102nd Indianapolis 500: Weekend Preview

by Chris Leone // Website // Twitter
Images via James Black/IndyCar (1); Joe Skibinski/IndyCar (2); Matt Fraver/IndyCar (3)

There’s no question that Memorial Day weekend is the most important time of the year in the world of motorsport. It’s when Formula 1 visits its most historic locale for the Monaco Grand Prix, and NASCAR comes home for its only 600-mile race of the year in Charlotte. But most importantly, the oldest and most iconic race on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule takes center stage in the early afternoon: the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500.

After two weekends of competition at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, kicking off with the IndyCar Grand Prix on the road course two weeks ago and 500 qualifying last weekend, the field of 33 is set for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. There are still plenty of festivities for local fans to enjoy in the coming days, from Friday’s Carb Day (including the annual Pit Stop Challenge) to Saturday’s Legends Day, but all focus right now is on what it takes to be at the front of the field after 500 miles.

Gates will open at 6AM ET on Sunday, and cars will first make it to pit lane at 9:30 before coming to the frontstretch shortly after 10. Drivers will be called to their cars at 12:05PM, with the command to start engines coming at 12:14 and the green flag coming seven minutes later. NBA star Victor Oladipo will drive the pace car, while Avengers: Infinity War star Chris Hemsworth will serve as the honorary starter.

Bump Day drama returned for the first time in seven years last weekend, with two fan favorites going home empty handed. Indy-only Dale Coyne Racing driver Pippa Mann was one of the drivers left off the grid, but in a shock development that will have major championship implications, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe also failed to bump his way back into the field. With this race counting for double points in the championship, the current fifth-place driver will face a long road ahead to return to the top half of the standings.

It’s all smiles on the other end of the grid, though, as Ed Carpenter Racing and Team Penske dominated the Fast Nine portion of qualifying with seven of the combined nine cars in the first three rows. Carpenter himself took his third career 500 pole, and will look to improve on his career-best fifth place finish at this race from 2008. His pole run displaced what would’ve been an all-Penske front row, as former series champions Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden held the top three spots before Carpenter qualified.

ECR and Penske also boast two of the most prominent one-off entries in the field, with Danica Patrick and Helio Castroneves each making their respective IndyCar returns. Patrick’s eighth career 500 start will be her last as a professional racing driver, while Castroneves looks for his fourth career 500 victory. Former Indy 500 runners-up Carlos Munoz and J.R. Hildebrand will also make their only scheduled starts of the season for Andretti Autosport and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, respectively.

But as intriguing as the one-offs are, don’t lose sight of how this race will affect the overall championship battle. Four of the top six—Newgarden, Power, Sebastien Bourdais, and Scott Dixon—made the Fast Nine, but seventh-place Graham Rahal and second-place Alexander Rossi will line up 30th and 32nd.

Finally, Takuma Sato enters the event as last year’s winner, and one of six former 500 winners on the grid. After he and his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammates struggled for speed on Saturday’s Bump Day session, Sato managed to recover to qualify 16th in the Sunday session that set the final grid. While the team had hoped for a stronger qualifying result, remember that he had qualified 19th in 2012 when he nearly passed Dario Franchitti on the final lap while also driving for RLL.

Television coverage of the 102nd Indianapolis 500 begins with pre-race ceremonies on ABC at 11AM ET.

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