In the past four races, Team Penske has won every single pole position, and has managed to win every single race. Will Power has won the last three, and looks to be at the absolute pinnacle of his craft.
After the road and street courses that began the season, the focus now shifts again to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Month of May, and the incomparable Indy 500. Roger Penske’s cars have won at Indianapolis fifteen times, and between his Chevy-powered cars hitting on all cylinders and 3-time 500 winner Helio Castroneves back for another year, it seems like it could be another banner year for Penske.
However, as Penske himself could tell you, nothing is ever for certain at Indianapolis. Last season, the team appeared strong heading into the Month of May, but a disappointing set of qualifying results and a poor race concluded with all three Penske entries off the lead lap and outside the Top 10. Moreover, several teams have scrapped convincingly with Penske thus far this season, and may have something to say about their success this month.
Target Chip Ganassi Racing might be the most intriguing challenge to Penske this month. Speculation is that Honda’s single-turbo engine design could provide an advantage at a big oval such as Indy. Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti represent three Indy 500 wins between them, and they’ll be joined by Ganassi teammates Charlie Kimball and Graham Rahal (P3 at Indy last year).
Panther Racing doesn’t look as if they’ll have a teammate for second-year driver JR Hildebrand, but this team is always a threat to win Indianapolis. They have the unbelievable stat of finishing P2 at Indy the last four consecutive years, and no one will soon forget Hildebrand’s crash less than a mile from the finish line last year. If any team could be considered especially hungry to make it happen, it’s this team.
Andretti Autosport hopes to have cured their qualifying woes of a year ago, as their strong core lineup of Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, and Ryan Hunter-Reay are joined by entries Ana Beatriz and Sebastian Saavedra. With Beatriz and Saavedra run in alliance with Conquest Racing and AFS Racing, respectively, Andretti looks to field the most cars of any team this season. They’ve had the speed so far this year; we’ll have to see if they can find the same velocity on their Pole Day and Race Day setups.
Ed Carpenter will be competing for the first time under his own team, and pundits seem to believe he has an underdog’s chance to take the checkered flag this year. This team has brought in a very good crew, and Carpenter’s oval expertise could make matters interesting for some of the bigger teams out there.
Coming into Indy on a somewhat quieter note is the KV Racing Technology. The team has had mixed results this season, but Tony Kanaan is always a favorite at Indy, and a win for him would be one of the more popular ones in recent memory. He’ll be joined by teammate Rubens Barrichello, who will be making his oval debut on the biggest stage possible. Their teammate EJ Viso, has shown a lot of improvement overall this season, and has shown flashes of speed that makes him an absolute puzzle coming into the 500-mile race.
Other teams looking to step up in May including a revitalized Foyt team, with rookie oval adept Wade Cunningham making an interesting complement to teammate Mike Conway. There’s also Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, who perform well on ovals and will be working with rookies Josef Newgarden and Bryan Clauson. We can’t forget the defending 500 champ Bryan Herta Autosport, who will be competing with last year’s polesitter Alex Tagliani. Honestly, if asked, nearly every team in the field could give you an answer why they believe this year could be the year that they drink the milk in Victory Circle.
It’s been Penske & Company’s show so far, but as the call of the Speedway grows louder, it also reminds us that until the checkered flag falls, there’s always room for surprises.
Zachary Houghton runs www.indycaradvocate.com, which features regularly-updated INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Mazda Road to Indy interviews, commentary, and more. You can find him on Twitter at @indycaradvocate.