the car was Justin replied something to the effect of "The car is great, it just doesn;t have the speed" Now give N/H/L Racing a month to figure out thew speed part and Justin becomes a quick contender.
#06 - Graham Rahal - New Albany, Ohio - 2
While Graham shares the same team as Wilson and is feeling good from the win at St. Petersburg, he's too completely new to ovals to really do the aggressive moves and chances that will be required to win the 500. I expect him to do very well and be consistent, just don't see him chugging the milk at the end of the day.
Look for all predictions to look horribly wrong by pole day... Happy May everyone!