By: Spencer Neff
August 22, 2020
The time has finally arrived. Tomorrow, 33 drivers of the NTT IndyCar Series will look to add their name and likeness to the Borg-Warner Trophy. Before the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge starts, here is a look at what to look for and things to know for Sunday’s Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Practice and Qualifying Review
From the green flag for opening practice on August 12, Honda has been the more dominant of the two engine manufacturers. James Hinchcliffe and Scott Dixon led the way in the opening sessions as several other drivers completed their Rookie Orientation or Refresher programs.
A day later, Dixon completed Practice 2 as the leader of the pack-continuing his dominant start to the 2020 season. By “Fast Friday”, the turbocharger boost levels had been turned up, adding an additional horsepower.
With the increase in power, speeds reached near-record levels. Leading the way in that practice session was Marco Andretti, who posted a best lap of 233.491 miles per hour, the fastest speed since Arie Luyendyk’s 1996 track record (239.260).
During the first day of qualifying, the Andretti Herta Autosport with Marco Andretti and Curb-Agajanian driver topped the speed charts. Although Dixon mounted a worthy challenge, Andretti held on and won his first Indianapolis 500 pole position, while also leading the post-qualifying practice.
Yesterday, Chevrolet finally began to see their turn at the top. Following a disappointing 2019 effort which saw him get bumped from the field, 2018 Indy Lights Champion Patricio (Pato) O’Ward led Final Practice.
Although Chevrolet has often been pegged as the better manufacturer at race pace, only Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay (4th) qualified in the Top 12.
On the front row, Andretti and Dixon are joined by 2017 race winner Takuma Sato, who earned his first ever front row start in 11 appearances. Despite their prior success, Team Penske had a frustrating display in their first qualifying with Car Owner Roger Penske at the helm of IMS.
For the first time since 2002, none of the four cars made the Top 9. Leading the way for the four-car effort is defending series champion Josef Newgarden, who will start 13th.
The last two winners of the race, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud line up 22nd and 25th, while three-time winner Helio Castroneves makes his 20th start in the “500” from 28th as Penske seeks his 19th win. In 2002, Castroneves became the fourth and most recent winner of consecutive races.
If any drivers from Ganassi (Dixon, Marcus Ericsson or Felix Rosenqvist) or Andretti (Andretti, Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Rossi, Herta or Veach) wi, they will break a tie with Lou Moore for second all-time among car owners, with five wins apiece.
Bryan Herta (Marco Andretti:Co-Owner) and A.J. Foyt (Kellett, Kanaan and Kimball) are the only other car owners with multiple wins.
Now that we’ve gone through some of the story-makers in the Field of 33, here are some quick notes of information before the race.
Of the 33 drivers, 12 different countries across five continents are represented. Among the 15 American drivers, seven states are represented.
Among those countries, only Spain (Fernando Alonso and Alex Palou) and Mexico (O’Ward) have never had a winner of this race. If Alonso wins, the 2017 Rookie of the Year joins 1966 winner Graham hill as the only winners of motorsports’ Triple Crown, which includes the Monaco Grand Prix and 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Although 2014 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay lists his hometown as Fort Lauderdale, Florida, his birthplace is Dallas, Texas. Hence, a Florida-born driver has never won the “500”, something Oliver Askew, Colton Herta or Spencer Pigot could change.
If 2019 Rookie of the Year Santino Ferrucci (Connecticut), or Newgarden (Tennessee) were to win, they’d be the first winners from their respective states.
On the starting grid, a driver starting 18th, 23rd, 24th, or 29th through 33rd has never won, making for a potential addition to the history books for Conor Daly, Tony Kanaan, Dalton Kellett, Charlie Kimball, Max Chilton, Sage Karam, JR Hildebrand or Ben Hanley.
As for the famed post-race milk, each driver’s selections can be found here– 24 drivers selected whole milk, with eight selecting 2% and Daly requesting fat-free. Despite requests from Ed Carpenter and James Hinchcliffe, buttermilk will not be available.
In 1936, Louis Meyer became the first three-time winner and celebrated with buttermilk, as he drank in warm weather as a chill. Since 1956, the winner of the race has been greeted with a bottle of milk in victory lane.
Now, here are some of my thoughts on how the race will unfold.
Although it has been run in six races this year, this will be the first “500” run with the new aero screen. With the safety measure in place, drivers have noted an increased drafting effect.
With passing at a premium the past two years with the new aero kit, look for the restarts to be particularly intense. Given the race has been moved three months from its usual date, track temperatures and how teams adapt to them will be critical.
How drivers approach leading the race will be worth keeping an eye on as well. Due to an increase in fuel consumption, the hesitancy to be up front has heightened as of late. Given all those factors, I still expect 25-30 lead changes over the course of the race. Last year had the fewest since 2011, with 29.
Track position will be critical in this race as well, after six straight years of the winner starting sixth or worse (including each winner from 2012-2016 starting between 11th and 19th), the last three winners have all started fourth or better.
In 2019, Pagenaud became the first pole winner to win the race since 2009 (Castroneves) and the 22nd ever, the most race winners from any starting spot.
For race winner, my pick all along has been Owner/Driver Ed Carpenter. The three-time pole winner (2013-14,2018) and 2018 runner-up is the step-son of former IMS Chairman Tony George and is considered among the hometown favorites.
Although I am leaning toward Dixon as my pick right now, Carpenter’s victory at his home track would make him the first Indiana-born driver to win since Shelbyville native Wilbur Shaw won his third in 1940 and be a popular win (teammate Daly, a native of nearby Noblesville, could do the same).
For Rookie of the Year, my pick is Alex Palou. Despite not making his oval debut until June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway, the Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh driver has been impressive throughout the month. Despite issues with the weight jacker, he qualified seventh.
Throughout these two weeks, Palou has shown speed and a noticeable fearlessness in approaching the speedway. When all is said and done, his efforts could lead him to a Top 10.
Thank You for stopping by IndyCar1909. Enjoy the race tomorrow and look for more coverage of the Indianapolis 500.
Header Image By Chris Jones/INDYCAR