We’ve had the World Series, and the St Louis Cardinals won. New York won the NFL Superbowl, and the Stanley Cup finals are underway, and this weekend, the biggest single-day sporting event (in terms of sheer crowd numbers) takes place – the 96th edition of the “greatest spectacle in racing” – the Indianapolis 500.
The name alone delivers goose bumps to any racing fan’s skin. Everything about it is famous. Sixty- seven individual likenesses border the famous and beautiful Borg-Warner trophy, and the best part is that nobody, up and down pit lane, online and around the world, could have any better information than anyone else as to who might win and drink the famous buttermilk come Sunday afternoon (Monday morning Australian time).
No Hollywood scriptwriter could pen a better narrative in the lead-up to the even either. So many talking points, good and bad, happy, sad and downright weird surround the build-up and the hype to the race.
Firstly, the good. The new Dallara DW12 has certainly not been anywhere near the slow dinosaur it had appeared it might be when prototypes hit the circuit in the latter half of last year. Yes, it is slower than last year’s car, but not by much, and certainly not by a noticeable amount. And the 2.2L V6 turbocharged engines are sounding fantastic.
Next, the bad. What has happened to Chip Ganassi and his merry red Target men? Sure, he had two drivers with sponsorship, but Chip probably didn’t expect his B-Team of Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball to be out-qualifying his main men Scott Dixon and defending series champion Dario Franchitti – with three combined Indy 500 wins under their belt. Franchitti hasn’t even visited the podium yet, while Ganassi’s rival team owner Roger Penske is unbeaten this season. However, IndyCar racing can be cruel to some one week and kind the next – Indianapolis is no exception – and Chip has fought back before it would be wrong to write him off just yet.
Then, the happy. How good is it to see Formula 1’s journeyman Rubens Barrichello trying his hand at something new, and when he said he hasn’t lost any of his speed, he meant it, and he was right, qualifying a sensational 10th (the fastest of those who didn’t compete in the pole shootout) and the second best rookie starting this Sunday behind Josef Newgarden. Rubens is looking increasingly comfortable in the IndyCar Series and victories cannot be far away.
Now, the sad. Hearts will be heavy on race-day as tributes to defending race winner Dan Wheldon are held. Wheldon will become the first driver since 1946 to pass away before being able to defend his title – a bestowment nobody wanted for him to be the next to hold. Dan’s widow Susie will be in Indianapolis for the race, but isn’t sure if she will stay for the race itself. It shows she holds no ill-will or grudge toward what her late husband did for a living and that it contributed to his untimely passing. IndyCar fans will not miss out from having an opportunity to pay their respects either. On laps 26 and 98, the numbers of the cars in which Wheldon took his two Indy 500 victories, the crowds will rise and put on pairs of white cardboard sunglasses, white being the colour glasses Dan preferred and which have been made especially for the tributes. Bryan Herta, owner of the car Wheldon won last year’s race in, will drive a special memorial lap prior to the start in honour of his fallen friend, a moment sure to leave a dry eye in the house.
Finally, and on a lighter note to conclude, the weird. Much has been written about the underperforming Lotus engine and its shortcomings this season. The last two qualifiers for this Sunday’s race carry the Lotus in it, and much debate is doing the rounds as to which lap the chief steward of the race, Beaux Barfield, will order the two Lotus cars off the circuit for being too slow and a hindrance to the safety of the remainder of the field.
And the fans aren’t being too generous either, with many pundits believing Simona De Silvestro and Jean Alesi will be parked and sitting in the shade before the rest of the field make their first pit stops.
All in all, it is sure to be another thrilling 200-lap race. RichardsF1.com will have the official report posted shortly after the chequered flag falls as another likeness is added to the Borg Warner trophy, or another year is added underneath a previous winner, with undoubtedly many talking points, debates and positive memories stemming from another Indianapolis 500.