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IndyCar Preview: 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500

Written by Dan Jones

Who will it be this year? Credit: Joe Skibinski

'This is and will always be the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, this is the Indianapolis 500.'

The words that will sound worldwide, as the eyes of the world turn to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as the Indianapolis 500 adds it's 108th chapter to the most coveted book in motorsport. 500 miles, 200 laps, 33 drivers, but only one can drink the milk, have their face emblazed on the Borg-Warner Trophy, and be remembered in motorsport folklore forever. It is finally time for the 'Greatest Spectacle in Racing,' Round 5 of 17 in the 2024 NTT IndyCar Series.

And last week's qualifying has already set the 11 rows of three that will see the green to begin the 200 laps to decide the most significant event of the motorsport year. And for the first time in his career, it will be Scott McLaughlin who leads the pack of 33 to green, as he set the fastest four-lap average pole run of all time at 234.220 MPH (376.941 KPH), as Team Penske locked out the front row - the first time since 1988, as 2018 Winner, Will Power, occupies the middle, whilst defending champion, Josef Newgarden will start on the outside.

Whilst it was delight for Team Penske, it would be despair for Nolan Siegel, who's Indianapolis 500 dream was over before it had already begun. The 19-year-old the individual bumped from the field, after he crashed his car on 'Fast Friday,' with Dale Coyne Racing's efforts to put the back-up car up to speed coming to no avail, the Californian crashing on his final qualifying attempt in a 'win it or bin it' situation.

The yellow submarine will lead the field to green. Credit: Joe Skibinski

As mentioned, qualifying day was all about Team Penske, as they locked out the front row in dominant fashion - a far cry from the 12th, 14th and 17th they found themselves in for last year's race. Alexander Rossi was comfortably the 'best of the rest,' the 2016 winner lining up on the inside of Row 2.

Next to Rossi is the individual who attempts the unprecedented, Kyle Larson. The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion, in his first ever IndyCar race, qualified 5th, in one of the most impressive qualifying performances the speedway has ever seen. Larson will attempt 1100 miles of racing on Sunday, as he flies directly to Charlotte Motor Speedway after all is said and done at Indianapolis, the challenge commonly known as 'The Double.'

Larson's entry could potentially be hampered by Sunday's precarious forecast - the Californian's priority staying in NASCAR, in order to maintain playoff eligibility. Rick Hendrick has stated that decision will be made on Sunday, but Tony Kanaan and Nolan Siegel have both been mentioned as options should Larson be unable to see the green.

Larson will be the first driver since 2014 to attempt the Double. Credit: James Black

Alongside the two Arrow McLaren's will be Santino Ferrucci, who yet again showed his strength at the Speedway, as Ferrucci looks to further improve on his might third place finish last year. Ferrucci remains the individual with the highest averaging finishing position at the Indianapolis 500 in the current field.

Rinus VeeKay stole all the headlines on Day One of qualifying, after he crashed out in his guaranteed attempt, before bumping himself into the Fast 12 in a last-gasp attempt. VeeKay's starting slot will be the lowest he's ever had at the '500', but it is quite possibly the result he finds the most satisfaction in.

Pato O'Ward has been well in the mix for a maiden Indianapolis 500 win in the last three events, with various different factors seeing it fall out of the Mexican's hands. He was one of six drivers to suffer a plenum event in qualifying - a momentary cut in engine performance, but still found a way to eighth. O'Ward has stated that the team have a 'annoying issue that we can't seem to perfect,' the 25-year-old not matching the pace of teammates, Rossi and Larson.

VeeKay and O'Ward are joined on the third row by 2024 standout, Felix Rosenqvist, in his first Indianapolis 500 for Meyer Shank Racing - the highest qualifying Honda. 2017 and 2020 winner, Takuma Sato lines up inside of Row 4, alongside Kyle Kirkwood and 2014 winner, Ryan Hunter-Reay, who had a standout qualifying run to make the Fast 12 for the only part-time team, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

Herta has looked good in traffic so far. Credit: Paul Hurley

Colton Herta was dissapointed to be bumped out of the Fast 12 last minute by Rinus VeeKay, but, has had a particularly strong car in race running throughout the 'Month of May,' Herta's Indianapolis 500 attempts have not gone to plan in recent years, but 2024 could spell the best chance that the Californian has ever had at IMS.

He lines up alongside Álex Palou, last years polesitter, who was the quickest of the Chip Ganassi Racing cars - who were uncharacteristically off the pace in qualifying. A lot of those troubles may be linked to Honda, who were not as quick as Chevrolet in qualifying trim, but Palou will lead the Ganassi charge from 14th. Callum Ilott will complete Row 5, in his last scheduled event of 2024, with Ganassi Rookies Marcus Armstrong and Kyffin Simpson sandwiching Ed Carpenter on Row 6.

Row 7 is the most experienced in the field. Marco Andretti will be aiming to break the 'Andretti curse' in his 19th Indianapolis 500, with 2008 Winner, Scott Dixon in his 22nd. But, it is Dixon's lowest ever starting position in any of those 22, so he has plenty of work to do.

The team that wil attempt the 'Drive for Five'. Credit: John Cote

But in the middle is the man still aiming to make history, Hélio Castroneves, as he continues the 'Drive for Five,' the Brazilian aiming to become the first man in history to win five Indianapolis 500's, after his 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2021 triumphs. Castroneves famously drives a slightly different line to everyone at the Speedway, not going below the white line, which decreases the radius of the corner. It's one which is kinder on the tyres and better for race management, and there's absolutely no doubting his ability at the Speedway.

Row 7 is the most experienced, whilst Row 8 only has two Indianapolis 500's between them. With Agustín Canapino, Sting Ray Robb and rookie, Christian Rasmussen. Row 9 also only has two Indianapolis 500 starts between them with Romain Grosjean sandwiched by rookies Tom Blomqvist and Linus Lundqvist, the latter having the first crash of the month, walking away fairly unscathed.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing have once again suffered a turbulent month, however, only one of their cars competed in bump day this year, with Christian Lundgaard and Pietro FIttipaldi just escaping returning on Sunday in 28th and 30th respectively, with Conor Daly in the middle, who suffered a plenum fire of his own when on a better run.

Ericsson suffered a violent crash in practice. Credit: Joe Skibinski

And the bump day survivors were led by Katherine Legge, the only Dale Coyne Racing entry in the field. 2022 winner, Marcus Ericsson, was significantly off the pace in his first Indianapolis 500 attempt for Andretti Global, after he crashed his tub on Thursday. Graham Rahal narrowly avoided bump day disaster again, qualifying 33rd, but his team's fortunes have not seemed to significantly change this time around.

But who and what to look out for in Indianapolis? Team Penske have been the ones to beat so far, and have looked incredibly strong in race trim too. It's hard to look beyond the Captain's outfit to not claim a second consecutive victory at the Speedway, but as we all know so well, nothing can be predicted here.

Practice has seen overtaking seem pretty difficult compared to previous years - many suggesting due to a slight aero balance in the lighter machinery. However, Colton Herta has been flying through traffic, and was one of very few who could scythe their way through the field. Herta has a fairly strong starting position in addition to that, and with the way that he's started 2024, could it finally be his year?

2024 has signified Dixon's worst ever starting position, but we have seen what he can do from unfavourable situations before. Credit: Joe Skibinski

Alexander Rossi has looked incredibly strong, and been the only individual who can lay a finger on the Penske dominance so far, and has an almighty track record at Indianapolis. Santino Ferrucci has an even stronger track record, and with how he performed last year at the Speedway, don't count him out for being in the mix to take a surprise victory.

Pato O'Ward may not be happy with his race car, but has traditionally been very strong at Indianapolis, as has Álex Palou, who's seen the win fall out his grasp for several different reasons in recent years. But Row 7 looks favourable too. Scott Dixon is the master at racecraft, and will inevitably see himself in the mix at some point - so too will Hélio Castroneves - can he finally complete the Drive for Five and make Indianapolis 500 history?

However, Sunday's weather does not look encouraging. Thunderstorms are expected to hit Speedway, Indiana throughout the day, and could put a halt to cars being on track. The Speedway have rented NASCAR's air titans, which can dry the track in 77 minutes, but that relies on the rain going away, which is a more inherent issue.

This could pose trouble for Kyle Larson's attempts at the Double - with Rick Hendrick and co set to make the call on exactly when Larson will have to abandon his attempts and head to Charlotte. If Larson is replaced, the replacement will be relegated to 33rd. Ideally, Larson will hope if it does rain, it's so significant that the race will be delayed until Monday - which is a potentially likelihood at this current stage. That outcome has not happened since 1997, and let's hope we can keep that streak continuing.

Everyone will be hoping that their bottle is empty. Credit: Chris Jones

But let's round off with the all-important milk choices. Skim is the choice for both Christian Lundgaard and Christian Rasmussen, whilst Pato O'Ward, Hélio Castroneves, Takuma Sato, Graham Rahal and Romain Grosjean opting for 2%. The rest of the field have gone for the whole optino - Katherine Legge noting: 'It looks the best in the photos.'

There is nothing quite like the Indianapolis 500. 500 miles, 200 laps, 33 drivers, the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. And once all is said and done, one question remains. Who will drink the milk, have their face carved onto the Borg-Warner trophy, and be remembered in motorsport folklore forever? This is the Indianapolis 500.


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