Pre Race Picks and Predictions: 2014 Indianapolis 500
This article also appears on WFOpenWheels.com
Welcome back, after a couple years away, this feature makes its return to Triple League Racing (or entrance onto WFOpenwheels). The Indianapolis 500 is one of the biggest races of the year, and the pinnacle of the Verizon Indycar Series. 33 in 11 rows of 3 will start the race, which also will award double points for the championship. Since the introduction of the DW-12 (new car) the racing at the Indianapolis 500 has become much more competitive. Slingshot passing has become common and close racing the norm. This is a huge improvement from the Indy 500’s of 2008 and 2009. There’s also a ton of storylines and competitive drivers to follow.
Buddy Lazier: Buddy Lazier won the Indy 500 and the IRL championship during the Split. Before that he also had some top tens in CART on both ovals and road/street courses. Lazier is in his late 40’s however, and with a team he owns. Lazier was the slowest car throughout qualifying by a large margin, and he did not have a good race last year. So why am I talking about him? Simple. Lazier was 14th fastest at the end of Carb Day. Can Lazier finish as high in the race? If he did it would be a massive accomplishment.
The Young One Offs:
Pippa Mann, Sage Karam, Martin Plowman, JR Hildebrand, and James Davidson are very different drivers coming from very different places. All of them are Indy Lights winners and young drivers in Indycar. They also are all Indy 500 one-offs. This is a moment that could make their career, and help them get a full time ride. The goal is clear; don’t become like Townsend Bell or Alex Lloyd. Can these drivers convert a good 500 into a future of full time racing? One can only hope. Hildebrand has been the best so far, Karam has some potential as does Pippa. Plowman and Davidson so far have struggled.
Kurt Busch is attempting to run both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coke-a-Cola 600. Despite a very strong field at Indy he has generally been competitive. Busch is getting a ton of mainstream attention; more than Carpenter, more than Hinchcliffe, more than Marco or Rahal. If nothing else Busch kept people interested in qualifying on Saturday. A wreck during practice Monday may have hurt his competitiveness, however, as the backup car he’s using was not originally prepared for ovals. Still, Kurt appears to be the strongest rookie so far. But can he hold it together for 500 miles?
James Hinchcliffe was injured during the Indy Grand Prix. No one knew if he was even going to be allowed to race, much less qualify. He was able to qualify, and despite almost no practice time qualified 4th on Saturday before getting 2nd during the Fast Nine. He’s back, and should contend for a win. The only problem is that the team had a vibration during Carb Day. James Hinchcliffe is one of the most fun and exciting drivers in Indycar. He won three times last year. An Indy 500 win could be his big break into more mainstream popularity. Ryan Hunter Reay is the top American driver in Indycar, and one of the top three drivers in the series. Despite this his profile is rather low. An Indy 500 win would be big for him and big for Indycar as it would mean one of their regular winners also would have a 500 win and the mainstream appeal which comes with it. With double points RHR also has a shot at getting to first in the points. Conversely if he struggles and either Power or Pagenaud wins, then he’s in trouble Marco Andretti is one of the biggest potential stars of Indycar, but he’s only had two wins in an nine year career. He’s been strong this year and is the favorite (literally, odds-makers rate him as #1) to win this year. Marco Andretti winning is one of the best possible outcomes from the 500. Munoz did very well last year and runs an odd line which seems to work for him, and only him.
The Red Cars:
Penske’s team has been strong all month, Ganassi’s didn’t find speed until Carb Day. Both teams are a threat. Will Power and Helio Castronves are both fast, and both got in the Fast Nine. A win for Power is good for all the same reasons as a win for RHR is. A 500 legitimizes and mainstreams him, at least to a point. Helio’s win would put him in the elite 4 time winners club and re-invigorate his quest for his first career Indycar title. Juan Pablo Montoya starts 10th, and was the 2nd fastest car Sunday. Montoya’s struggled all season, but a 500 win would turn it around. Scott Dixon and Ganassi struggled Saturday in qualifying, but seem to have turned it around. A Dixon win would probably put most of the fans asleep, and subject talk show viewers to some very boring interviews. If Dixon wins, it also will give him a boost in the title fight. Tony Kanaan has struggled in his first season at Ganassi, but only to a point. He’s run fairly well and qualified poorly. He’s great at Indy, and a win would put his season back on track. Briscoe and Kimball haven’t been great but maybe they’ll be stronger in the draft.
Ed Carpenter and Sarah Fisher
Ed Carpenter’s team has been on fire this month. During qualifying he was easily the fastest car on track. Whenever he went out he went to the top of the time sheets. Hildebrand’s been strong as well and also made the Fast Nine. Both drivers can win this. For Ed, it would be his 3rd career win, the team’s 2nd win this year, and an incredibly legitimizing moment for him. It would prove that he really is the best oval racer in Indycar. If Hildebrand wins, it will hopefully get him back on the radar for a good full time ride. Alex Tagliani and Joseph Newgarden are both driving for Sarah Fisher Hartman. Newgarden has been very strong this year; he finished 9th at St. Pete despite starting from the last row. He was in contention at Long Beach until RHR hit him, and he finished in the top ten at Barber in the rain. He’s going to start in the 8th and has a shot at winning. Tagliani struggled in qualifying but continues to improve, he maybe be competitive.
Don’t count out Simon Pagenaud. I don’t want him to win, but he’s been fast all month. Despite not having a tradition of success on the ovals he made the Fast Nine and qualified 5th. Pagenaud winning would move him from dark horse to main contender for the title. Alishen has been fast, but a win from a Russian driver sponsored by a sanctioned Russian bank would be disastrous for Indycar. If Hawkworth doesn’t crash he may have a shot; it would be big for BHA and himself after a great Indy GP. Justin Wilson at Dale Coyne Racing and Townsend Bell at KV both have some speed, and should be watched. Finally we’ve got Servia and Rahal at Rahal-Letterman Racing. Graham has sturggled, so it will be interesting to see if he can turn it around at Indy. Servia may do well if the team doesn’t hurt him.
Green Flag Finish?
A lot of Indy 500’s have not had a green flag finish in recent years. Everyone pushes towards the end, and someone ends up going over the ledge. So will it finish green? I really hope so. If it does not, expect to hear the Green-White-Checkers wars erupt. Three yellow flag finishes in a row might just force Indycar’s hand and see some sort of change to ensure that we do not see four yellow flag finishes in a row.
Draft and Pass:
As far as anyone knows it appears that plenty of draft and pass will be seen during the 500. I have enjoyed the passing in the 2012 and 2013 Indy 500’s greatly, though some do not. Will the potential of aerokits and new track records change the amount of passing in the future? Or is this the new normal? Either way, savor the close racing!
ABC will be doing the television broadcast. They did a good job at St. Pete but were not very good at the Indy GP. It will be interesting to see what they do at the Indy 500. Its the biggest race of the year, with a ton of storylines and a lot of expected passing. Can they keep up? Fans everywhere can only hope they do. If not, there’s always online timing and scoring plus the Indycar radio.
Winner….James Hinchcliffe! He’s proven he can win last year. Andretti has been fast all month, and a win following his concussion would be a massive, massive story. Between that and the fact he’s officiating Kimball’s wedding latter this year, he’d be talkshow gold. Indycar needs him to do this, but often Indycar misses out on the best storylines (notice that between them, Danica, Marco, and Graham combine for 4 victories). If the vibrations on Carb Day scare you, then pick any other Andretti Car, they’ve all got a good chance at winning.
Likely…. Ed Carpenter! He’d be the favorite if he hadn’t won the pole last year, only to fad at the end. This ECR has been fast and won a race, so maybe that will help put him over the top. Ed winning would make him the first American driver to win since Sam Hornish, and would be a very popular local win. The only problem is, he won’t be on track at the next race. I think almost everyone would be happy to see him in victory lane.
Darkhorse….Kurt Busch or Joseph Newgarden! I can’t pick between them. Until his crash Monday I would have picked Kurt. I still think he can do it, but it will be tough as his car is not as good. But he’s in Andretti, so if he pits well and avoids crashing Kurt will have a chance. Some see a Busch victory as a negative for Indycar, but I don’t. Outside of perhaps Pippa winning with the Susan G Komen for the Cure car, I don’t think there’s a person in the field who would generate more headlines and attention with a win than Busch. Newgarden is a big rising star in Indycar. A win at Indy would help build his reputation and fanbase, while simply validating his already competitive results this season. He’s starting up front and there’s no reason why Newgarden cannot get his first career win at the 500.