Palou leads Ganassi charge with McLaren in pursuit – but many more could win

2023 Indianapolis 500 preview

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The Indy 500’s stature in the racing world is equal to, or greater than, the IndyCar Series itself. The winner will have their lives changed in an instant. Drivers who fight until the final minute of qualifications will feel joy and relief to have simply made the field of 33 cars – at the expense of those who will feel immense sorrow to have been pushed out of the field.

All of these statements still hold true. And in recent years, a historic surge of speed has been a prominent storyline in the annual build-up to Indy.

Pole qualifying records from 1996, a time of open chassis and tyre competition, plus more powerful engines – a time of a sport that was cast into the throes of a schism driven by power and ego – have been surpassed several times over just within the past two years of qualifying. All 33 drivers had to run four laps around Indianapolis Motor Speedway at speeds surpassing 370 kilometres per hour, just to have the honour of starting the race on Sunday.

And if the driving standards remain high, then the record for the fastest Indy 500 race ever run will surely be broken just two years after it was last raised.

Palou narrowly denied VeeKay pole position
But with this surge of speed, reminders of the risk of competing in this race are never far behind. After five days on track without any significant crashes at all, Stefan Wilson’s dream of winning the race for his late brother came to an abrupt halt when he and Katherine Legge crashed in turn one on Monday, leaving Wilson with a fractured vertebra which requires surgery and will prevent him from racing.

If one can be assured that all 33 drivers who start the race, their crews, and everyone at the Speedway can get to the chequered flag without harm – the next priority is that the racing itself is compelling and entertaining.

After a 2020 race panned for being somewhat processional, IndyCar began offering teams a range of optional aerodynamic pieces to add downforce and mitigate the effects of turbulent air from cars in front of them. The 2021 and 2022 races rightfully earned a more positive reception in terms of the quality of racing thanks to these allowances, and IndyCar is continuing to offer more options to teams this year.

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These options now include a quick-adjusting mechanism to tune the rear wing angle by up to five degrees during pit stops and small Gurney flaps at the trailing edge of the diffusers which increase load without adding a great deal of turbulent wake.

The McLaren cars, led by Rosenqvist, look quick
For what it’s worth, the likes of Pato O’Ward and Conor Daly didn’t feel these options would improve the quality of racing after using them in practice. But it’s hard to imagine they might be a hindrance either – especially after new aero options helped to liven up the recent race at Texas Motor Speedway earlier this year.

Tyre degradation will be a factor, along with fuel economy – now as much of a priority for Chevrolet and Honda’s respective engine development teams as speed itself. If two team mates link together at the front of the field, one could reasonably expect them to take turns running in the slipstream of the other car in order to maximise stint length early on. But who might be best-placed to do that – and claim IndyCar’s most coveted win?

From an organisational perspective, the four-car efforts of Chip Ganassi Racing and McLaren have been quick across the board through practice and time trials. Ganassi leads the charge for Honda, while McLaren has been at the tip of the spear for Chevrolet.

Alex Palou is the favourite to win from the pole in his number 10 Ganassi Dallara/Honda, but he’ll have tough intra-team competition in the form of past winners Scott Dixon, Takuma Sato and of course the reigning champion Marcus Ericsson.

It’s harder to pick a stand-out from McLaren: Pato O’Ward was a close second in last year’s Indy 500 – but Felix Rosenqvist was their fastest driver in qualifying. Alexander Rossi and Tony Kanaan have the experience of being Indy 500 winners – and certainly, no driver in this year’s field will be more of a sentimental favourite than the 48-year-old Kanaan in his 22nd and final Indy 500 start.

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Penske, the Indy 500’s most successful outfit, were quick in several practice sessions but couldn’t get the qualifying results their drivers hoped for. Will Power won this race in 2018, but Josef Newgarden could be a driver to watch as he tries to win this race for the first time and complete the one missing milestone from his CV.

Josef Newgarden, Penske, Indianapolis, 2023
Newgarden is still seeking and Indy 500 win
Andretti weren’t as competitive as many had hoped they might be given their recent form in 2023. None of their five Honda-powered cars made the top 12 qualifying session – Kyle Kirkwood came closest. Do they have more race pace on offer? If so, expect Kirkwood, Romain Grosjean, and Colton Herta to feature in the fight for the win.

Rinus VeeKay’s qualifying efforts showed Ed Carpenter Racing can still prepare fast cars for the Indy 500 – but can he, Conor Daly, or Carpenter himself finally close the deal on a victory? And what about the most pleasantly surprising team effort so far? AJ Foyt Enterprises has gone 10 years since its last IndyCar win and hasn’t won the 500 this century, but Santino Ferrucci and rookie surprise Benjamin Pedersen have both been quick all throughout the race meeting.

Finally, spare a thought as well for Graham Rahal, who was bumped from the field in dramatic circumstances on Sunday, but found himself back in the race as the injury substitute for Stefan Wilson.

Only one person will have the chance to call themselves the 2023 Indianapolis 500 champion. The green flag for the race waves at 12:45 PM EDT (local time), 17:45 BST.

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2023 Indianapolis 500 starting grid

Row No. Driver Team Engine Notes
1 10 Alex Palou Ganassi Honda The 2021 IndyCar champion and 2021 Indy 500 runner-up set the fastest pole qualifying run in Indy history.
21 Rinus VeeKay Carpenter Chevrolet The sensational young Dutchman has started on the front row in the last three Indy 500s, but has never finished better than eighth.
6 Felix Rosenqvist McLaren Chevrolet Rosenqvist saved his IndyCar tenure at McLaren with a fourth-place finish in 2022. This is his best Indy 500 start.
2 14 Santino Ferrucci Foyt Chevrolet Controversial F2 exile has never finished outside the top ten in four previous Indy 500s – and now has his best-ever starting position.
5 Pato O’Ward McLaren Chevrolet Finished second to Ericsson last year, his best in a string of three top-six finishes in three starts for the popular Mexican driver.
9 Scott Dixon Ganassi Honda Dixon’s only Indy 500 win came in 2008, 15 years ago.
3 7 Alexander Rossi McLaren Chevrolet The champion of the 100th Indy 500 in 2016 starts this race for the first time with McLaren.
11 Takuma Sato Ganassi Honda Sato’s claim as Japan’s greatest-ever racing driver is backed by two Indy 500 wins in 2017 and 2020.
66 Tony Kanaan McLaren Chevrolet Fan-favourite Kanaan won the Indy 500 in 2013 in his 12th start, and is eager to retire as a two-time Indy 500 winner.
4 8 Marcus Ericsson Ganassi Honda Defending Indy 500 champion will aim to become the race’s first back-to-back winner since Helio Castroneves in 2001-02.
55 Benjamin Pedersen Foyt Chevrolet With limited oval experience, Pedersen set a new record for the fastest qualifying run by a rookie in Indy history.
12 Will Power Penske Chevrolet Two-time series champion hopes to kickstart his 2023 title defence with his second Indy win – his first was in 2018.
5 33 Ed Carpenter Carpenter Chevrolet Carpenter’s 20 Indy 500 starts make him the most tenured driver in the field who has never won the race.
3 Scott McLaughlin Penske Chevrolet 2021 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year crashed out of last year’s race.
27 Kyle Kirkwood Andretti Honda The Long Beach GP winner was Andretti’s top qualifier at this year’s Indy 500.
6 20 Conor Daly Carpenter Chevrolet Recent performances in the Indy 500 have begun to pay dividends – he finished a career-best sixth last year.
2 Josef Newgarden Penske Chevrolet In 11 Indy 500 starts, the two-time series champion’s best finish is third in 2016.
23 Ryan Hunter-Reay Dreyer & Reinbold Chevrolet Back after a year away from the sport, Hunter-Reay won this race in 2014.
7 28 Romain Grosjean Andretti Honda The ten-year F1 veteran crashed out of his first Indy 500 start a year ago.
06 Helio Castroneves Meyer Shank Honda The most experienced driver in the field, and also the most successful. Vying for a record-breaking fifth Indy 500 win.
26 Colton Herta Andretti Honda The 500 has been brutal towards Herta – who’s never finished better than eighth in four previous starts.
8 60 Simon Pagenaud Meyer Shank Honda The only driver to win the Indy GP and the 500 in the same month was also the last pole-winner to win the Indy 500.
18 David Malukas Coyne/HMD Honda Youngest driver in the field, finished all 200 laps in his Indy 500 debut last year.
98 Marco Andretti Andretti/Curb-Agajanian Honda Andretti was denied a sensational debut win in 2006 by six-hundredths of a second, and has been chasing victory ever since.
9 29 Devlin DeFrancesco Andretti Steinbrenner Honda Lacklustre across one and a half seasons, DeFrancesco has never had a top-ten finish in IndyCar.
78 Agustin Canapino Juncos Hollinger Chevrolet Canapino, a four-time Turismo Carretera series champion, is the first Argentine driver to race at Indy since 1940.
77 Callum Ilott Juncos Hollinger Chevrolet Ilott had to qualify a backup chassis to make his second Indy 500 start. He broke his wrist in a crash last year.
10 50 RC Enerson Abel Motorsports Chevrolet Two years after missing the field as the slowest driver, Enerson makes his first Indy 500 with a team making its first IndyCar start.
44 Katherine Legge RLL Honda Returning to IndyCar for the first time in ten years, Legge set the record for the fastest qualifying run by a woman in Speedway history.
45 Christian Lundgaard RLL Honda The Indy Grand Prix pole-winner from two weeks ago had to survive Last Chance qualifying just to make his second Indy 500.
11 51 Sting Ray Robb Coyne/Ware Honda Youngest rookie in the field, and last year’s runner up in the series now known as Indy Nxt.
30 Jack Harvey RLL Honda Harvey bumped team mate Graham Rahal from the field to make his seventh Indy 500 start, by a margin of 0.0044 seconds.
24 Graham Rahal DRR/Cusick Chevrolet Rahal replaces the injured Stefan Wilson. Per Indy 500 rules, the car must start from the rear of the field after a driver change.

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Author information

RJ O'Connell
Motorsport has been a lifelong interest for RJ, both virtual and ‘in the carbon’, since childhood. RJ picked up motorsports writing as a hobby...

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13 comments on “Palou leads Ganassi charge with McLaren in pursuit – but many more could win”

  1. My expectations from the race:
    Scott Dixon – wins the race in commanding fashion after last year’s domination ended with a blunder
    Tony Kanaan – has a great farewell result
    Takuma Sato – does some crazy Satosan moves
    McLaughling/Newgarden/Castroneves – come storming from behind if lucky with yellow periods

  2. Still wish they would have at least one more chassis and engine manufacturer in this series. Just can’t get excited about the 500 or Indycar since it became virtually a spec series. Didn’t need push to pass years back.
    I worry this will happen to F1 the way the rules keep changing in some ways for the worse.

    1. Being spec is fantastic! It’s the best thing! I wish F1 becomes spec one day. Let’s put everybody in a RedBull and see who is the best driver!

      1. It all comes down to what you want – a battle to see who the best driver is (Indycar) or a battle to see who has the best car (F1).

        Both are interesting but unfortunately, a lot of F1 fans seem to regularly forget what F1 actually is and therefore focus too much on the drivers….

        1. @Pete
          “unfortunately, a lot of F1 fans seem to regularly forget what F1 actually is and therefore focus too much on the drivers”
          Pete, it would be easier to forget it IF ONLY F1 – and its fans – didn’t advertise its drivers as the best drivers in the world, the F1 world champion as the very best driver in the world etc. etc.

      2. If you would have seen Indycar back in the 80-90s you might understand what I’m talking about. 3 to 5 different chassis and 3 to 5 different engines. This along with 2 tire brands made for many different winners each week.
        If a spec series is exciting then we might as well watch go carts running nose to tail. At least a few can pass without a button and save a million bucks. To each his own.

    2. Sure, but what does it really matter? It’s not 1985 anymore. The most important thing is good racing.

    3. Not sure multiple chassis would work today with current sponsorship levels (Big Tobacco no longer throwing stupid amounts of money at anyone who brings a car with 4 wheels attached), but additional engine manufacturer(s) is a must.

      Ideally, we’d have Ford and Toyota joining to re-ignite some traditional rivalries with Chevy and Honda, and on top of that one or two Europeans. If that was the case, i’m sure we would once again be seeing 40-50 car fields trying to qualify for the 500.

  3. One or two more engine manufacturers and another chassis would be a shot in the arm Indycar needs. I was hoping Penske could accomplish this. I haven’t seen good racing in twenty years. Neither has most anyone else. Just look at the television ratings and stands that are 3/4 empty. This spec racing isn’t drawing any fans.

    1. You haven’t seen good racing in twenty years? You obviously haven’t watched for two decades then have you.

      1. If it is so exciting and good racing, where are the fans? Good thing is you can easily buy 1000 seats for your friends at any race. Enjoy!!!

        1. @sfrank15 192,000 people went to Long Beach this year and the best attendance since 2008. And the old CART races that have rejoined the series get comparable, if not better attendances that have happy promoters.

          Ovals are a different matter but it’s mainly a promotional issue – St Louis has had exceptionally full grandstands since it rejoined the series. I went to the race in 2021 and considering that Covid was still a factor, you really wouldn’t have noticed at the main grandstand. The key is that there is heavy promotion of the Indycar race (i.e. TV adverts for tickets) – and not only when there’s an Indycar race on TV. Iowa last year also looked at least 80% full for both races, because they’ve put on far more around the race than just the race itself. The only really badly attended race was Texas and that’s simply because they don’t do much in the way of promotion or give fans anything bar the race itself. That and Texas this year heavily limited paddock access ($75 for 90mins on Saturday before qualifying only vs $40 at St Louis for Saturday… pre-race).

          Fontana didn’t work because it was far too early in the year. The 2014 August race started with 37C temps… in the early evening. The 2015 race was arguably the best ever or the most dangerous depending on your viewpoint but no-one turned up for a 2pm race in June… on a Saturday. Because that’s an insane time of day and year to hold a race inland in Southern California.

          The point is that scheduling matters over variety of cars or the engineering side of the sport. Indycar is generally speaking a sport where the best drivers, rather than the best engineers, are the main factor in who wins on track.

  4. Nice article and “form guide”

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