Deep and fascinating homecoming terrain for Race to Indy Glory
Back home, finally.
After two years of pandemic-related attendance restrictions for the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, Indianapolis Motor Speedway is set to host “The Greatest Racing Show” No Limits on Sunday.
This will be the first time Roger Penske has seen an estimated crowd of over 300,000 since buying the Racing Capital of the World and NTT INDYCAR SERIES in January 2020. Penske also has three cars competing in the race. 500 Sunday miles as part of an offer. win for a record 19th time.
The 33-car field is full of intriguing stories, with eight former winners, seven rookies, the first Danish driver and 15 nationalities represented in the fastest field ever at IMS. And all eyes will be on defending champion Helio Castroneves in his first attempt for a record fifth ‘500’ win.
Six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Scott Dixon will lead the field to the green flag for the fifth time in his career. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has qualified on pole more times than all but one driver in the event’s history – Rick Mears has won six – and Dixon has won from that starting position in 2008.
Last weekend, Dixon completed the fastest four-lap qualifying run ever for a pole winner with an average speed of 234.046 mph. The previous record was 233.718 mph set by Scott Brayton in 1996. Arie Luyendyk set the all-time speed record in 1996, but his run was on day two of qualifying and was ineligible for pole.
NBC will broadcast the “500” for the second time starting at 11 a.m. (ET), with the green flag for the rolling start around 12:45 p.m. The race can be seen live on Telemundo Deportes on Universo and heard on INDYCAR radio . Network.
Here are five things to watch out for:
Dixon and his Ganassi teammates lead the way
The speed that defines this Indianapolis 500 starts with Dixon, but Chip Ganassi’s Indianapolis-based organization has a host of hot rods in the front end of the field.
Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Honda) and last year’s runner-up Alex Palou (No. 10 NTT DATA Honda) got the first 1-2 start for Chip Ganassi Racing since 2008 when Dan Wheldon qualified second next to Dixon. Dixon’s four-lap run at 234.046 mph was the second-fastest average in “500” history, behind only Luyendyk’s 236.986 on the second day of qualifying in 1996.
With Dixon and Palou carrying the fastest flags in CGR, the team’s five Hondas qualified in the Top 12. Marcus Ericsson (#8 Huski Chocolate Honda) will line up directly behind Palou in fifth starting position while 2013 Indy winner Tony Kanaan (#1 The American Legion Honda) will start sixth and rookie Jimmie Johnson (#48 Carvana Honda) 12th.
“It pumps you up at least this week,” Dixon said of the CGR qualifying effort. “I hope we are also happy (on Sunday) and that one of us has the chance to drink milk. So it’s a job well done.
Dixon won poles for the team in 2008, 2015, 2017, 2021 and 2022. Luyendyk won CGR’s first pole, in 1993, and Bruno Junqueira took pole for the team in 2002.
Dixon said: “A pole is fantastic, and it’s a privilege, but everybody wants to win, man.”
Ganassi is looking for his first “500” win since Dario Franchitti in 2012. Ganassi has owned a winning Indy car team five times, the first partnering with Patrick Racing in 1989 when Emerson Fittipaldi won.
Dixon has a shot at breaking one of the oldest records in “500” history. He led 570 laps and needs to lead 75 more to beat Al Unser’s mark of 644. Unser led his last Indy lap in 1993.
Dixon has led more laps than any other driver in the field this year. Tony Kanaan (346) and Helio Castroneves (325) are the only other drivers to have led more than 200 laps in this event. Twenty-two drivers in this field have led at least one lap in previous races.
Castroneves’ first ride for five
It took a driver 61 years to win the “500” for the fourth time, and AJ Foyt’s victory in 1977 was celebrated with a lap with Tony Hulman, owner of IMS since 1945.
Ten years later Al Unser won for the fourth time, in 1987, and four years later Mears won his fourth. Then the most prestigious club in the history of the “500” waited 30 years for its newest member. Welcome, Castroneves.
Castroneves (Meyer Shank Racing’s #06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda) enters this race with the first chance for a rider’s fifth win since Unser’s last race in 1993. Interestingly, Foyt, Unser and Mears were aiming all a fifth-place finish in the 1992 race. Unser came closest, finishing third. Foyt’s best chance for a fifth victory came in 1979, when he finished second to Mears.
The four winners got together last summer to film a documentary, “Pennzoil presents The Club,” which aired May 14 on NBC. Mears jokingly stated that Castroneves would forfeit his membership if he won again.
If Castroneves wins from the 27th starting position on Sunday, he will receive a bonus from BorgWarner of $400,000. The prize for back-to-back “500” winners has been rolling since Castroneves’ victory in 2002, when he raised another $160,000.
Castroneves is also the most experienced driver on the board with 21 previous starts. He made his first in 2001, where he won for the first time.
Johnson, Grosjean in the headlines
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who won four Brickyard 400s at IMS, has always wanted to experience the “500” from the cockpit of a race car. He will get his first opportunity on Sunday from the 12th starting position.
Johnson has had a terrific month. He and his teammates have always been near the top of the speed charts, and he could have qualified in the Firestone Fast Six if his car hadn’t moved much into the first corner of last Sunday’s four-lap race. Nevertheless, Johnson will take the green flag ahead of six former “500” winners.
“The experience itself was so cool,” Johnson said. “My dad is there (scouting in turn 3). My wife and kids came (for qualifying). There are all those moments that make this experience very special for me…to gain that confidence, to feel good in things, it’s just been a lot of fun.
Like Johnson, Romain Grosjean (#28 Andretti Autosport’s Honda DHL) attracted a lot of attention as a racing rookie. A 10-year Formula 1 veteran, Grosjean has a huge fan base around the world, and a recent survey by NTT INDYCAR SERIES revealed him to be the sport’s most popular driver.
Like Johnson, Grosjean had a faultless month and surprised many by qualifying in ninth position, the best of Michael Andretti’s five drivers and the only one to reach the Top 12. He was also the rookie fastest to qualify for Sunday’s race.
Grosjean said racing well is only part of what makes competing in Indy special.
“I think it’s all the rituals and traditions here,” he said.
Veterans and rookies provide a mix of terrain
This is perhaps the most unique estate in the history of the “500”.
It is collectively the fastest of all time, with an average speed of 231.023 mph, a mark that beat the previous fastest, set in 2021 with an average speed of 230.294 mph.
This group of drivers has an age range of nearly 27, with Kanaan the oldest at 47, 149 days on race day. The youngest driver is David Malukas at 20, 244 days on race day. Malukas drives the #18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda HMD with HMD.
The field has eight drivers in their forties: Kanaan, Castroneves, Johnson, Dixon, Juan Pablo Montoya (#6 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet), Takuma Sato (#51 Nurtec ODT Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with RWR), Ed Carpenter ( No. 33 Alzamend Neuro Chevrolet of Ed Carpenter Racing) and Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet).
Conversely, there are 10 drivers aged 25 or younger: Palou, Malukas, Rinus VeeKay (#21 Bitcoin Racing Team with Ed Carpenter Racing’s BitNile Chevrolet), Pato O’Ward (#5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet), Santino Ferrucci (No. 23 Palermo’s Screamin Sicilian DRR Chevrolet of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing), Callum Ilott (No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet), Devlin DeFrancesco (No. 29 PowerTap Honda of Andretti Autosport), Colton Herta (No 26 Gainbridge Honda of Andretti Autosport with Curb-Agajanian), Kyle Kirkwood (#14 ROKiT/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) and Christian Lundgaard (#30 PeopleReady Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing).
While seven drivers will make their first 500 start, eight others are former winners. Castroneves (four), Montoya (two) and Sato (two) have multiple wins. Dixon, Kanaan, Alexander Rossi, Power and Pagenaud are the only winners. The record for the most former winners in the field is 10, in 1992.
Having seven rookies in the field is the most since 2014. Grosjean is the fastest starting debutant in ninth, but Johnson (12th) and Malukas (13th) aren’t far behind, and Ilott (19th) has produced a good month. The other recruits are Kirkwood, DeFrancesco and Lundgaard.
Kirkwood is the defending Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion. He is one of 20 veterans of this series in the field this year.
VeeKay, Herta, Malukas and Lundgaard all have a shot at breaking Troy Ruttman’s record as the youngest “500” winner. Ruttman was 22 years and 80 days old when he won the 1952 race. Malukas and Lundgaard were both after Montoya (2000) and Castroneves (2001) won their first Indy races.
A championship to win
No driver starts the “500” thinking about how many NTT INDYCAR SERIES points they can earn in the race, but the totals will be important on Monday.
The 12 drivers at the top of the starting line-up have already racked up points based on PPG Presents Armed Forces qualifying, with Dixon receiving 12 points for winning the NTT P1 award for pole. Johnson earned a point for 12th position. Other points are up for grabs on Sunday.
The “500” is the only event on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES 17-race calendar to award double points. Scoring a minimum of 101 points for victory could go a long way in determining which driver wins the Astor Challenge Cup for 2022.
Palou won three races last season, but it was the 85 points he earned for finishing second in the “500” that separated him from runner-up Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Shell Team Penske Chevrolet). Palou won by 38 points winning 49 over Newgarden at Indy. Newgarden finished 12th in the “500”.
Eleven drivers are currently within 61 points of the series lead, paced by Power. The next three weekends will go a long way in shaping the points race. After Indy, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES heads to Belle Isle Park in Detroit for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear on Sunday, June 5, followed by the Sonsio Grand Prix presented by AMR on Sunday, June 12 at Road America.