With practice times heating up at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, there’s plenty to discuss about this year’s Indianapolis 500. Some of our INDYCAR blogger friends got together to contribute to a practice week Indy 500 roundtable session:
Who is your early favorite to win this year's Indy 500?
Steve Wittich, OpenWheelWorld: It is not hard to pick 20 possible winners from the entry list for the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500. Narrowing that list down to ten is very hard, and narrowing it down to one is darn near impossible. Do Helio Castroneves or Dario Franchitti win their fourth? Does Tony Kanaan get the Indy monkey off his back and score what would be a very popular win? Can Takuma Sato avenge the final lap of the 2012 race? Can Marco Andretti join his grandfather in achieving something his father came oh so close to doing? Those would all be great choices but I think this is the year for the little guy. This is the year for hometown boy Ed Carpenter to win the Indianapolis 500.
Zachary Houghton, INDYCAR Nation / IndyCarAdvocate.com: With two three-time champions in the field, there has to be some respect for their accomplishments, but I genuinely believe we’ll see a first time winner this season. We’ve just had so much big oval parity, even dating back to last season, that anything seems possible. Personally, I really like Marco Andretti’s approach and attitude coming into the month, and think he or an Andretti teammate like James Hinchcliffe could very well make it happen. Just as strong could be the chances of Ed Carpenter—his team focuses on this race more than any other, and it should show. Ed did wonders last year before a late spin, and I think he could very well pull it off this year.
Eric Hall, anotherindycarblog: Marco Andretti. Coming off the best start to a season in his career, Marco Andretti is in prime position to be the driver to beat when the green flag falls in a little under two weeks. Always a perennial contender at Indianapolis, Marco often has more pressure on himself heading into May than he necessarily should. Be it crash damage, poor results, or just a plain sour luck, in 2013, none of that is present. Andretti looks to finally live up to expectations this year and his clean start will allow him to just drive the entire month and focus on a win instead of the larger championship.
Mark Wilkinson, New Track Record: Tricky question. I can never separate my heart from my brain. My early favorite is Tony Kanaan. He continues to demonstrate that he can pass at Indy all day if need be. His runs through the pack will finally be rewarded this year. TK takes the checkered flag, and all IndyCar fans celebrate. I'll keep my Kleenex handy.
Which Indy 500 rookie driver do you expect the most from?
Steve: Wow! What a strong crop of rookies and what a hard question to answer. But if you are going to force me to choose, I am going to have to go with AJ Allmendinger. He doesn’t have a lot of open wheel oval experience, but he does have a lot overall oval experience. Couple that with being paired with Team Penske and he takes the Rookie of the Year crown by a nose.
Zack: It’s a great problem to have, but I could very easily see any of this crop of rookies turn out to be the Indy 500 rookie of the year. AJ Allmendinger would seem to be the favorite, since he’s with Team Penske and has so much racing experience, but Indy doesn’t always reward the obvious favorite. Provided he can stay patient, I like Carlos Muñoz for a good result this year. I think Andretti Autosport’s strong team approach could pay some big dividends.
Eric: AJ Allmendinger – With arguably the best equipment, team and management on the grid and his previous experiences in high horsepower cars, there should be nothing stopping AJ from having one heck of a race. If it clicks at some point in the month and AJ finally “gets it”, he could end up very well placed by the time the checkers fall. The other rookies in the field have a myriad of excuses to fall back on, but AJ has only his inexperience holding him back. With a good result, Penske could possibly secure the funding to keep Allmendinger in the #2 for the balance of the season.
Mark: The rookie with the highest expectations has to be Tristan Vautier. He has demonstrated his chops on the road and streets, but it remains to be seen if he can tool around all day at 210 MPH without having brain fade. Carlos Munoz might have the better team at Andretti Autosport, but Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has the better driver.
Which team or driver has the most to prove right now?
Steve: Let's go with an outside the box pick here. I think that after being outmaneuvered by Honda Performance Development on race day in 2012, Team Chevy has the most to prove this year. Chevrolet teams and drivers dominated practice leading up to qualifying for the 2012 Indianapolis 500. They swept eight of the nine spots available in the Pole Day Fast Nine Shootout with Ryan Briscoe scoring a pole for Team Penske. The trouble started for Team Chevy when the teams switched to the newest generation powerplants on Carb Day. The speed shown by Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti foretold what would happen on race day when the twosome looked untouchable. Don't expect Team Chevy to be caught out like that again.
Zack: How about Dragon Racing? After an offseason of intense scrutiny, they’ve faltered out of the gate, with both Sebastian Saavedra and Sebastien Bourdais struggling through a host of results. Something more than an extremely shiny livery is needed to turn their season around. If you don’t buy into that, there’s always Ryan Briscoe. Having been released from Penske, the 2012 pole winner finds himself with another shot with a top team at Indianapolis. Last year’s Top 5 was his first good Indy result since 2007. Let’s see if Briscoe can show Roger Penske what he’s missing this month.
Eric: Will Power. Not a single person doubts that Power is the most talented driver in the field on street and road courses, but after three years of being a championship contender, Power still does not sit in the same company as the top caliber oval racers in the field. If he wants the elusive championship trophy, his own oval acumen, his teams’ pit work, and his poor oval luck need a major upgrade this year. And there is no better place to start than Indianapolis.
Mark: The team with the most to prove right now is Penske Racing. They have been beset with problems that have to fry the Captain's outwardly calm nerves. Big pressure at Penske! The driver with the most to prove is last year's pole sitter Ryan Briscoe. His unceremonious dumping from Penske Racing last year has to chafe, and landing in a prime seat with Target Chip Ganassi Racing gives Briscoe a chance to audition for a full-time ride. Do not count him out.
Which team or driver could be the biggest sleeper this month?
Steve: I’ll go with Justin Wilson and Dale Coyne Racing. They showed a lot of speed at Indianapolis last year and Justin proved the naysayers wrong with his win at Texas. Engineer Bill Pappas has had success at Indianapolis when he was with Ganassi and adding the third car could very well benefit them by having more data to pore over.
Zack: Charlie Kimball is always the quiet “other guy” at the Ganassi operation, but ran well in his sophomore effort at Indy last season. Another good result is not out of the question. My other pick would be from the Panther-DRR effort. No one around the paddock would consider Oriol Servia a dark horse, but neither is he usually mentioned among the favorites for victory this season. With the team’s financial struggles and Servia’s future in IndyCar questionable, the driver who finished P6 and P4 here the last two years could be motivated to turn in the performance of a lifetime.
Eric: Oriol Servia. DRR and Oriol Servia have everything to gain and nothing to lose with a top performance this month. It’s rare when we get to see such a talented full season driver and team able to tackle the 500 from a pure race-for-the-win mindset. Who knows what a trip to victory lane could produce for the team set to shutter their doors after the Memorial Day Classic? Everyone affiliated with the DRR operation is employed because of their love for Indy; their passion is undoubted and nearly unrivaled in the paddock. Even if the shop still closes, a good result would send the crew out on a somewhat positive note.&
Mark: With the parity in the series, it is hard to call anyone a sleeper. Takuma Sato? After last year's last lap move, it's obvious this team and driver have a chance to win. Ed Carpenter? With a win at the last oval race, he's hardly unnoticed. My sleeper is Panther Racing's Townsend Bell. He's smart, savvy, and stays out of trouble. He's just the kind of driver who finds himself at the right place at the right time. And that might just be crossing the yard of bricks first.