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FINDING A FAVORITE: IS IT POSSIBLE?

by
Jeff Olson
| May 06, 2011

 

Dario Franchitti stops short when asked if he considers himself the favorite to win the Indianapolis 500. Just because he’s won two of the previous four races and has three IndyCar championships doesn’t mean he’s going to win again. The answer is straightforward. Favorite? No. But he does think he has the car and the team and the experience to contend.


“I’m very proud of the job the entire team did, but it has no bearing on what’s going to happen this month,” he says. “We’ve got to make all the right choices in order to win the race again. I think we can do it, and we have all the right tools, but there will be 32 other people on that grid who will have something to say about the outcome.”

That’s how tricky the Indianapolis 500 is. The race is so difficult and so unpredictable that it becomes pointless to proclaim a pre-race favorite. Sure, you might think you can narrow down the list of potential winners to just the teams owned by Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske, but you would be ignoring a dozen other drivers capable of victory.

One of those dozen is Townsend Bell. Once again a one-off for Indy, Bell is likely to be fast in a KV Racing Technology entry. He has a solid resume as an Indy-only competitor; his fourth-place effort in 2009 was the best finish by a one-off since Al Unser won the race in 1987 as a replacement for the injured Danny Ongais.

For one-offs and other part-time drivers, the most pressing challenge is lack of seat time. Most of the field has been grinding away since the IZOD IndyCar Series opener at St. Pete in March. The Indy-only racer has to get up to speed immediately.

“The trick is to respect the environment and challenges and realities of racing at Indy,” Bell says. “You do have to get up to the program rather quickly. It’s not the ideal situation in which to approach the race, but you learn each time you do it how to maximize your time.”

Among the part-timers to consider are Buddy Rice, the 2004 winner who’s teaming with Panther Racing, which has a strong track record at Indy; Dan Wheldon, the 2005 winner, in a Bryan Herta Autosport entry; Tomas Scheckter in a KV-SH Racing combo; Paul Tracy with Dreyer & Reinbold; Ed Carpenter with Sarah Fisher Racing; Bruno Junqueira with A.J. Foyt Racing; John Andretti with Andretti Autosport; and Jay Howard with Sam Schmidt-Rahal Letterman Lanigan; Davey Hamilton with D&R; and Bertrand Baguette with RLL.

Teams are always a consideration when looking at Indy possibilities. While Penske and Ganassi have claimed eight of the last 11 500s, several others have been on their heels during that time. Consider Andretti Autosport, for example. It’s been a tough couple of years for Michael’s team, as it slid from equal standing with Penske and Ganassi. But AA is starting  to get it back – witness Mike Conway’s win at Long Beach – and all four of its drivers have shown speed at Indy.

That’s why you can’t eliminate KV, Newman/Haas, Panther, D&R, Conquest or Dale Coyne from consideration. Indy is a matter of speed and skill, but it’s also a matter of breaks and track position. The cars are so equal at this point in their development that blasting past a competitor for position is rare. Getting yourself in position by strategy or fast stops is the underdog’s best shot.

Some might scoff at the notion that anybody can win the Indianapolis 500. Anybody? Probably not. But half the field? That’s realistic. It’s not as impossible as it might sound.

Tell us who you consider to be the favorite – and the best upset – for the Indy 500 by commenting below.

8 Comments

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  2. 2 Welcome 25 Oct
    Well put, sir, well put. I'll cerntaliy make note of that.
  3. 3 derek 09 May
    I'm sorry. i get so excited i forgot what year it was. Go Marco in 2011!  2012 would be cool too though. lol
  4. 4 derek 09 May
    my mother and father were both huge indy fans. my mothers fav (mario andretti) & my fathers was (a.j foyt then al unser) .  They are both deceased now. My fathers drivers tasted victory numerous times however my mothers though so very close never did. So i have been an Andretti fan ever since. Marco provided the greatest finish ever in my opinion but to be that close and never win it would be a supreme injustice. So go Marco in 2012! from one of the Andretti's biggest fans. The indianapolis 500 is the greatest race in the entire world. I look forward to the month of may every year because of it.
  5. 5 rickywalt 08 May
    The favorite has to be, has to be Dario Franchetti.  He has shown he is fast at Indy.  And can win too.  With different teams to boot!  He is smart, patient, and gets the most from his car and track conditions.  This guy is in the groove.  His last 3 years in Indycars has resulted in 2 Indy 500 wins, 3 Series championships.  If Dario isn't a lock, he is the next best thing.  Best driver.  Best team.  Enough said.
  6. 6 steve 07 May
    I personnally would like to see a first time winner . I also would like to see a american win it , not to take away from the other talented drivers but to put a breath of fresh air into the 100th. Ed carpenter last year was signing autogrsohes in the garage area and right as I went to hand him a photo and pen the wind caught my photos and all the stuff I was holding and blew all over the place. I was so embaressed but Ed waited for me to pick up all my stuff and signed a picture for me. After Ed walked off my friends laughed so hard but I did'nt care at all , I was just thankful and astonished that Ed was so patient with me. So my pick would be ed Carpenter not just because of him being such a gentleman but for the late Tony Hulman who if he was looking down that day at Ed and myself he would have surely been proud of his grandson. Go Ed! win the most important race in history, 50 years after A.J.Foyt and Tony Hulman last ride on the most famous track in the word.
  7. 7 Ken 07 May

    This is a really tough choice since we haven't seen any of the teams run an oval yet.  Personally, I would love to see someone from the outside chances win. I would love to see a 1-2-3 KV Racing finish!  EJ Viso would be my personnal favorite followed by Ed Carpenter or Oriol Servia.  I thionk it would be great if Danica or Simona would win to break that barrier.

    Who do I THINK is going to win? I am going to have to say that Tony Kanaan, followed by Dario or Mike Conway.

  8. 8 David McConniel 06 May
    You have to respect Dario and Helio at Indy.
    But you also have to respect the greatest driver since the invention of rubber wheels.

    I mean, of course, TONY KANAAN !

    But it's hard to pick a favorite, even when you have a favorite.
    So many drivers "deserve" to win the race.

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