It's Thursday night and I am going to start working on this post now, because a) as you have all probably discovered in the last week I have a lot on my mind and b) I have so much going on over the next few days that I would like to get this posted by the start of the race at noon (EDT) Sunday.
Actually 12:12 is the official green flag time, so if it is noon and you aren't in front of your TV don't fret. No, do fret, because the pre-race is a necessity. It's Indy, nuff said.
First of all, happy birthday to me! Yes I turn 43 on Friday, meaning I was five days old when Mario Andretti won the 500. Crazy to think that Mario wasn't even 30 and entering the prime of his career, yet that was his only victory, and still the only one for the family. That could change this weekend, but more on that in a minute.
On another media note, I found out today that the newspaper I freelance for, the Aurora Beacon News, is handing me a story for next week on Sam Schmidt Motorsports engineer Kent Boyer. He is from just down the road in Yorkville and is working with Townsend Bell this month. Their PR person told me to stop by the garage and meet him Sunday, so I will try and do that, then interview him a day or two after the race to get his reaction to his team's performance. Very, very cool!
Anyway, here are a few things I'm thinking about:
Honda vs. Chevy -- When you look at the grid, Chevy is obviously the dominant powerplant, but once the race rolls around, what will that mean? What I noticed in practice is that in race trim the cars become a little more equal, so while it is a safe bet to pick a Chevy driver for the win, there are lots of experienced drivers/teams behind the wheels of Hondas, and that will make a difference. As James Hinchcliffe noted Wednesday, no one has ever (officially) gone 500 miles in these cars and the conditions will be an equalizer.
And of course I have to update this because Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon were fastest in Carb Day practice with HONDAS! But given they were turning laps in the 222 range with the boost back to regular levels, it's hard to say how they accomplished that in terms of setups.
But the most important thing to remember is the fastest car doesn't win, it's the one who manages their way to the front of the field at the end of 500 miles.
Lotus -- I wish this could be a three-way fight but Lotus will be far off the pace. How long Simona de Silvestro and Jean Alesi stay on the track will be up to them. I don't necessarily think they are going to be black flagged as soon as they fall off the lead lap. At 2.5 miles around, IMS is the track where the cars can spread out a little, so it will be more how well they stay out of the way. I have to honestly say I hope they can stay out there for a while, both teams have worked really, really hard, and while I've never been a proponent of everyone winning a trophy, both Lotus teams deserve an opportunity to see what they can do.
Weather -- Speaking of, it will be a hot one on Sunday, with temperatures soaring to close to 95 degrees. If you are going to the race, be smart and take care of yourself! I went and bought a couple of dri-fit shirts today, and might bust out a bucket hat for the festivities too. Drink water and bring sunscreen.
As far as the cars go, you will have to, have to, have to, nail the setup. I think the warm temps last weekend during Time Trials helped them get some data, but those were for short, quick runs. What if they get a long green run, say 40 or 50 laps, how will they adjust through a stint like that? Last year featured four stints between yellows that lasted more than 30 laps, with the longest being 42. The team that can stay one step ahead is big, and how much input the driver can give to those conditions is going to be huge.
Handicapping the field. A couple of my fellow bloggers have covered the entire field, but I'm just going with the top 6 and highlight a few others.
Ryan Briscoe. Briscoe is almost always fast (remember he has two poles this year), but struggles in the luck category. It just seems like he hasn't had much over the last couple of years. The last four years he has finished P23, P15, P24 and P27. In 2009 he was running well at the front of the field and dropped like a stone after getting a bad set of tires on a pit stop. This is his best bet to win, but he will need breaks he hasn't gotten the last few years. Still, he has made no secret of the fact that he loves driving the new car and has a lot of confidence behind the wheel.
James Hinchcliffe. I'm still sticking with Hinch as my pick to win the race. He's been fast and consistent all season, sitting third in points, and has been a huge hit around the Speedway all month.
Ryan Hunter-Reay. But you know, the more I think about it, the more I am liking RHR as a winner. He kind of reminds me of Dixon, he's had a very business-like month, practiced well and qualified on the front row while flying under the radar a bit.
Marco Andretti. Marco has been extremely well in practice all week long, and his is comfortable in traffic. This is by far his best chance to win, and he looks to break a 43-year losing streak among the Andretti family. The only thing that isn't one of Marco's virtues is patience, and that's what the 500 will take. The difference between a win and a top-3 finish -- and he has three of those -- is closing. Whether or not he can do that is the question.
Will Power. One of the best road racers on the planet, Will has one oval win to his credit, and that was one of the 275K races at Texas last year. Winning a 172-mile race and a 500 miler are two different things, and I just don't have a lot of confidence in him.
Helio Castroneves. After last year's epic debacle, he is back, and win No. 4 is not out of the question. If you talk about closing, Helio is a closer, big time, and if he has a lead with 15 laps to go he will put it away.
Ones to watch. As far as a sentimental favorite, everyone would be pretty happy to see Tony Kanaan take this one. TK has done everything but win in his career at IMS, and is due big time. You know who he is beginning to remind me of? Tom Sneva. The Gasman followed a similar career path and picked up his first win in his 10th start. This year is TK's 11th....hmmm...Graham Rahal crashed his first two years and wasn't a factor in 2010, but drove like a maniac last year, running from his 29th starting position to lead laps 166-171 and passed more than 60 cars. He will be a factor...Franchitti/Dixon. Really, do you expect these two guys to sit this one out? Dixon has been outstanding so far this year and along with Simon Pagenaud has been carrying the Honda banner. Franchitti is a two-time winner, he knows how to get it done...Josef Newgarden is going to go to school big time. How he finishes depends on how quickly he can learn, and I expect him to do well enough to earn Rookie of the Year, although Rubens Barrichello can sneak into a top-10 finish as well...Takuma Sato was the big-time charger at Rio, while Oriol Servia has made it clear that with Chevy power he can contend from the 27th starting position. Johnny Rutherford won from the 25th starting spot in 1974, and that is the furthest a driver has come from to win in the race's history.
I agree with the sentiment that this is the most wide-open race in years. Your best bet is to pick an Andretti Autosport or Penske Racing entry to win, but there are probably another 10 cars that are in the mix. There will be a lot of variables to work through and manage tomorrow, with the biggest two being the weather and the DW12 in oval racing trim. But in the end the strategy is the same as always: get to the final 100 miles and then go for it.
One thing last year taught us is that the race isn't over until the winner crosses the finish line. Honestly, I would be surprised, and disappointed, if the same thing didn't happen this year.
Safe travels to everyone and Godspeed to the 33 brave drivers who will be racing tomorrow, not to mention the F1 drivers in Monaco and the 43 Cup drivers at Charlotte. It is a big day for racing, and I think it will be one for the ages.