IRL: Let May begin: Indy 500 entry rundown

The entries are in and it looks like there will be sufficient cars to make a full field of 33 for the 88th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. At this point there are two former race winners, four previous MBNA polesitters, five rookies,...

The entries are in and it looks like there will be sufficient cars to make a full field of 33 for the 88th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

At this point there are two former race winners, four previous MBNA polesitters, five rookies, 13 drivers from the United States and 12 foreign-born drivers listed by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Sixty-eight cars have been entered and, of those 46 are Dallara and 18 are Panoz G Force chassis, with four TBA (to be announced). Toyota has 23 entries, Chevrolet 21 and Honda has 20 cars listed in the field. There are 4 TBA engines.

Nine Indy 500 entries don't name a driver for cars and, in many cases the backup car is listed as TBA, adding more intrigue for Bubble Day, May 23rd.

Entries for this year's Greatest Spectacle in Racing closed on March 31st but at that time there was still opportunity for entrants to convey their paperwork by US Postal Service, resulting in two entries by Access Motorsports and Newman/Haas Racing. The latter have not yet divulged any core details about their return to the 2.5-mile Brickyard track after an eight-year absence.

Two two-time winners head up the list as Helio Castroneves (2001-2) and Al Unser Jr. (1992, 1994) will attempt to qualify on the first weekend of time trials May 15-16. Unser Jr. has the most starts of the 25 drivers acknowledged for the 500 this year with 16. He will be trying for #17 driving U.E. "Pat" Patrick's #20 Dallara/Chevrolet; a sponsor has not yet been named.

Mr. Patrick, a founder of CART has three Indianapolis 500 Baby Borg trophies, for Gordon Johncock in 1973 and 1982 and Emerson Fittipaldi's 1989 win over his newest driver, Unser Jr.

Castroneves is partnered with Sam Hornish Jr. at Marlboro Team Penske, with a brace of Dallara/Toyota cars on tap for each to use. Team Penske is also bringing its #66 Panoz G Force/Toyota to the Speedway and, like last year, could lease the equipment to another team once their cars are safely in the field.

The goal for Helio and Sam of course, is to bring Roger Penske a slam-dunk of 14 Indy 500 victories and four in a row. Not too much pressure, eh?

There will be five new faces for Indy 500 fans to enjoy, four of whom compete regularly on the IndyCar Series trail. Ed Carpenter has a brace of #52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet cars at his disposal; he won the inaugural Futaba Freedom 100 Menards Infiniti Pro Series race at IMS last May. Darren Manning's #10 and #10T Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota tubs are ready for the Speedway.

Rookie Kosuke Matsuura's #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda and its spare were the first cars entered for this year's race. Last year's Menards Infiniti Pro Series champion, rookie Mark Taylor is entered in a duo of #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevrolet cars from Panther Racing.

The wild card among this bunch is Canadian Marty Roth, the oldest driver entered at 45. Currently competing fulltime in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, Roth has a single #25 Dallara/Toyota on the entry list. Roth will try to do his own kind of double, by winning the Futaba Freedom 100 on May 22nd and then cop the Indy 500 on May 30th. In order to do so, he must qualify for the big race and, despite the wealth of crew talent on his Roth Racing team; it's still unknown whether Marty has the right stuff.

This field is primarily populated by regular Indy Racing League IndyCar Series competitors and, with the changes wrought by Brian Barnhart, Phil Casey & Co. with regard to engine size, this should be one of the more fascinating months of May in recent memory.

While IRL racing operations hasn't yet determined the precise chassis regulations it intends to impose for the 500, suffice to say practice and qualifying will be more of a crap shoot than in the recent past.

Practice opens on Sunday, May 9th and most of the usual cast of characters should be on-site to vie for first on the track.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing, who field current IndyCar Series champ Scott Dixon and Briton Darren Manning, are bringing two Panoz G Force/Toyotas for each driver, the #1 for Dixon and #10 for Manning.

If Dixon can keep his concentration, he's a good shot to succeed over 200 laps this year, posing a stern threat to the Penske juggernaut. Hopefully he'll be looking forward to a Brickyard win before heading off to F1, if in fact he completes the test well at Barcelona this week.

As for Manning, in his first 3-liter test on April 3rd, he spent the day learning all about small things that work - and don't work - at Indy, without a hiccup. The team is pleased with his progress in the first two races and likes his methodology.

During the same inaugural 3-liter test, Tomas Scheckter drove 400 miles in mostly long stints to get data for the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet. Panther Racing entered two chassis for Scheckter, who was co-Rookie of the Year in 2002 while driving for Eddie Cheever. It's worth remembering that Jody's kid is still only 23 years old and, with the cohesive group at Panther seems to have better control of his urge to lead all laps.

This May Indy welcomes back Adrian Fernandez, who has been gone from the track since 1995 and the start of the Indy Car Civil War. Recognizing their need to race at the Brickyard, Fernandez and sponsors Tecate, Quaker State and Telmex joined the Indy Racing League at Phoenix international Raceway. Not an auspicious start with a shifting miscue by the Mexican veteran, but he'll be tough with his brace of #5 Panoz G Force/Honda entries.

Last year's "super sub" Bryan Herta, who spent much of the month of May in a testing role for Andretti Green Racing will be back home again for the first time since, yes 1995. Last Saturday Herta compiled lots of laps around the IMS oval while testing his #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda; AGR has a spare entered for the California resident to dial in, as well.

Scott Sharp has a diabolic relationship with Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He'll be trying for another pole after miffing the opportunity afforded him as MBNA polesitter in 2001. This is Sharp's eighth season with Kelley Racing and they've scored a win together every year as a team. There are two #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota cars allocated to the Connecticut native, who has a teammate - if not for the rest of the season, at least at Indy, in Sarah Fisher.

It's been a tough haul for the Indy Racing League's Most Popular Driver. Fisher came from the type of roots Tony George wished to engage in the Indy Racing League. She's got midget props, has driven winged outlaws and is pursuing a college degree. Sarah has secured the #39 Kelley Racing Dallara/Toyota for the month of May and is hoping to transfer that into more rides throughout the season.

Going into next weekend's Japan Indy 300, Tony Kanaan and the second Andretti Green Racing entry of two #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Hondas are first in the point standings, just like last year. Kanaan has always run strongly on the Brickyard, took his first CART win at Michigan Speedway and is one savvy character. This will be his third appearance on the qualifying line here and Kanaan is a threat for victory everywhere he goes.

Last year Tora Takagi earned Rookie of the Year honors at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for his fifth place finish in Mo Nunn Racing's #12 Pioneer Toyota. In 2003 it was a Panoz G Force entry, but this year Nunn's outfit is running a Dallara. Thus far, the combination has worked well for Takagi, who holds sixth place in the point race. Nunn has also entered a #21 Dallara/Toyota for a player to be named later, but the car number is generic to Felipe Giaffone. There is no back-up machine.

One of the final entrants in the 88th Indy 500, Greg Ray and Access Motorsports have entered two #13 Panoz G Force/Honda machines, even as team members claim to have only one built car. Ray, the 1999 IRL champion and 2000 Indy 500 polesitter is learning how to drive the car like he owns it because, of course he does. Ever the aggressor, he's had to temper that until it matters.

The IRL's youngest competitor, Anthony Joseph Foyt IV turned 19 the day of last year's Indy 500. He'll have two #14 Conseco Dallara/Toyota machines at his disposal with Richie Simon serving as crew chief. His grandfather A.J. Foyt Jr. also has papers for a couple of #41 Dallara/Toyota machines with Craig Baranowski listed as crew chief but no driver named. Could this be where John Andretti lands?

Initially hired by Team Rahal after his 2000 Toyota Atlantic championship to learn the ropes in Champ Car, Buddy Rice is back with that team driving the #15 Pioneer/Argent Mortgage Panoz G Force/Honda assigned to Kenny Brack. When the Swede was injured at the season finale, Buddy finally got the call to step in and immediately rewarded Rahal with pole position at Homestead, a 7th-place finish there and ninth at Phoenix. He'll have a primary and spare dedicated to his needs this month of May.

Last year's IndyCar Series Bombardier Rookie of the Year contender, Roger Yasukawa landed a two-race deal with Team Rahal for Twin Ring Motegi and this year's Indy 500. Sponsorship of his #16 Panoz G Force/Honda comes from Sammy, the gaming entertainment company that just purchased Sega. Californian Yasukawa hopes to parlay two good finishes into a longer stretch with the Hilliard, OH based group, led by crew chief Dennis Swan.

Team Rahal has a third #17 entry with TBA written all over it. Greg Cates is crew chief for the entry, which is being held for Kenny Brack. If KB is ready to play guitar but not race perhaps Vitor Meira will get the run? The Brazilian has a one-race deal with Rahal in Japan but nothing after the end of April.

PDM Racing came to the Speedway last year with a pair of #18 Dallara/Chevrolet racers for Jimmy Kite, who took the opportunity from 32nd to 13th over 500 miles. No driver has been named the two-car entry this year, but this team had its car working pretty well with Ed Carpenter up for the final three races of 2003; they are always a dark horse.

Dreyer & Reinbold have entered three cars: a couple of #24 Purex Dallara/Chevys for Robbie Buhl and a solitary #23 Dallara/Chevrolet for a player to be named later. Buhl's had a slow start to the season but feels confident the team can get it together for May.

Andretti Green Racing came to Indy last year with four entries and everyone said, at the time it was way too much. So this year they are doing it again, except this time they've got four entries for the entire 16-race season.

Bombardier Rookie of the Year Dan Wheldon is back in a couple of #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda entries, hoping he doesn't go flying again in 2004. Following his wild ride at Indy where he ended up 19th, Wheldon improved throughout the year. He's a solid performer and proved to be a good tester last week in the 3-liter test.

Dario Franchitti had a brace on his back this time last year after a motorbike accident. He's back with a great desire to succeed in the #27 Arca/Ex Dallara/Honda but, at this point has no results to show. The Scot has only one less-than-successful start (28th to 19th) at IMS in 2002 and would clearly like to improve on that.

In addition to two-car entries for Taylor and Scheckter, Panther Racing has two Pedigo Chevrolet-sponsored #44 Dallara/Chevrolets waiting for the right driver. Another possible seat for John Andretti?

Eddie Cheever won the Indy 500 in 1998 with his own team and hasn't looked back. This year it's the most professional outfit he's had to date, with Alex Barron and Ed Carpenter driving the #51 and #52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolets quite well in the opening rounds. If anyone thought Cheever might come out of retirement to race this year, it's probably safe to shelve that.

Beck Motorsports has a couple of #54 Dallara/Chevrolet entries with no driver or crew chief named. Stay tuned on that one. Beck had a Honda deal last year with Shinji Nakano, but not this time around.

Only one Ironman has declared for the 2004 Indianapolis 500 and Coca Cola 600 this year, and that would be Robby Gordon, one serious racer. This guy lives to race but has also been known to be a meddler as a team owner. If he leaves team manager Thomas Knapp and crew chief Bharat Naran to do the job they've been paid for, it'll be a good run for the two #70 Meijer/Coca Cola Dallara/Chevrolets Gordon's group is preparing for him in North Carolina.

With nearly no practice last year, Gordon used his substitute role for Dario Franchitti to nearly notch MBNA pole position, starting third next to Castroneves and Kanaan. A gearbox problem sent him back to Lowe's Motor Speedway and the NASCAR 600-miler a wee bit earlier than Robby wanted. Success at Indy might propel his team into a regular IndyCar Series operation.

No longer affiliated with Buddy Lazier - or if they are, nobody's talking about it - Hemelgarn Racing has a two-car #91 Dallara/Chevy entry but no driver. Dennis LaCava is crew chief. If Lazier can harness some funding, he'd probably get the nod with this group.

And finally, there's Newman/Haas Racing. Yes, Carl Haas and Paul Newman are coming back to Indianapolis, just a three-hour drive from Lincolnshire, IL where the NHR shops prepare Champ Car entries for Bruno Junqueira and Sebastien Bourdais. They, too, haven't been in the Circle City on racing business since 1995.

The team's last-minute two-car, unnumbered entry with no engines, chassis or driver(s) named simply lists Mark Shambarger as crew chief. Most excellent wizard Jim McGee has set up shop for NHR on Gasoline Alley.

The scenarios inherent in the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race are awfully enticing. New engines, revised chassis settings, familiar and new drivers and teams, all conspire to give this month of May intriguing stories. These will play out starting May 9th and ending with the checkered flags Sunday afternoon, May 30th.

The 88th Indy 500 may not be the fastest 500 on record, thanks to safety-related changes to the cars, but it might be among the closest fought races in recent history. The pieces are in place.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers John Andretti , Tomas Scheckter , Mark Taylor , Darren Manning , Robby Gordon , Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Felipe Giaffone , Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Robbie Buhl , Buddy Lazier , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Jimmy Kite , Adrian Fernandez , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Bryan Herta , Shinji Nakano , Kenny Brack , Alex Barron , Dan Wheldon , Sébastien Bourdais , Roger Yasukawa , Buddy Rice , Emerson Fittipaldi , Marty Roth , Carl Haas , Kosuke Matsuura , Chip Ganassi , Tony George , Gordon Johncock , A.J. Foyt Jr. , Roger Penske , Brian Barnhart , Jim Beam , Sam Hornish Jr. , Ed Carpenter , Mo Nunn , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing