The wait is finally over. The 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 takes the green flag on Sunday.
Months of in-shop preparation and weeks of fine-tuning at the speedway all come to fruition as 33 modern-day gladiators take on 500 miles at the historic 2.5-mile oval.
Leading the field is Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou, who clocked the fastest pole speed in Indy 500 history last weekend with a whopping 234.217 mph four-lap average.
Before enjoying burgers and hot dogs on the grill over Memorial Day weekend, take a look at some of the storylines to watch.
Distance: 200 Laps / 500 miles
Most Lead Changes: 68 (May 26, 2013)
Most Wins: 4 (A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Rick Mears and Helio Castroneves)
Closest Margin of Victory: 0.043 seconds (Al Unser Jr. over Scott Goodyear, May 24, 1992)
From The Broadcast Booth
Looking ahead to Sunday, former pole winner and current NBC Sports Analyst James Hinchcliffe believes the action will be closer than in recent years due to a change in downforce this season.
“I think certainly with the added downforce options that IndyCar brought to the speedway this year, we’re in for a good race,” Hinchcliffe told SPEED SPORT. “We saw this trend in Texas where we’ve had some difficult races the last few seasons, we showed up with some added downforce and it really did help the cause.
“From what we’ve seen in practice, I think cars can definitely follow a lot closer. Even though it’s still not easy to pass, I think we’ve made that window a little bit wider and opened up the opportunities a little bit further down the line.”
Alongside Hinchcliffe in the booth will be 10-time Indy 500 starter Townsend Bell. Bell is a firm believer that the type of race viewers see will be determined early on.
“The flow of the race is oftentimes really determined in that first stint,” Bell said. “Does it go green for 40 or 50 laps to start this race, or is there kind of high drama and big aggression at the start that puts us into a cadence of maybe more yellows than we’ve seen in the past?
“I tend to think we’re going to be more in that dramatic first stint where there’s going to be some contested moments at the end of these long straightaways at the speedway.”
With many potential contenders racing up from midpack, the beginning stages will be crucial in having a successful race.
“Turn one and turn three, maybe even on the start, principally because you’ve got so much high expectation coming from the middle of the pack with two Penske drivers, Newgarden and McLaughlin, starting further back, Ed Carpenter and Will Power, who we already talked about,” Bell said.
“These are cars and drivers expecting to be at the front and to be there early, so I’ll be watching big moves at the start and see what the resulting drama looks like.”
Ganassi Vs. McLaren?
Since the first practice session earlier this month, the top of the time sheets have been heavily plastered with Chip Ganassi Racing and Arrow McLaren entries.
Within the first four rows of three for Sunday’s race, four CGR Hondas are present along with four Arrow McLaren Chevrolets (66%).
Polesitter Palou’s No. 10 entry has been red-hot since the NTT IndyCar Series arrived at Indianapolis. The 2021 champion notched his first win of the season in the Indy Grand Prix earlier this month, while also winning the pole for Sunday’s race.
The last time a driver swept the month of May was Simon Pagenaud in 2019 when he notched the Indy trifecta – winning the Grand Prix, Indy 500 pole and Indy 500 race.
Palou’s teammates have also shown sheer speed. Starting sixth, six-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon is searching for his second (2008) win in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Dixon’s track record at Indianapolis is nothing short of legendary. After winning the pole last season and leading early, Dixon passed Al Unser for the most laps led in Indy 500 history (665).
Last year’s Indy 500 can’t be talked about without mentioning reigning winner Marcus Ericsson, who also drives for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Ericsson, who starts 10th, has been near the top of the board all month long. Helio Castroneves was the last driver to win back-to-back Indy 500s, doing so in 2001-’02.
The x-factor in Ganassi’s stable is two-time Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato. Known for his daring and thrilling driving style, Sato has consistently been a threat since hitting the track.
Competing in an oval-only schedule, all bets are off for Sato who rolls off eighth in search of his third Indy victory.
Leading the four-car McLaren brigade is Felix Rosenqvist from the third position. Rosenqvist’s No. 6 Chevrolet led the way in the first day of Indy 500 qualifying.
The Swedish driver finished fourth in last year’s event.
Starting from row two is Pato O’Ward in fifth. O’Ward finished second to Ericsson last year. In three attempts at the 500-mile race, O’Ward hasn’t finished worse than sixth (2020).
In three attempts at the 500-mile race, O’Ward hasn’t finished worse than 6th (2020).
2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi has been in the shadows of his teammates throughout the month, though is right on pace as he starts seventh on Sunday.
It’s been a rejuvenating year for Rossi who joined Arrow McLaren after seven seasons with Andretti Autosport.
His last two races on the schedule have been stout with two top 10’s, highlighted by his first podium of the season in third at the Indy GP.
Kanaan’s Last Ride
It’ll be a bittersweet afternoon for Tony Kanaan, who will make his 22nd and final Indy 500 start. Piloting the No. 66 for Arrow McLaren, Kanaan starts ninth.
After finishing third for CGR last year, the 2013 Indy 500 winner is looking to end his IndyCar Series career on the highest note possible – drinking milk in victory lane.
A.J. Foyt Racing’s Blistering Speed
Earlier this season, the notion of an A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet contending for a victory at any event, let alone the Indy 500, seemed ludicrous.
Though after countless practice and qualifying sessions, Santino Ferrucci and rookie Benjamin Pedersen have changed the narrative. To put it simple, both cars are fast. Very fast.
Both drivers made the Fast 12 on Sunday, with Ferrucci narrowly missing the front row in fourth. In his first Indy 500 attempt, Pedersen will roll off in 11th.
In his rookie year, Pedersen has taken his lumps thus far with a best finish of 15th at the Texas Motor Speedway oval.
Though with a refreshed outlook this month on the Indianapolis oval, things are looking up for the 24-year-old, who set the fastest qualifying lap by a rookie in Indy 500 history (233.297 mph), topping Tony Stewart’s lap from 1996 (233.179 mph).
Ferrucci, aboard the No. 14 made famous by the legendary A.J. Foyt, has been quietly brilliant in the event since his maiden Indy 500 in 2019.
In four starts at the 2.5-mile oval, Ferrucci has never finished outside the top 10 (average finish of 6.8).
Starting up front for the first time after firing off no better than 15th in four previous attempts, Ferrucci may contend for the win.
Rahal’s Saving Grace
It’s been a whirlwind of a week for Graham Rahal. After getting bumped from the 33-car field last Sunday by teammate Jack Harvey by a mere 0.0044 seconds, Rahal was set to miss his first Indy 500 after 15 consecutive starts.
After a crash in practice on Monday sidelined Stefan Wilson, Rahal was tapped to replace Wilson aboard the No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing/Cusick Motorsports Chevrolet.
It’ll be a big adjustment for Rahal having to start fresh with a new race team and engine manufacturer with only Carb Day practice remaining. Wilson qualified the No. 24 car 25th.
No. 19 For Team Penske?
It’s been a struggle for Team Penske at the Indy 500 since Pagenaud earned the team’s 18th victory in the race in 2019.
Last season, the highest-running Penske entry, Josef Newgarden, finished a distant 13th.
Though the outlook for Roger Penske and the legendary organization is optimistic heading into Sunday’s race.
With Will Power being the only Penske driver to make the Fast 12 during qualifying (12th), the team continues to search for the speed needed to lead the field.
Two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Newgarden, who starts 17th, is confident in the team’s approach despite not having an answer yet.
“I think our approach is similar to always; this race, this team knows how to win this race,” Newgarden said. “They’ve won it the most of anybody. They’re very successful at doing it.
“I think the core principles need to stay the same as always, but we know we need to elevate our game with regards to speed and we’ve been chipping away at it. There’s been a tremendous amount of effort from everybody. There’s no shortage of effort.”
Entering his third Indy 500, Scott McLaughlin will once again pilot the No. 3 Pennzoil “yellow submarine” entry. McLaughlin will start 14th.
Team owner Roger Penske would like nothing more than to add a 19th Borg-Warner Trophy to his immense collection.