It’s May, and the motorsports spotlight is shining squarely on the hallowed Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the corner of 16th and Georgetown in Speedway, Indiana for the 106th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500.
With practice underway ahead of pole qualifying this weekend, I’ve run my rule over the field of thirty-three who will take the green flag on Monday May 30 (AEDT) in their quest for a slice of racing immortality and picked out a few names to keep an eye on as we creep towards race day.
Helio Castroneves – Meyer Shank Racing Honda
Where else to start but with the four time and defending Indianapolis 500 champion? It was a moment to remember last May when the Brazilian took his fourth Brickyard win, joining Al Unser, AJ Foyt and Rick Mears in the ultra-exclusive club of four-time Indianapolis 500 winners, delivering the incredibly likeable Michael Shank his first IndyCar Series win in the process.
Fast forward one year, and Castroneves honestly hasn’t had the best start to his first full-time foray in the IndyCar Series following a few years racing in the IMSA sports car series, but Indianapolis is where Helio is at his absolute best. In fact, there are very few who get around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway better than he does.
Combine that prowess with the support of veteran, Indianapolis 500-winning teammate Simon Pagenaud, and I don’t see any reason why the defending race winner can’t be a serious threat. The only question mark is whether the Honda engine package powering Helio and Pagenaud can deliver the necessary performance, the Japanese manufacturer having been bested by Chevrolet thus far in the season.
If Helio has the speed, he definitely has the ability. Imagine a five-time Indianapolis 500 winner?
Scott McLaughlin – Team Penske Chevrolet
With apologies to Will Power and Ryan Briscoe, the Supercars and Bathurst 1000 winner joining the IndyCar Series has almost single-handedly raised the profile of IndyCar Series racing in Australia to heights arguably not scaled since the series raced on the streets of Surfers Paradise, more than a decade ago.
A win and a string of good results (2 top 5s and 3 top 10s in 5 starts this year) has the Kiwi sitting third in the standings for Roger Penske, surprising many who expected him to improve on his performance last year, his rookie campaign, but not necessarily to have had a win and sit ahead of guys like Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden and Pato O’Ward in the series standings.
Factor in that Team Penske has won three of the first five races of the year, and are nearly always super-strong at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In his second month of May, and you see why I think McLaughlin, in the yellow No. 3 made famous by Rick Mears, is going to impress.
Will Power – Team Penske Chevrolet
The 2018 Indianapolis 500 champion has enjoyed the most consistent start to a season in many years, entering the Memorial Day classic leading the series, holding a 14-point buffer over defending IndyCar Series champion Alex Palou. He’s scored one pole so far and finished in the top 5 every race so far in 2022. That’s remarkable consistency, the kind that often leads to winning a series championship.
A win seems just around the corner for Toowoomba’s finest, who will be running a very distinctive Verizon scheme this year, and there is every chance, given his qualifying prowess – he trails only Mario Andretti for career IndyCar Series poles – combined with the expected Team Penske strength at IMS, Power starts right up at the pointy end of the field of 33 and earns his second Brickyard win on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.
Jimmie Johnson – Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
It was a brave move for the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champ to retire from stock car racing and jump across to the IndyCar Series, given that the two disciplines of racing could not be more different. Whilst undeniably raising the profile of IndyCar racing, , Johnson has struggled on road and street courses that make up the majority of the season schedule.
This year, the second of his grand experiment, Johnson is running ovals after his confining himself to road and street circuits in his rookie season, and in the second race of the year, on the high banks of Texas Motor Speedway, Jimmie looked like he belonged, coming home a very impressive sixth place after a few test sessions and limited in-weekend practice time, impressing the heck out of everyone, even those who seem to find sport in disparaging what Jimmie is doing in IndyCar.
Consider the many hours of practice available each May to help get a driver up to speed at Indianapolis and the support of veteran teammates like Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, not to mention defending series champion Alex Palou, and provided he can keep out of trouble early, Johnson is a legit chance of a top ten. And maybe, if a few things fall his way, more than that.
Either way, Johnson’s first Indianapolis 500 campaign is one to watch, and it got off to a good start, with the third-fastest time on the opening day of practice.
Pato O’Ward – Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet
One of the brightest young talents to emerge in years and one of the young drivers we will see driving in the IndyCar Series for a decade and more, it’s hard to not find yourself mesmerised by O’Ward. No matter whether it’s checkers or wreckers for the Mexican, Pato is making headlines, and keeping things interesting. The Barber Motorsports Park winner
Stefan Wilson – DragonSpeed with Cusick Motorsports Chevrolet
The thirty-third and final entry for the 106th Indianapolis 500 is driven by the likeable Englishman Stefan Wilson came together incredibly late in the process.
The itself car belongs to AJ Foyt Racing – the Tatiana Calderon road course car converted to oval spec – and DragonSpeed/Cusick have received assistance in varying forms from amongst others, Team Penske, Andretti Autosport. A wonderful story of the paddock getting together to help get the final entry across the line and maintain the field of thirty three tradition.
Here’s hoping Stefan brings it home in one piece. A top twenty finish would be like a win for this team.
Ed Carpenter – Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet
The three-time Indianapolis 500 pole winner is a hometown hero and can you imagine the elation on 16th and Georgetown if the Butler grad could pull off a win? The ECR squad is always strong at Indy and Ed gets around there as well as anyone.
Marco Andretti – Andretti Autosport Honda
A win for Marco, driving for his dad in a part-time capacity these days, would finally break the fabled Andretti Curse. Need I say any more than that? It would be an astoundingly popular win.
Scott Dixon – Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
The Ice Man from New Zealand is mired in the middle of his longest losing streak since 2005. That’s a stat which absolutely blew my mind. Despite that, he’s fifth in the points standings this year, was second-fastest on day one of practice, and should never, ever be discounted at Indianapolis. Still amazing, when you consider everything that Dixon and Chip Ganassi have accomplished in a career nudging two decades, that they’ve only won once at Indy together, way back in 2008. They’re more than due
Takuma Sato – Dale Coyne/Rick Ware Racing Honda
A quiet start to the season for the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, but Sato, whose ‘no attack no chance’ mantra nearly guarantees drama, is at his best in an IndyCar at the Brickyard. Coyne’s team has shown pace at Indy in the past. They topped the time sheets on day one of practice. If that’s an indication, watch out.
Alexander Rossi – Andretti Autosport Honda
The rookie winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 has had a shocking few years at Andretti Autosport, leading to plenty of suggestion that he is on the move for season 2023. Due an enormous slice of good luck, Rossi definitely has the ability to win.
Josef Newgarden – Team Penske Chevrolet
A two-time IndyCar Series champion hasn’t finished better than fourth at Indianapolis in five tries driving for Team Penske. A win at Indy would put an exclamation point on a career that still has plenty of years left to run.
Indianapolis 500 Coverage in Australia
Stan Sports will stream qualifying and race coverage taking the NBC feed featuring Australia’s own Leigh Diffey calling play-by-play, with driver analysts James Hinchcliffe and Townsend Bell.
Via the IndyCar app and IndyCar.com, Mark Jaynes anchors the legendary IMS Radio Network coverage of all practice, qualifying and race action. The driver analyst is Davey Hamilton, with Nick Yeoman, Michael Young, Jake Query and Chris Denari calling the action from the turns.
Green flag on the 106th Indianapolis 500 is Monday May 30 at 2:45am AEST.