By: Allan Brewer, IndyCar correspondent
- Ganassi, Penske still the favorites
- Surprise could come from a part-timer
No American wins since 2006, will 2011 be different?
Handicapping a race is risky business whether the rolling stock is equine or high-pitched whine. This 100th anniversary edition of the Indianapolis 500 is especially fraught with opportunity for mishap due to the shortened practice time the weatherman gave drivers and teams. The scenario calls for a nod to bloodlines, not morning workouts under the stopwatch.
Ganassi Racing and Team Penske sport the breed’s greatest past performances. With past Indianapolis 500 champions aboard proven machinery it is hard to pick against the powerful status quo at the Speedway. Defending champion Dario Franchitti and stablemate Scott Dixon, also a past winner, have the skill and experience to bring home a victory in the 2011 version of the “Run for the Orchids.”
Three-time victor Helio Castroneves likewise looks like a solid bet for a sterling race day result despite the trials of qualifications that left him starting in an uncharacteristic location in the field (16th on the grid of 33) on Memorial Day. Team Penske boasts 15 trips to Victory Lane and owns nearly every performance mark in existence at Indianapolis.
After all, this is the “Most Important Race in History” and legends rise to the occasion when the record books are open for rewriting. On the other hand, it is one long haul from point A to point B 500 miles later at the Brickyard and anything can happen, and often does, at the Indy 500. A case in point is past champion Buddy Rice, who starts on the inside of the third row. He earned his place on the Borg Warner trophy when the heavens opened up, and rain stopped the 2004 race which he was leading at the time.
The weatherman promises Sunday in Indianapolis will arrive hot and sunny, conditions which have not prevailed for a single practice session so far in this year’s preparations for the race. That means, for the drivers, less downforce and more treacherous track surface conditions.
Drivers already struggling with the difficulties of running in traffic, turbulence and the infamously tight Turn 1 at Indy likely will have more contentious conditions to manage over The Brickyard than anything they’ve seen thus far. Can pole sitter Alex Tagliani, with two prior Indy 500 tours to his credit and the fastest car on the grid, bring enough to the table to meet the challenge?
Dan Wheldon, Townsend Bell, Oriol Servia all offer inviting dark horse choices for consideration in your pool. No one would complain at drawing any one of those names from the hat when it’s passed on race day morning over the true fan’s pre-Indy breakfast of fried chicken, hot biscuits and beer.
In our opinion, the 2011 running of the 100th anniversary edition of the Indianapolis calls for a veteran driver running a proven strategy of waiting for the last 40 laps to turn it on. It’s the run quiet, run deep philosophy of how to win the 500. Bide your time, let the others crash or burn themselves out in the heat, make a move in the home stretch when it’s likely to stick and press hard in a fast car to that final lap and the glory.
It’s been a year for the favorites in the news this spring. If you took the Navy Seals over Bin-Laden you were handsomely rewarded. Same if you took The Lord over Nostradamus: there was no payoff for being a doom and gloomer when the tulips were blooming and the birds were chirping on May 22nd.
There’s no outcome too terrible to report as long as the story is true and the words are honest and clean. On Sunday it’s only right that God should rest, with the heavy lifting done for the week that was this year so far. It just feels right.
That’s why there’s something brewing both refreshing and reassuring at Indy this year, and it’s comforting to imagine girl-next-door, mom-to-be Sarah Fisher and Hoosier homeboy member of the Hulman George family Ed Carpenter roaring across the yard of bricks to win this Most Important Race in History.