INDIANAPOLIS – Epic. Historic. Legendary. Momentous. Once in a lifetime.
All of that and more has been written and said about today’s 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil – and with good reason. Few sporting events in history have crafted so much tradition, pageantry and lore. So it is just that the celebration of reaching the 100th race has achieved such worldwide attention.
Now, though, it’s time to put away the accolades and focus on the reason an expected 350,000 or more will have Indianapolis Motor Speedway bursting at the seams. The 200-lap race on the hallowed 2.5-mile oval to determine which driver will be forever linked with this extraordinarily significant running.
“It is,” said James Hinchcliffe, who still start the race with the best seat in the house from pole position, “the biggest race after the first one. The driver that wins this race, they’re going to be remembered forever the way Ray Harroun’s name is remembered.”
Harroun’s name is legend in motorsports for winning the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911. His likeness, along with those of every Indy 500 winner since, is carved into immortality on the iconic Borg-Warner Trophy. Whoever of the 33 drivers in today’s race adds their bas relief face to the trophy will be the one to rise above the intense competition, changing conditions and curveballs thrown every year.
With ambient temperatures expected in the 80s, leading to warmer track temperatures than have been seen most of the month, conditions will likely be different than they have been throughout the six practice and two qualifying days. Curveball No. 1, although experienced teams and drivers have already planned for it.
“You have to make your car good in traffic,” said Ryan Hunter-Reay, who knows a thing or two about the race since he won the Indy 500 in 2014. “You don’t know if you’re going to get shuffled back on that first stint if you have a slight imbalance on the car or have a bobble on the first pit stop. You have to be prepared to run in traffic, so you have to set your car up that way.”
The proper setup is a balance of speed and conservation.
“You have to risk making your car aggressive enough to where it’s going to be a front-runner, but at the same time you have to put a little bit of a contingency plan in there to save the rear of the car,” Hunter-Reay explained. “To be a little bit conservative on that setup to look for that grip, which it does with a bit of a speed hit.”
Numerous storylines come into play on this epic day, including:
- Simon Pagenaud, who has been red hot in winning the last three Verizon IndyCar Series races. Pagenaud had one of the fastest cars at Indy last year, but late contact forced him to the rear of the field and he charged back to finish 10th. Pagenaud starts eighth today in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet.
- Helio Castroneves, Pagenaud’s teammate with Penske, who seeks to advance his legendary status by joining the elite class of four-time Indianapolis 500 winners. He will start next to Pagenaud on the outside of Row 3 in the No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet.
- Hinchcliffe, who nearly died a year ago in a frightening crash during Indy 500 practice. The popular Canadian has been the feel-good story of 2016, winning the Verizon P1 Award and $100,000 for capturing the pole position in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.
- Juan Pablo Montoya, who looks to move into the three-time winner class with seven others today and become the first back-to-back winner since Castroneves in 2001-02. The driver of the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevy will start in the middle of Row 6 but is quietly confident in his chances. “I think they’re good,” he said. “We’ve got to run the race but I just want a shot at it. I’m not going to come here and just say I’m going to win the race because I don’t work like that. Just give me a shot.”
- Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal, two drivers whose families are inextricably linked to the Indianapolis 500, will attempt to earn their first wins here today. Andretti, whose grandfather, Mario, won in 1969, will start in the middle of Row 5 in the No. 27 Snapple Honda. Rahal, whose father, Bobby, won 30 years ago, starts 26th in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda.
- Honda, which struggled to keep pace with Chevrolet a year ago, has rebounded sensationally this month. With Hinchcliffe on pole and eight of the top 12 starters, the Honda engines and aero kits have shown the pace. Will it maintain for 500 grueling miles?
The answer to these subplots and more will come later this afternoon. And you can be sure it will make history.
100th Indianapolis 500 fast facts:
Broadcast: ABC, 11 a.m. ET; Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, 10 a.m. ET
Race distance: 200 laps/500 miles
Track length: 2.5-mile oval
Start engines command: 12:15 p.m. ET
Green flag: 12:19 p.m.
Fuel: 130 gallons of Sunoco E85R
Pit window: 24-28 laps