Cookouts, parades, and red-white-and-blue bunting are three things normally associated with the Memorial Day weekend. But for racing fans, this Sunday is like Christmas and New Years’ all rolled into one.
I, like millions of other race fans, will be parked in front of the T.V. for most of the day. Three of the top racing events of the year will take place during the course of the day, starting with the crown jewel of the Formula One season—the Grand Prix of Monaco.
This race truly defines the “Champagne and Caviar” crowd of the F1 circuit. It is the most prestigious event of the year for the World Driving Championship amidst the luxury yachts and casinos of Monte Carlo.
Last year McLaren went 1-2 with Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. This year has seen a number of changes. Alonso is back at Renault, Hamilton is struggling, and Ferrari has the field seeing red.
Monaco is a historic race in the tight confines of the Principality. Passing is minimized by the narrow streets and sharp corners. Those who qualify on the front row will be the likely contenders for the top step of the podium.
McLaren has an advantage over Ferrari due to the limitations of the course. The red birds simply can’t stretch their legs and overpower the silver arrows as they do at places like Istanbul and Monza.
Look for Hamilton and teammate Heikki Kovalainen to be up front, and a sleeper from BMW or Mark Webber of Red Bull Renault could also be spraying champagne after the checkers fall. Qualifying is everything when it comes to Monaco—beyond that it’s just about driving a clean race.
A couple of hours later we’ll all be reciting what words we know of “Back Home Again, in Indiana” as the 92nd Indianapolis 500 grid forms up at The Brickyard. One thing is for certain: There will not be a repeat winner, as rain-sodden 2007 Champion Dario Franchitti has moved into the world of stock cars, and is currently on the bench with a broken ankle.
The Target/Chip Ganassi Racing cars of Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon start 1-2, and, barring incident, are probably the odds-on favorites to win this race. Penske drivers Ryan Briscoe and two-time 500 winner Helio Castroneves are third and fourth on the grid, respectively.
Briscoe was slightly faster in qualifying, but lacks the experience of Spider-Man Castroneves. If the car holds up, Helio could dance his way onto the Borg-Warner trophy.
Then you have the top two pilots from Andretti-Green Racing with Danica Patrick and Tony Kannan, who are followed by Marco Andretti. They are three very thirsty drivers who have the ability and cars to wind up drinking the milk in victory lane.
It will be interesting to watch the former Champ Car drivers in their first runs at Indy, and I think Graham Rahal, son of 1986 500 winner Bobby Rahal, will be one that can take a top-10 finish.
After the milk flows the scene shifts east to Charlotte, North Carolina, and Lowe’s Motor Speedway for the longest race of the NASCAR season—the Coca-Cola 600.
This 400-lap battle against the mile-and-a-half “Beast of the Southeast” is not for the faint of heart. Last year Casey Mears conserved enough fuel to take his first and only Cup victory to date.
The reviews of the new cars at Charlotte are mixed, as the All-Star race saw complaints about passing ability. Being out front in clean air proved invaluable, but there was good racing as Kasey Kahne drove his way from the back of the field to the front for the million-dollar win.
Reliability for the distance will be the key, and I look for Roush driver Carl Edwards to battle Jimmie Johnson for the win. But this season you can’t bet against Kyle Busch—no matter what he’s driving.
A motor failure took Busch and teammate Denny Hamlin out of contention for the million-dollar All-Star prize, but if the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota power plants can hold up for the duration, Kyle could be receiving another victory lane shower of liquid and boos.
Busch has two ways of doing things—going to the front, or going to the garage. That’s a real racer for you.
Now, it’s advisable to warm up before such a big event. Stretch out with practice and qualifying for the 600 and Monaco on Thursday and Saturday. Get a little gritty with the World of Outlaws running at “The Dirt Track at Lowe’s” Friday night and the NASCAR Nationwide Series taking to the big track at Lowe’s Saturday night. There’s also action from the Craftsman Truck Series from Mansfield Motorsports Park in Ohio that same day. Sports car lovers will be able to watch the Grand Am Series GT cars race on the classic road course at Lime Rock Park.
All this racing will work up an appetite, but you’ll have the day Monday to eat, rest, and recoup. Just don’t forget to take a moment and give thanks to those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have—and feast on auto racing to our hearts’ content.