Preview of Sunday’s 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 after the fastest and record setting month

INDIANAPOLIS — What a Month of May that this year has been. Callum Ilott going from having a car not ready to qualifying for the Indy 500 at a time in excess of 231 mph in less than 24 hours. You have RC Enerson and Able Motorsports not even being an INDYCAR participant two weeks ago. You have the fastest female qualifier ever in Katherine Legge (231.070 mph) in Indianapolis 500 history. The previous single-lap record was 230.201 by Simona De Silvestro in 2021; the previous four-lap record was 229.439 by Sarah Fisher in 2002.

They’re all in Row 10. That’s the most inexperienced row with three combined starts.

The most-experienced row in this year’s starting lineup is Row 3, with a combined 41 career starts between (Alexander Rossi 7, Takuma Sato 13, Tony Kanaan 21).

Agustin Canapino became the first Argentine driver to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 since Raul Riganti in 1940.

We also saw the first Spanish driver to win a pole for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” in Alex Palou. He produced the fastest four-lap average speed in history for an Indianapolis 500 pole winner, 234.217 mph. The previous record was 234.046 set in 2022 by Scott Dixon. Arie Luyendyk set the all-time four-lap qualifying average speed record of 236.986 in 1996, but his run came on the second day of qualifications and wasn’t eligible for the pole.

This is the fastest starting field in Indianapolis 500 history, with an average speed of 232.184 mph. The previous fastest starting field came in 2022, with an average speed of 231.023.This is the third consecutive year the fastest field in history record has been set. This year’s field average speed is 232.184 mph. It was 231.023 in 2022 and 230.294 in 2021. The record before 2021 was 229.382, set in 2014.

This is the fastest front row in Indianapolis 500 history, with an average speed of 234.181 mph. The previous record was 233.643, set in 2022. This is also the closest front row in Indianapolis 500 history in terms of speed, with .103 of a mph separating pole winner Alex Palou from No. 3 starter Felix Rosenqvist. The previous record was .112 between pole sitter James Hinchcliffe and No. 3 starter Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2016.

The time gap between pole sitter Alex Palou and No. 2 qualifier Rinus VeeKay, .0040 of a second, is the closest in Indianapolis 500 history. The previous record was .01 between pole sitter Al Unser and No. 2 qualifier Johnny Rutherford in 1970.

The speed gap between pole sitter Alex Palou and No. 2 qualifier Rinus VeeKay, .006 of a mph, is the second closest in Indianapolis 500 history. The record is .003 between pole sitter Ryan Briscoe and No. 2 qualifier James Hinchcliffe in 2012.

Benjamin Pedersen turned the fastest qualifying lap by a rookie in Indianapolis 500 history, 233.297 mph. The previous record was 233.179 by Tony Stewart in 1996. He also, Pedersen, recorded the second-fastest four-lap qualifying average by a rookie in Indianapolis 500 history, 232.671 mph. The record is 233.100 set by Tony Stewart in 1996.

There were 84 qualifying attempts Saturday, May 21, an all-time record. The previous record was 73 in 2019.

Will Power and Alexander Rossi cross the yard of bricks during Indy 500 practice. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

There are nine former Indianapolis 500 winners in the starting field: Helio Castroneves (2001, 2002, 2009, 2021), Scott Dixon (2008), Tony Kanaan (2013), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014), Alexander Rossi (2016), Takuma Sato (2017, 2020), Will Power (2018), Simon Pagenaud (2019) and Marcus Ericsson (2022). Between them, they have 13 victories. The record for most former winners in the field is 10, in 1992. The fewest, other than the inaugural race in 1911, is zero in 1912.

There are four rookies in the field: Benjamin Pedersen (starting 11th), Augustin Canapino (27th), RC Enerson (29th) and Sting Ray Robb (32nd).

Other than the four rookies, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Katherine Legge are the only drivers in the field who didn’t start in the race in 2022. Hunter-Reay’s last start was in 2021, Legge’s in 2013.

Helio Castroneves is the most experienced driver in the field, with 22 previous Indianapolis 500 starts. The record is 35, set in consecutive years from 1958-1992 by A.J. Foyt.

The oldest driver in the starting field is Tony Kanaan, 48 years, 148 days on Race Day. The youngest driver is David Malukas, 21 years, 243 days on Race Day. A.J. Foyt is the oldest driver to start the Indianapolis 500. He was 57 years, 128 days old when he made his last start in 1992. A.J. Foyt IV is the youngest driver to start the Indianapolis 500. His 19th birthday was on Race Day, 2003.

Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves will be older on Race Day than Al Unser when he became the oldest winner of the Indianapolis 500 in 1987 at age 47 years, 360 days old.

David Malukas, Sting Ray Robb and Christian Lundgaard will be younger on Race Day than Troy Ruttman when he became the youngest winner of the Indianapolis 500 in 1952 at age 22 years, 80 days old.

We also have Graham Rahal missing the race in a dramatic final lap of Bump Day only to get back in with the lone accident of the month in Turn 1 during Monday’s race practice that saw Katherine Legge run over Stefan Wilson’s No. 24 Dallara-Chevrolet. Wilson was injured and not able to compete.

Rahal will replace him.

It’s a wild scenario that’s similar to 1987. Al Unser Sr. didn’t have a ride that year. Danny Ongais was concussed in a practice crash. Penske called Unser back to see if he could fill in.

The thing is, they didn’t have a car. Their primary was crashed. So, Penske brought the back-up car over from a hotel lobby in Reading, Pennsylvania that’s purpose was to be a show car.

Unser became the second four-time winner that year.

That came a year after Bobby Rahal won the 1986 Indy 500.

Also, there’s this. In 1992 Scott Goodyear and his Walker Racing teammate of Mike Groff swapped rides. Goodyear was the full-time driver and in the 1992 chassis. Groff was a part-timer and in the 1991 chassis. They swapped cars in order to take advantage of a favorable qualifying day.

It didn’t work.

Groff made the race qualifying in 26th, Goodyear was bumped. Goodyear got his car back and replaced Groff for that year’s race. He had to start last.

Wilson qualified the No. 24 Chevrolet that Rahal will now drive in 25th. Groff qualified the car Goodyear took over in 26th.

Goodyear came from last to finish second in one of the closest finishes in Indy 500 history. Does Rahal have it in him?

Indy chooses it’s winners…

Is it’s winner Palou? Just once over the last 13 years have the pole winner won. However, no one is as hot in the series right now as the 2021 series champion. He won the GMR Grand Prix two weeks ago. He won the pole last week. Can he pull the sweep?

We’re 5 races down with 5 different winners. 

Among the 5 winners, all hail from the “Big 3.” Chip Ganassi Racing has won twice (Marcus Ericsson – St. Pete, Alex Palou – Indianapolis). Team Penske has also won twice (Josef Newgarden – Texas, Scott McLaughlin – Barber). Andretti Autosport won the other (Kyle Kirkwood – Long Beach).

Combined, the “Big 3” have won every series championship since 2003 and 84% (43-for-51) of the races in the Aeroscreen era. They also have 8 of the top 10 drivers in the standings right now too. Combined, Ganassi, Penske and Andretti have also won 14 of the last 18 Indy 500’s and 18 of the last 23 (since 2000). RLL is the outlier who took two of the top three spots in 2020 and have won 2 of the 5 that the “Big 3” didn’t since 2000.

Does this come down to a fight between Penske and Ganassi though?

They’ve won 4 of the 5 races this year and come to the Indy 500 with four of the top six drivers in the points too. They’ve won 38 of the 51 (75%) of the races with the Aeroscreen and each of the last 10 championships overall as well.

Or, does McLaren sweep in and knock them off?

The last non Penske Chevrolet team to win Indy was in 1992 via Galles Racing and Al Unser Jr. However, McLaren is coming in hot. All four drivers start in the top nine spots.

Alexander Rossi is pleased with how well his team is already clicking. He has three top eight finishes in five tries this season and comes to the ‘500 on the heels of podium. So does his teammate Pato O’Ward who has three runner-up finishes in five races this season. He’s P2 in points and was runner-up in last year’s Indy 500 too. Their teammate, Felix Rosenqvist, gave McLaren all 3 cars in the top five last Saturday giving some big momentum coming to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Maybe this comes down to a fight between Palou and O’Ward for the win instead. They’re the last two Indy 500 runner-up finishers and they come in 1-2 in points right now.

4 of the 5 races were won by a Row 2 starter this year (4th, 4th, 1st, 4th, 3rd place starters have won respectively). O’Ward starts fifth which is at Indy, the Middle of Row 2. That’s the same spot that Marcus Ericsson won from last year. O’Ward has made 16 oval starts in his career with two wins, five runner-up finishes and 12 top four results including 11 top four’s in his last 12 tries.

While it’s been over two decades (2001, 2002) since someone won back-to-back Indy 500’s, the super Swede has the team and talent to do so this May. He was seventh, first and fourth in practice last week and rolls off 10th.

Takuma Sato during 2023 Indianapolis 500 Practice. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Maybe it’s their teammate Takuma Sato.

He has 3 top 3’s in his last 6 Indy starts and has won the Indy 500 with two different teams. Why not a third? Sato was quickest in all 3 practice sessions on opening week last year, 4th on the Monday practice and qualified 10th. Now, he’s in a Ganassi car…That car was fast in Texas.  He was first in two of the three qualifying week practices, seventh in the other and starts 8th. Almost criminal to put him in a chance this good. His wins also come in three-year increments. 2017, 2020…2023?

Then there’s Scott Dixon.

He’s won two of the last three poles but starts sixth on Sunday. Dixon led 111 of 200 laps in 2020. He led 95 laps last year. If not for an early race caution in 2021 and speeding on pit road late last year, he’d have won.

I also get being leery with despite all that success with 5 poles and the most laps led in the 106-year history of this race, he still hasn’t won here since 2008 either.

Still, McLaren and Ganassi combined to put all eight cars between them in the top 10 of the starting lineup in a race that’s seen six straight years with the winner coming from the top 3 Rows including 5 of the 6 from a top 5 starting position at that.

Team Penske’s best qualifier was Will Power in 12th. While it’s not ideal, he feels like if you have a good car, you’re going to be able to pass on Sunday.

“I think Chevy has a bit of an advantage on the power, as well. I feel like we have good horsepower, and I think we’re in good shape,” he says. “A lot of people who are extremely good, a lot of teams.

“It’s almost going to be a day of no mistakes in the pits and just keeping out of trouble on track to give yourself a shot at the end.

“The package I have, you can run on the gearbox.”

INDYCAR updated the aero package again on superspeedway’s this year and so far, I’d say the changes are working. Power says those changes are the reason to why he’s not going to be stuck midpack like he was last year.

“Oh, it’s going to be easy to pass, not in the pack but at the front, because you’ve added downforce,” he says. “You actually haven’t added much drag. The cars are about the same speed because they’re very efficient, aero bits or strakes and some floor stuff, so it’s not big draggy wicker on the wing or anything. It’s the closest I’ve ever been able to run to a car at this place without an issue.

“I think, yeah, the front three will race pretty hard, and then as usual, you can’t — I don’t think there’s a series around — you can never have — it would be ridiculous to have enough downforce for everyone to pass, but the one thing there is is there’s tire deg, so I think that will create good racing in the pack.”

Power says the issue now is going to be not making mistakes.

“It’s almost going to be a day of no mistakes in the pits and just keeping out of trouble on track to give yourself a shot at the end,” Power said.

“The package I have, you can run on the gearbox.”

The other thing he notes is that the tire is softer and degrades more. He said that with the package the way it is, you’re going to see maybe some comers and goers as a result.

“I think if they have a better car that looks after the tire, yeah. The left sides are softer,” he said. “They get vibrations more easily and the tire degrades, so if it’s a hot day like this, there will be cars coming and going, I think.

“I think it’s just because the left sides are softer. They just degrade easier. I haven’t had a set without a vibration yet. I’ve had a couple that have been massive and you have to pit and I’ve had a couple — last one I just did a full stint, but it’s still there. It’s left side, left front, left rear. Depends which slides more.

” If you get an early one, yes, like almost to the point where you can’t drive it. Like if it’s a left rear, you get that early, have a big moment early, yeah, you’re going to be pitting on about lap 18 I feel like. Yeah, you might be able to hold on for a couple more, but it’s on the edge.

“But yeah, I think it makes for better racing. It needed some deg. Yeah, good hot day, I think it’ll be a good race. Colder day would be pretty tight. Yeah.”

If Power can win, he’d give the Captain his 19th Indy 500 triumph, but the first though since Roger Penske took over the keys to this place in 2020.

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