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IndyCar Indianapolis 500

Preview: What to look out for in the 2024 Indy 500

From a 49-year-old superstar to a NASCAR king making his debut, via a tarnished 2023 winner, there’ll be plenty to keep an eye on in America’s big one. Here are five of the main plot points to follow...

This Sunday's 108th edition of the Indianapolis 500 is the most prestigious event of the IndyCar season, as 33 cars vie for the honour of claiming one of motorsport's three biggest prizes.

Eight previous winners are among the field, which features a NASCAR Cup champion among the impressive rookie crop, and will be led the green flag by an all-Team Penske front row.

Scott McLaughlin set a new record four-lap pole speed of 234.220mph to beat Will Power and Josef Newgarden, bringing smiles to a team that has been under fire in recent weeks following the St. Petersburg push-to-pass scandal. All of which means there's no shortage of storylines heading into the race...

Larson: 1100 miles in one day

Larson is making his IndyCar debut and has impressed with his application so far

Larson is making his IndyCar debut and has impressed with his application so far

Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

There are very few things that Kyle Larson hasn’t experienced in motorsport. He has long been notorious for bouncing from his main focus in the NASCAR Cup to various dirt tracks across the country to race late models, midgets or sprint cars. Now he adds IndyCar to his CV with the 108th running of the Indianapolis 500 on 26 May. 

The 2021 NASCAR Cup champion will be driving the Chevrolet-powered #17 entry that is co-entered by Arrow McLaren and Rick Hendrick, for whom Larson drives in NASCAR. At 31, he is the fifth driver to attempt ‘The Double’, competing in the Indy 500 and the 600-mile Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the same day.

The last to do that was Kurt Busch in 2014; the first was the late John Andretti in 1994, with Robby Gordon (five times) and Tony Stewart (twice) in between. Stewart’s 2001 effort remains the most successful, finishing sixth at Indy and third at Charlotte, and he remains the only driver to complete all 1100 miles.

“I’m not sitting here saying I’m going to win the Indy 500,” says Larson, who qualified an impressive fifth. “I could run worse than 20th all race long and not be surprised at all. It would be hard for anybody to just come into a foreign type of race car, foreign race procedures and everything, and win.”

Tony Kanaan, the 2013 winner of the Indy 500 who now serves as sporting director for Arrow McLaren, has been frequently present in aiding Larson’s transition. He also has Hendrick Motorsports technical director Brian Campe to lean on. Campe was the lead engineer with Team Penske for Juan Pablo Montoya’s victory in the 2015 500, and guided Josef Newgarden to his first IndyCar Series title in 2017.

“I guess the thing that I know is I’m with a great team,” adds Larson. “I know I’ve got a couple weeks of practice that will translate some to the race. I’ve got great team-mates [Pato O’Ward, Alexander Rossi and Callum Ilott]. I have Kanaan to talk to, a guy who has won the race. I have all these resources that are going to help prepare me. 

“I really just want to finish the laps, enjoy the experience, gain the experience. No matter what the result is, I know I’m going to come out of it a better, more well-rounded driver. Just getting to see how a different professional form of motorsport operates, how their prep work is, all that, driving a different car, getting used to pulling the trigger and passing somebody at 220mph into Turn 1, there’s the opportunity for me to cross through a different threshold of confidence after that.”

Newgarden’s reign under threat

Defending 500 winner Newgarden has Porsche Penske Motorsport's Jonathan Diuguid calling the shots following Cindric's suspension

Defending 500 winner Newgarden has Porsche Penske Motorsport's Jonathan Diuguid calling the shots following Cindric's suspension

Photo by: Geoffrey M. Miller / Motorsport Images

Josef Newgarden will have to block out the distractions if there are any hopes of making it back-to-back victories in the Indianapolis 500.

Momentum is not on the side of the 33-year-old Tennessee native, who comes into IndyCar’s crown jewel with consecutive finishes of 16th and 17th at Barber Motorsports Park and the road course circuit of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Those results have come on the back of being stripped of victory in the season-opening Grand Prix of St Petersburg in March – along with Penske team-mate Scott McLaughlin’s third-place finish – after both were found by IndyCar officials to be in violation of illegally using the overtake boost on restarts.

Will Power, the third member of Team Penske, also had the same software on his car, but data did not find him guilty of using it in a wrongful manner. He was still docked 10 points, while the trio were fined $25,000 each and forfeited their prize money. Additionally, legendary boss Roger Penske levied four two-race suspensions that run through the Indy 500, including Newgarden’s race strategist Tim Cindric (who is also president of Team Penske) and engineer Luke Mason.  

“I feel good now,” affirms the two-time IndyCar champion who is part of Penske’s 1-2-3 on the grid. “I felt good [at the Indy GP round]. I thought we qualified well, just didn’t get the race results to back it up, but I think we’re getting there. There’s no doubt it’s been a tough couple of weeks, but I’m ready to move forward.”

Porsche Penske Motorsport managing director Jonathan Diuguid will call the strategy for Newgarden’s Indy 500 effort, while the IMSA programme’s Daytona 24 Hours race-winning engineer Raul Prados handles duties temporarily in place of Mason.

“I just don’t think you can beat the history and, when you win the race, it just completely changes your perspective,” says Newgarden. “So, it’s been very cool to win it and to be here with this group trying to defend our title.”

A great battle for rookie honours

Chip Ganassi Racing's Lundqvist is one of the drivers eyeing an impressive rookie showing

Chip Ganassi Racing's Lundqvist is one of the drivers eyeing an impressive rookie showing

Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

This year will feature one of the most talented rookie classes in the history of the Indianapolis 500. In total, there will be six drivers contesting their respective maiden attempts at ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’. 

While Kyle Larson is undoubtedly their headliner, Honda-powered Chip Ganassi Racing sports three rookies, led by multiple Formula 2 race winner Marcus Armstrong, who claimed the 2023 IndyCar Rookie of the Year title despite not running on the ovals. The highly touted Linus Lundqvist, the 2022 Indy NXT champion who recently took his first IndyCar podium at Barber Motorsports Park, and 19-year-old Kyffin Simpson are also on board.

Christian Rasmussen, who captured the 2023 Indy NXT title, has the reins of a Chevrolet-powered machine for Ed Carpenter Racing. Nolan Siegel, who is still a full-time competitor in NXT where he sits second in the standings, was to take part with Honda squad Dale Coyne Racing. But he was the one driver who failed to make the cut in qualifying and ended his effort in the wall… Both Siegel and Simpson are also set to run in the Le Mans 24 Hours next month.

The final spot in the rookie class is Meyer Shank Racing’s Tom Blomqvist. He has a diverse resume that includes Formula E and the World Endurance Championship, but his biggest successes have come in the IMSA SportsCar Championship – he won the 2022 title and has two victories in the Daytona 24 Hours.

Ilott: IndyCar’s new supersub

Hot on the heels of his Spa WEC win, Ilott returns to the Arrow McLaren hot seat that will be occupied by Pourchaire for the rest of the season

Hot on the heels of his Spa WEC win, Ilott returns to the Arrow McLaren hot seat that will be occupied by Pourchaire for the rest of the season

Photo by: Penske Entertainment

Callum Ilott has renewed purpose. For starters, the Briton wasn’t even supposed to compete in IndyCar this season. After parting ways with Juncos Hollinger Racing, he opted for a move to the FIA World Endurance Championship.

But the drama surrounding David Malukas’s off-season injury, which ultimately resulted in his departure last month from Arrow McLaren, led to a return to IndyCar in the team’s #6 Chevrolet-powered Dallara.

Ilott drove for Arrow McLaren in the opening two events of the IndyCar season, the Grand Prix of St Petersburg and non-points race at The Thermal Club in March. He also participated in the Indy 500 Open Test with the team in April, ahead of getting the call for the race. He completes a massive effort by the team, alongside Pato O’Ward, Alexander Rossi and Kyle Larson.

“I’m P2 in the World Endurance Championship in a privateer team and just won a race,” says Ilott, fresh off his Spa 6 Hours victory in the Jota Porsche 963. “I have a 75% podium record in WEC. I’m here for the Indy 500 and two weeks afterwards I’m at Le Mans; I can’t complain. It’s not a bad life. Yeah, I couldn’t be in a better place.”

Castroneves wants to keep on going

Castroneves is determined to become the first driver ever to win five Indy 500s

Castroneves is determined to become the first driver ever to win five Indy 500s

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

Helio Castroneves is on the shortlist of legends who make up part of the Mount Rushmore in the annals of the Indianapolis 500.

At 49 years old, the Brazilian shows no signs of relenting as he aims for a record fifth victory, after earning a place alongside AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as four-time winners of the Indy 500 following his stirring victory in 2021, which also happened to be his first race with Meyer Shank Racing.

A record-breaking fifth would not only put Castroneves alone at the top, but he would also become the oldest winner in the event’s history; that honour is currently held by Unser, who won the 1987 edition just five days shy of his 48th birthday. It’s worth wondering, though, if Castroneves were to pull his Honda-powered Meyer Shank Racing entry into Victory Lane once more, would he keep going? 

“There’s no way I’m gonna stop like that,” says Castroneves, who also won the race in 2001, 2002 and 2009. “I was talking to Johnny Rutherford [three-time Indy 500 winner] and he’s like, ‘50 years; that’s when I stop’. I’m like, ‘Come on, Johnny, 50? You gotta keep going. Why didn’t you?’ Then he told me he couldn’t find a team and it was a good conversation, but I was amazed to find that out.

“There’s people that say, ‘Oh, you’re getting older’. I don’t think it has changed. The system is still pretty much the same with the drivers too, especially in this place. As long as you have the opportunity and the desire to keep it going, I don’t see a reason to stop. Yes, I would come back to extend and try to get number six, which would be awesome.”

Castroneves has pledged not to stop racing at Indy even if he does achieve the history fifth win this weekend

Castroneves has pledged not to stop racing at Indy even if he does achieve the history fifth win this weekend

Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

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