The one hundredth running of the Indianapolis 500 deserved a fitting story. And in James Hinchcliffe’s return from injury to take pole position for the race, it got one.
The popular Schmidt driver was left clinging to life after a vicious crash during practice last year forced a suspension arm through a femoral artery. He returned to the cockpit at the start of this season and dominated proceedings in qualifying last weekend, going quickest on both days.
On Sunday he will lead a 33-car field to the green flag in front of a capacity crowd at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But then comes the much greater challenge of still being in front 200 laps later.
IndyCar’s regular 22-car field has ballooned as usual to ensure a traditional field for its blue riband race. But even some of the one-off entries have genuine shots at victory. Townsend Bell in his Andretti-run car starts on the second row and Hinchcliffe’s team mate Oriol Servia has qualified strongly too.
The Penske and Ganassi cars which have won seven of the last ten Indianapolis 500s can be expected to come to the fore. Juan Pablo Montoya’s record at Indianapolis is extremely strong and last year he recovered from an early setback to take victory from team mate Will Power with a stunning pass in the closing stages.
While none of the Ganassi drivers made it into the top nine shoot-out for pole position, expect them to have a superbly honed car for the race. Scott Dixon’s fuel-saving craft will make him a contender, particularly if the race is short on caution periods.
But with five different teams taking victory in the last five editions of the race it proves you can look well beyond the usual suspects for a potential winner. Graham Rahal may be languishing down in 26th on the grid but Montoya was even lower down than that at one stage last year.
This is a gruelling race: the fastest ever edition still took two hours and 40 minutes to run. The opening stages are all about ensuring your car is in shape for the frantic final run to the flag and having the wisdom to know when to reach for the adjustment bar and when to let the track conditions come to you.
And then, when the final laps are ticking down, to make the big moves which could secure victory in a special edition of a very special race.
2016 Indianapolis 500 grid
Here’s how the field lines up for the 100th Indianapolis 500.
|Speed kph (mph)
|Led at the start in his last Indy 500 before colliding with Carpenter. Missed last yer’s race due to injury.
|Promising star of the future won twice last year, looking for his first victory on an oval.
|The 2013 IndyCar champion won the 500 in 2014 but didn’t even lead last year as he finished 15th.
|The Indy 500 regular also won the GT Daytona classic of the United SportsCar championship last year.
|One-time IndyCar race winner is regularly quick here. Started and finished second on his 2013 debut.
|Narrowly denied victory by Montoya last year. Needs to score well after missing first race of this year.
|Recovered from serious crash at Fonatan in 2014. Beat Daniel Ricciardo to 2010 Formula Renault 3.5 title.
|Dominating the championship after finally winning with Penske. A win on an oval is what he needs next.
|Series veteran is a three-times Indianapolis 500 winner, most recently in 2009.
|Highly experienced driver ensured all three of Sam Schmidt’s cars start in the top ten.
|The Manor reserve driver was knocked out of the pole shoot-out on the last lap, but remains top rookie.
|Nearly won in 2012 – he crashed trying a last-lap pass on Dario Franchitti – but hasn’t been close since.
|Survived engine change scare in qualifying and despite lowly qualifying is expected to contend.
|Engine problems blunted his qualifying effort too. Sam Hornish pipped him to victory by 0.06s in 2006.
|Deserves a chance to erase the memory of his 2011 nightmare, losing victory in a last-lap crash.
|Was in the hunt for victory in the closing stages last year and should have a strong car again.
|Juan Pablo Montoya
|Took second win in three Indy 500 starts last year having fallen to 30th after being hit by a rival.
|Fan favourite took overdue win in the fastest ever Indianapolis 500 in 2013, averaging 301.644kph.
|More at home on IndyCar’s many road and street tracks but won on the short Milwaukee oval last year.
|A surprisingly lowly starting position for the two-times pole sitter but he could be a dark horse for victory.
|The 2014 Indy Lights champion is only doing a partial IndyCat campaign this year.
|The former Marussia driver raced in Indy Lights last year, winning on the Iowa oval for newcomers Carlin.
|A third Indy 500 start for the 2013 Indy Lights champion. Crashed at the start last year.
|If his car makes it to the start it’ll be an improvement on his incredible misfortune last year.
|Caught up in a pit lane crashed which involved three of Coyne’s cars last year, but still finished.
|Struggled with his car’s set-up in qualifying and starts further back than he should.
|First appearance for the third-generation Brabham driver who has also raced in Formula E.
|Another regular one-off Indy 500 starter. Clauson crashed early on in last year’s race.
|Pro Mazda and Indy Lights titles mark him out as one to watch for the future. This is his first Indy 500.
|Driving in memory of his brother Justin, who led this race last year but was killed at Pocono.
|Hasn’t been able to build on a promising first season of IndyCar in 2014 with Herta. Now at Foyt.
|Won this race 20 years ago and first competed at Indianapolis in 1989.
|A crash kept the 2012 pole sitter from qualifying. Expect him to make gains at the start.
2016 Indianapolis 500 Spotters’ Guide
Watch and follow the 2015 Indianapolis 500
For those in the UK the Indianapolis 500 will be broadcast live on BT Sport. I will be part of the British commentary team alongside Ben Evans and Oliver Webb providing continuous coverage throughout the green-flag running. Coverage starts at 3:30pm on Sunday and the race begins at 5:12pm.
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 the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500? Have your say in the comments.
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