Row By Row-The 96th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race

This year is a unique Indianapolis 500. Not only do we have new cars and engines, but lots of new drivers as well. Filling this year’s filed are eight rookies, four other drivers that were not in last year’s 500, and only three returning winners. Interestingly enough, this has also been one of the cleanest Months of May ever. Contributing to that might be the fact that of the eight rookies, only two had never driven at a Champ Car, IRL or Formula One level before. Four drivers in this year’s field have Formula One experience (Barrichello, Sato, Bourdais, Alesi.)  There are nine Americans, two Canadians, two Australians, four Brazilians, two New Zealanders, four Brittish, three French, one Scottish, one Japanese, one Venezuelan, one Columbian, one Spanish and one Swiss driver. There is roughly a 16.4 mile per hour difference between 1st and 33rd, equaling to around 13 seconds over four laps in time difference. Here’s a quick rundown of this year’s Indy 500 field by row.

Row 1
3 thousandths of a mile per hour. That’s all that separates Ryan Briscoe and James Hinchcliffe. That equals roughly 6  inches between Pole and middle front row this year. Hinch ran a blistering 227mph warmup lap, but unfortunately his speeds dropped off too much during his Shootout run. Ryan Hunter-Reay joins them on the front row, capping off a spectacular pre-race month of May for Andretti Autosport.

Row 2
The second row, while fairly tight timewise, has a pretty drastic time dropoff from the front row. Marco Andretti occupies Inside Row 2, which has to be a disappointment since his name was in Pole Position discussion. Will Power sits in the middle of Row 2, looking for his best Indy effort. Helio Castroneves rounds out the row, positioning himself in a prime position to capture his fourth Indy 500 win.

Row 3
Josef Newgarden has quickly become a fan favorite this season, and he didn’t disappoint over May as he’s consistently been at the top of the speed charts. Newgy is many people’s dark horse to win the 500. Tony Kanaan wasn’t as fast over the month as he typically is, but he made the Shootout. He and fellow KV Teammate E.J. Viso both declined to set times in the Shootout. Viso has been surprisingly quick and consistent this year. look for him to surprise many in the race.

Row 4
Rubens Barrichello took most of this year’s practice time to adjust to oval racing, and his work certainly paid off. He just barely missed bumping teammate E.J. Viso for a spot in the shootout. Last year’s Pole Sitter Alex Tagliani looked impressive in Bryan Herta Autosport’s Chevy, despite only having the engine for a short time. Graham Rahal had a decent run up to qualifying, but he never showed the speed at Indy that he’s shown in the past. Maybe he can make up ground in the race.

Row 5
Ana Beatriz looked quite fast in all practices leading up to qualifying. Starting Inside Row 5 is definitely a victory for her in a very part time entry. Charlie Kimball did the improbably by out qualifying his two teammates at Target Chip Ganassi Racing. He’s looking to redeem himself after being blamed for Hildebrand’s accident last year. Scott Dixon starts unusually deep for himself at Indy, but issues with gearing prevented a better starting spot. Look for him to quickly move up on the start.

Row 6
Dario Franchitti’s rough season continues with a poor qualifying effort at Indy. Granted he should finish the race much better than his starting position, but being back in the field in dirty air has to be a concern.  James Jakes starts Middle Row 6, and has been consistently solid all month. Anything less than a Top Ten should be a disappointment. Last year’s Rookie of the Year J.R. Hildebrand starts Outside Row 6. Can he improve upon last year’s result? Only a win will do.

Row 7
Takuma Sato’s qualifying effort does not reflect his Month of May. Taku should be Top 10 by the end of the day, if not contending for a win. Townsend Bell steps into his yearly ride with an okay month, but nothing really outstanding. A middle of the pack finish for him should be expected. Justin Wilson has been fast this year, but still struggles on ovals when the pressure is turned up. He should be Top 10. If Wilson finishes Top 10 is a different story.

Row 8
Michel Jourdain hops back into a car at Indy for the first time in a long time. He struggled for speed much of the month, but managed to be a first day qualifier. Simon Pagenaud is another driver that struggled for speed much of the month, but should have a much better race than qualifying effort. Sebastien Saavedra rounded out the first day qualifiers. While blazing fast some days, Saavedra lacked consistency much of the month, well behind his Andretti teammates on the speed charts.

Row 9
It’s amazing that Sebastian Bourdais qualified this high with barely one day of practice in the new Chevy engine. If he gets a clean run, a Top 10 finish isn’t out of the question. “The Whade,” Wade Cunningham, starts Middle Row 9. Most people won’t pay attention to him, but Wade should be a dark horse to win. Oriol Servia rounds out Row 9. Look for him to make his way up front rather quickly. The feeling is he’s going to out Brazilian the Brazilians on the start.

Row 10
Starting this deep in the field has to be a disappointment for Ed Carpenter, but he did wad up a car quite nicely. If Ed’s new car allows it, he should be on his way forward. Mike Conway has never been able to figure out Indy. Mid pack would be an acceptable finish here. Katherine Legge showed surprising speed quickly in her first trip to Indy. Simply surviving this year’s race would be a good scenario for her.

Row 11
Bryan Clauson demolished his DW12 during quals on Pole Day, so the SFHR crew dialed in a race setup for his attempt on Bump Day simply to get a time in. If he avoids shenanigans, a Top 15 finish would be nice. Simona de Silvestro was the fastest Lotus entry, but you know she has to be incredibly unhappy being this far back in the grid. Jean Alesi, unfortunately, might finish in the same position he starts, being 33rd. It’s a shame a driver of his caliber has to suffer through a month like this.

My Prediction
1. Helio Castroneves
2. James Hinchcliffe
3. Josef Newgarden
4. Will Power
5. Ryan Hunter-Reay

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