Indy 500 - Preview

Whose likeness will be added to the Borg-Warner Trophy after this year's Indy 500?

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Indy 500 - Preview
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While a majority of the month of May is devoted to the meticulous preparation for the crown jewel event on the NTT IndyCar Series calendar, most teams will already be planning for next year after the 103rd running of the Great American Race ends.

For some, this is their only race of the season. All of their proverbial eggs are put into a single 230+ mph carbon fiber basket. As we have recently seen, and over the preceding years, earning a spot in the 33 car field is a monumental task all on its own. Previous winners have also experienced the bitter taste of humbling rejection from the circuit affectionately known as the Brickyard. The motivational prospect that outweighs the enormous risk is the chance at sporting immortality. If you manage to win, you have not only succeeded on one of the world's most iconic racing circuits, but your name and likeness will be engraved on a towering silver trophy that has been purposefully built to outlast us all.

Newspaper articles, media photos, magazine features, television broadcasts, museum exhibits, social media posts, and audience recollections will all remember who triumphed on Memorial Day weekend in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Compared to other famous motorsport events like the 24 Hours of Le Mans or the Dakar Rally, the Indianapolis 500 is a prestigious sprint race. The marathon takes place beforehand, with multiple practice sessions, grid order qualifying, more practice laps, media tours, a pit-stop competition, and all of the patriotic pageantry that surrounds the lead-up to the event. Ideally, the race should be completed in just under three hours, but those relatively short hours include some of the most intense moments that a driver will experience in his or her racing career.

Leading the incredibly competitive field to the highly anticipated green flag start will be the Indy GP winner and Team Penske Chevrolet driver Simon Pagenaud. Can he carry the team's momentum to his first Indy 500 win, much like his teammate Will Power emphatically did last year? It will be a monumental effort, considering that three of the fastest cars throughout the month will be alongside and right behind him. Ed Carpenter narrowly missed out on his fourth pole position, on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, but must take great pride in seeing his stablemates Spencer Pigot and Ed Jones at the sharp end of the grid too. It will be Carpenter's 16th attempt, and the ECR team owner/driver will try to go one better than his best result of 2nd last year.

Colton Herta is not only the best starting Honda driver, but he's also the best placed rookie. The Harding Steinbrenner Racing team's technical partnership with Andretti Autosport has been paying dividends all month, but it's Colton's confidence that has been the most impressive. Having already won at the speedway in Indy Lights, and claiming his first IndyCar win in only his second start, he has as much of a chance at victory as the veteran drivers around him. Those drivers include: defending race winner Will Power, Sebastien Bourdais, Josef Newgarden, 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi, and so close but not close enough Marco Andretti.

I've been following this series and watching this annual event for a long time, and I can't remember the field being so close in speed! The competitiveness of the part-time drivers has given the regulars plenty to worry about, as potential spoilers are present throughout. Conor Daly, 3-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, Oriol Servia, Charlie Kimball, and JR Hildebrand are all capable of winning in the most important of their limited appearances.

Marcus Ericsson qualified in an impressive 13th position for his first 500 mile race, and will soon experience all of the unique obstacles that must be overcome in order to bask in the glow of victory and drink from the traditional bottle of milk. His Arrow SPM teammate James Hinchcliffe almost missed out for the second year in a row, making the Swedes' performance thus far even more impressive.

Previous winners like Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Tony Kanaan may not have vaulted up the order tree in qualifying, but they are legitimate threats for the win from anywhere on the grid. Especially Kanaan, who was in contention for victory last year, with the A.J. Foyt team, before a slow puncture caused an unscheduled stop halfway through the race and an unfortunate crash with 12 laps to go ended their day.

The Bump Day qualifying period provided far more tension for the competitors and entertainment for the spectators than anyone could have imagined. With Pippa Mann, driving for Clauson-Marshall Racing, securing an exuberant spot in the top 30 and rookie Ben Hanley putting in a Herculean time trial effort for DragonSpeed, we all saw some unlikely names on the outside looking in. Sage Karam, another late-race contender last year, and fellow American Kyle Kaiser put in clutch performances for the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Juncos Racing teams, respectively.

Patricio O' Ward, Max Chilton, and 2017 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Fernando Alonso are on the outside looking in.

All three drivers are not watching from the sidelines or a comfy couch because of a lack of talent. The setup of their cars did not allow them to achieve the average speed they needed to be one of the fastest 33. There's so much more to the story than that, but that statement exemplifies the challenge of competing in the Indy 500. You have to get everything right because the margin for error is so minute. As a result, the longshots (or underdogs if you will) can shine on the grandest stage in open-wheel racing. The emotions and celebrations, just after certain drivers made it into the field, were rapturous. Imagine what it will be like if they actually win the race!

With six or more pit stops, potential cautions, fuel management, seemingly endless adjustments, and the uncertainty over whether the cars will be as aero sensitive as they were last year when in close proximity, there are so many things that can go wrong or opportunities to put yourself in the optimal position for those final twenty laps. It's every man or woman for themselves in the pursuit of an athletic achievement that may even dwarf any Olympic event.

I've been feeling very superstitious lately, so I have no fantasy recommendations at this time. My only gut prediction goes along with the high probability that Sunday's victor will be a first-time Indy 500 winner and possible 6th different winner out of the first six races of the season.

Beyond that, I'm hoping for a safe and entertaining race for all involved!

The 103rd Indy 500 broadcast will air this Sunday at 11am EST on the NBC Network, with the race start at 12:45pm.

(Check your participating IndyCar Media international broadcasting networks for regional times)

Pole sitter Pagenaud leads Indy 500 practice for 33 qualifiers

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