Indy 500 2013: Complete Race Preview and Predictions
Sunday's 97th running of the Indianapolis 500—if it's anything like last year's race—figures to be one of the most competitive in the history of the 102-year-old race. Speeds are slightly up from last year's event, which was filled with close racing and lots of passing and wasn't decided until a daring last-lap move produced a crash in Turn 1.
Last year's winner, Dario Franchitti, is one of two three-time winners of The Greatest Spectacle in Racing trying Sunday to join the ranks of Indianapolis' all-time elite drivers with four wins.
Other drivers, like surprise pole-sitter Ed Carpenter or current NASCAR driver AJ Allmendinger, will seek to take the checkered flag, drink the traditional celebratory glass of milk in Victory Lane and have their face etched forever on the famous Borg-Warner Trophy.
Ahead, we'll preview everything you need to know about this year's Indy 500.
What's Happened in IndyCar in 2013
Sunday's Indy 500 serves as the fifth race of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule, a season that to this point has provided plenty of surprise on one hand and continued domination on another.
American Ryan Hunter-Reay won the 2012 series championship after holding off Australia's Will Power in a dramatic final race at Auto Club Speedway in California last October.
The success continued for Hunter-Reay's teammate in the 2013 season opener. At the Honda Grand Prix in St. Petersburg, Fla., Canadian James Hinchcliffe drove Danica Patrick's former car to his first career IndyCar victory.
Hunter-Reay scaled back to competition in the season's second race in April at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., driving his No. 1 to victory over Scott Dixon by .636 seconds. In the third round, Japan's Takuma Sato became the season's second first-time winner on the streets of Long Beach, Calif., while driving for racing legend A.J. Foyt.
Sato returned to contention in IndyCar's most recent event as he tried desperately to hold off Hinchcliffe on the final lap of the Sao Paulo Indy 300 on May 5. Hinchcliffe had other plans, however, and he made a thrilling pass of Sato in the final corner of the final lap to take the win.
Key Storylines at the Indianapolis 500
Andretti Autosport's Time to Shine
Six of the last seven Indianapolis 500s have been won by drivers representing the most dominant two teams in IndyCar, Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske Racing. Neither team has shown dominance during Indy 500 qualifications or practice, and Ganassi (winner in 2010 and 2012) failed to get a single driver to start in the first three rows.
Meanwhile, all five Andretti entries will start within in the top nine positions. They appear ready to score the organization's first Indy 500 win since the late Dan Wheldon's 2005 win.
Chevrolet vs. Honda
Chevrolet-powered cars have been decidedly faster to this point at Indianapolis. They took each of the first 10 starting spots.
Honda driver Graham Rahal grumbled about a disadvantage this week, but no competitive changes are expected.
Indianapolis Resident Wins Pole
Ed Carpenter owns the car he drives and was expected to show some speed in qualifications. Surprisingly, he stole the show by topping other big-name, big-money teams and winning the pole for IndyCar's biggest race. Carpenter, the stepson of former IMS track president Tony George, was born in Illinois but lives in Indianapolis.
AJ Allmendinger returns to IndyCar
Current NASCAR driver AJ Allmendinger got into big league racing in Indy-style cars before he jumped to NASCAR full-time.
After failing a drug test last year, he was fired from his NASCAR ride with Penske Racing. The same team is giving him a second chance this season back in IndyCar as a part-time driver. He starts fifth Sunday in his first Indianapolis 500.
Underrated Indy 500 Drivers to Watch
Carpenter had moved inside the top five late in last year's Indianapolis 500 before his car snapped sideways and he spun out. He starts Sunday's race first for his self-owned team. He won the most recent IndyCar oval race at Auto Club Speedway last season.
The current NASCAR driver (though without a full-time ride) has the car and the speed to win the Indy 500 in his first try. Though he's short on IndyCar oval experience, he has the aggression and talent to be a factor at the end.
The 21-year-old Colombian is also an Indianapolis 500 rookie, but he just missed starting first in the biggest race he's ever competed. Starting second, Munoz has the strength of Andretti Autosport in his car and will try to pull off the same feat as his idol, Juan Pablo Montoya, in winning his first 500 as a rookie.
Sato made a daring move to pass Dario Franchitti on the final lap of last year's race and crashed in Turn 1. He returns to Indianapolis with no regrets and the confidence of his first IndyCar win in his pocket.
Top Drivers Expected to Contend at the Indy 500
The defending winner hasn't had great speed in practice, but he didn't last year either. By race day, his Honda was up to snuff. Franchitti shoots for a status of Indianapolis legend with a win Sunday.
Castroneves is on the brink of win No. 4 at Indianapolis, too. Unlike Franchitti, his Chevrolet has been fast in May. Combine his Indy excellence with the always-good strategy of Penske Racing and Castroneves could be dancing to a high place in racing lore.
Penske Racing's Power has long been impeccable on road and street courses in IndyCar but just average on the ovals. Inexplicably, Power has now gone over a year without a win of any type. He's worked tirelessly to improve on ovals, and Sunday could be the culmination of that work.
Easily the best active driver to never have sealed the deal at Indianapolis, Kanaan always seems to find a way into contention at the Brickyard. He'll drive a fast Chevrolet engine and aim to make his career top-five Indianapolis finishes the second-best part of his resume.
Dixon won the 2008 race, but it's a shock that he's not a multi-time winner at Indianapolis. He's finished sixth or better in the last seven Indy 500s. Dixon will be in contention near the end.
Top Women Competing in the Indianapolis 500
Janet Guthrie blazed the trail in women's racing in the 1976 Indianapolis 500. Danica Patrick's third-place finish in 2009 serves as the top finish for any woman in the race.
Patrick races NASCAR now, but women continue to be a part of the 33-car field. Sunday, four women will make the start at Indianapolis. Simona de Silvestro was the top female qualifier at 225.226 mph and will start 24th.
Brazil's Ana Beatriz qualified 29th, while a pair of female British drivers, Pippa Mann (starts 30th) and Katherine Legge (33rd), round out the field.
Indy 500 Race Predictions
The current IndyCar vehicle design and accompanying aerodynamic rules package mirror what was used for the first time at the Brickyard last season. The result was one of the most competitive Indianapolis 500 races ever.
Following are a few predictions for this year's race.
The Racing Style
Sunday's race will include extensive pack-style racing where drivers use the draft along Indianapolis' long straightaways to make passes before the tight 90-degree corners. At speeds over 220 mph, most drivers will initially play it safe in the 500-mile, 200-lap race.
Those around the end, though, won't play so nice—just as Takuma Sato did last year.
The Pivotal Difference
Honda proved to be plenty competitive in last year's race despite slow speeds during practice. If they can't turn it around this year, suddenly the pool of potential winners has narrowed considerably to Chevrolet-powered teams.
The Long Shot
AJ Allmendinger has the right race team behind him, some of the best strategy on pit road and the hard-nosed style to make risky moves and pick through the field. He's fastest enough, but does he have the experience to finish?
The Dark Horse
Marco Andretti will have a car capable of winning Sunday's race at the start. He had the same thing last year, too, but he ultimately tumbled out of contention when his team failed to make proper setup adjustments during pit stops. Andretti let the pressure get to him, and it impacted his race negatively.
If he avoids that this year, he might break the long-standing Andretti curse and actually win the Indianapolis 500.
The Top Challenger
Will Power has something to prove both on ovals and in IndyCar, thanks to his current winless streak. Penske will make the right moves to get him to the front, but his biggest hurdle will be overcoming his teammate, Allmendinger.
Helio Castroneves has too big of a jump on his chief competition in the Ganassi camp this May to let another opportunity at win No. 4 slide through his grasp. He's fast enough and experienced enough to be there when the money is counted.