IndyCar’s new aero kits had been a divisive subject long before the championship arrived at Indianapolis for its sixth round and most famous race.
But a pair of crashes in practice have raised urgent questions about the safety of the cars. Helio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden were fortunate to escape injury in separate, solo accidents in which their cars took off and flipped after making contact with the barrier.
In practice speeds were already approaching the level seen last year, when Ed Carpenter took pole position at an average of 371.866kph (231.067mph). Greater performance was expected this year as teams are allowed to run new aerodynamic kits produced for engine manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda.
After five races using the road and street course versions the jury was still out over whether they represented an improvement. The first race in St. Petersburg saw a spate of debris-related caution period after parts broke off the new wings. Since then some components have been strengthened, others removed, and the on-track action as generally improved – especially at Barber Motorsport Park, where Newgarden scored his breakthrough victory in a cracker of a race.
Indianapolis is the first test for the superspeedway versions of the aero kits. As one of the three great races of motor racing along with the Monaco Grand Prix (held earlier on the same day) and Le Mans 24 Hours, the Indy 500 had for too long been a race contested by identical cars.
The return of aerodynamic competition this years follows the revival of engine development three years ago. IndyCar had set a target of seeing Arie Luyendyk’s 19-year-old record qualifying lap speed fall by next year, the 100th running of the race. Luyendyk set a single-lap record of 382.216kph (237.498mph) and record qualifying four-lap qualifying run of 381.398kph (236.986mph).
But the pursuit of performance has always come with a safety risk and the first sign IndyCar might have a problem on its hands came when Helio Castroneves spun his Penske into the wall on Wednesday and the car took off.
The solo crash for the number three Penske showed that despite changes to the floor of the cars enforced by IndyCar, aerial accidents are still possible. A second crash involving Josef Newgarden on Thursday in which his car also flipped will surely increase calls for this to be examined again.
Helio Castroneves Indy 500 practice crash
Josef Newgarden Indy 500 practice crash
Having emerged unscathed from his crash, three-times winner Castroneves and the other three members of Penske’s stellar line-up are strong contenders for victory in the first oval race of the year. On the road and street courses which held the first five rounds of the championship, Chevrolet’s engine and aerodynamics was the package to beat. Honda only managed to inflict a defeat on its rival once, in the rain-hit race at NOLA Motorsport Park in Louisiana.
At Indianapolis teams are using the superspeedway versions of their aerodynamic kits for the first time. While Chevrolet appear to still have an edge on one-lap performance, that is a small part of the game in a race which lasts 200 laps. If Honda can eke out better fuel mileage their drivers will be very much in contention.
Since Chevrolet’s entry in 2012 their Japanese rivals have taken two wins to the Bowtie’s one in the Indianapolis 500. Chevrolet may have enjoyed more championship success, but it’s this race which really grabs the interest of the American public.
Nonetheless, arriving at the sixth round of the championship it is Chevrolet drivers who occupy the top four positions. Juan Pablo Montoya leads reigning champion Will Power by five points. Ganassi’s Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan are well up in the points as well and also part of the Chevrolet vanguard.
But the one to watch could be a man who hasn’t started a single race so far this year. Ed Carpenter is only starting the oval races in his own car, Luca Filippi has been on duty for the road and street courses. But Carpenter has put his Chevrolet-powered car on pole for the last two years at the circuit which is just a few blocks from Butler University, where he studied.
Honda’s line-up includes a quintet of Andretti cars for defending Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay alongside fellow regulars Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz, and occasional drivers Justin Wilson and Simona de Silvestro. Schmidt racer James Hinchcliffe – Honda’s only race-winner so far this year – and the still-rapid-but-wild Takuma Sato.
2015 Indianapolis 500 entry list
|1||Will Power||Australia||Penske||Chevrolet||Reigning champion, won on the Indy GP track earlier this month, now needs a 500 win|
|2||Juan Pablo Montoya||Colombia||Penske||Chevrolet||The 2000 Indy 500 winner began the second year of his IndyCar comeback with a victory|
|3||Helio Castroneves||Brazil||Penske||Chevrolet||Three-times a winner at Indianapolis, most recently in 2009 which was Penske’s last win|
|4||Stefano Coletti||Monaco||KV||Chevrolet||GP2 graduate was stunned by Indianapolis speeds on his first day of running|
|5||James Hinchcliffe||Canada||Schmidt||Honda||Lost Andretti seat but won second start with new team in rain-affected race in Louisiana|
|6||JR Hildebrand||USA||CFH||Chevrolet||Only a win could erase the memory of his heartbreak 2011 last-lap crash and defeat|
|7||James Jakes||Great Britain||Schmidt||Honda||Louisiana podium was a surprise, dependable if not quick in previous 500s|
|8||Sage Karam||USA||Ganassi||Chevrolet||The 2013 Indy lights champion scored a solid ninth on his Indy 500 debut last year|
|9||Scott Dixon||New Zealand||Ganassi||Chevrolet||Winner of the 2008 500 and three-times champion. Was taken out at start of GP race|
|10||Tony Kanaan||Brazil||Ganassi||Chevrolet||Scored an overdue and popular Indy 500 win in 2013, gearbox trouble intervened last year|
|11||Sebastien Bourdais||France||KVSH||Chevrolet||Has started 2015 well, Louisiana aside. Not the best on ovals but came seventh last time|
|14||Takuma Sato||Japan||Foyt||Honda||Came within a risky last-lap pass of beating Dario Franchitti to victory in 2012|
|15||Graham Rahal||USA||RLL||Honda||Reinvigorated in 2015, finished second in the last two races and is Honda’s top points scorer|
|17||Sebastian Saavedra||Colombia||Ganassi||Chevrolet||Perennial seat-filler no longer has a full-time drive but has aligned with top squad Ganassi|
|18||Carlos Huertas||Colombia||Coyne||Honda||Arrived from Formula Renault 3.5 and took a shock, if somewhat lucky, 2014 win in Houston|
|19||James Davison||Australia||Coyne||Honda||Sports car racer takes over the car normally piloted by lacklustre Francesco Dracone|
|20||Ed Carpenter||USA||CFH||Chevrolet||Could take a record third pole in a row but craves a win after last year’s crash with Hinchcliffe|
|21||Josef Newgarden||USA||CFH||Chevrolet||Took breakthrough victory at Barber last month but never had a strong Indy 500 result|
|22||Simon Pagenaud||France||Penske||Chevrolet||Strong in 2014, looking for his first win since joining Penske’s four-car super-team|
|24||Townsend Bell||USA||D&R||Chevrolet||The part-timer worked his way up to second place last year before crashing out|
|25||Justin Wilson||Great Britain||Andretti||Honda||Ex-F1 racer lost his full-time seat but was immediately on the pace in practice|
|26||Carlos Munoz||Colombia||Andretti||Honda||Converted his speed into top four finishes in his first two Indy 500s. One to watch|
|27||Marco Andretti||USA||Andretti||Honda||The ‘Andretti curse’ lives on for a third generation, but Marco was a stong third last year|
|28||Ryan Hunter-Reay||USA||Andretti||Honda||His victory in last year’s race was the main highlight of his unsuccessful title defence|
|29||Simona de Silvestro||Switzerland||Andretti||Honda||Back in IndyCar after failing to land a Sauber F1 seat, had a fiery drama during practice|
|32||Oriol Servia||Spain||RLL||Honda||Fourth in 2011, the US open wheel racing veteran only did four races last year|
|41||Jack Hawksworth||Great Britain||Foyt||Honda||Impressed in his IndyCar debut last season but has had a quiet start to 2015 at Foyt|
|43||Conor Daly||USA||Schmidt||Honda||The former GP2 driver is looking to improve on 22nd on his sole prior start in 2013|
|48||Alex Tagliani||Canada||Foyt||Honda||The 2011 pole sitter has never finished higher than tenth at the Brickyard|
|63||Pippa Mann||Great Britain||Coyne||Honda||Making her fourth Indy 500 start. Also crashed in practice but didn’t flip|
|83||Charlie Kimball||USA||Ganassi||Chevrolet||Was the first driver to crash out of last year’s race – albeit at the 149-lap mark|
|88||Bryan Clauson||USA||KVSH||Chevrolet||Sole Indy 500 start in 2012 lasted 46 laps|
|91||Buddy Lazier||USA||Lazier||Chevrolet||Won the first post-split 500 in 1996, makes his 23rd start in the race this year aged 47|
|98||Gabby Chaves||Colombia||BHA||Honda||The Indy Lights champion won last year’s support race by 0.005s over Matthew Brabham|
2015 Indianapolis Spotters’ Guide
2015 Indianapolis 500 schedule
Saturday: Practice session six and preliminary qualifying
Sunday: Practice session seven, qualifying knockout rounds and ‘fast nine’ shoot-out
Monday: Practice session eight
Friday: Final practice
Sunday: 99th Indianapolis 500
Watch and follow the 2015 Indianapolis 500
For those in the UK the Indianapolis 500 will be broadcast live on BT Sport. The race starts at 5pm BST.
As with every round of the IndyCar championship we’ll be following all the action on F1 Fanatic Live as well.
Over to you
Who’s your tip for victory in this year’s Indianapolis 500? Have your say in the comments.
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