|The spotter's guide.|
It comes with absolutely no shortage of stories either. When I started thinking about what to write leading up to the race, my list of ideas kept getting longer - and I'm just a blogger. I can't imagine what it must be like for beat writers covering the event (which would be so cool, by the way).
In this entry, I've put together some briefs about a few of the drivers in the 33-car field for this historic race. I picked a few of the big stories and some drivers at random. Take a look around the series, the track, pit road, the stories are endless. I just scratched the surface. I also included the starting grid below.
James Hinchcliffe: This story writes itself, really. Hinchcliffe nearly died last year after hitting the wall during a practice session at Indy. A piece of debris went through his thigh causing him to almost bleed to death. He made a remarkable recovery and is back in a race car this season. He said that was one of the first questions he asked when he woke up in the hospital: When can I get back in a race car? Coming back to Indy was emotional enough, but Hinch took it a step further and put himself on the pole for the 100th running of the Indy 500, with a four-lap average speed of 230.760 mph. Twenty-one previous Indy winners have started from the pole. What an awesome final chapter to this story if Hinch could secure the victory, too.
Marco Andretti: This would be one of the most thrilling victories in quite some time. It would be 47 years in the making, too. 1969 was the lone Indy 500 victory for anyone named Andretti. That's when Mario Andretti - Marco's grandfather - won for the one and only time. Second-generation driver Michael never won. Neither did Jeff or John. Marco got close as a rookie 10 years ago, finishing second in one of the tighest finishes ever. Out of his 10 Indy 500s, he's finished in the top 10 six times and five times in the top five. He'll start from the 14th position Sunday.
Graham Rahal: If you like even-numbered history, a Rahal victory would make you happy. It was 30 years ago that Graham's dad, and now team owner, Bobby, was the Indy 500 champion. Graham will have a tough task though, starting from the middle of row nine in 26th.
JR Hildebrand: He's got some unfinished business that dates back to 2011. He had the lead on the final lap, but as he perhaps got a little greedy and passed slower traffic in turn four, he spun and hit the wall. He was literally on the home stretch when he made the mistake. He'll start from the outside of row five in spot No. 15.
Stefan Wilson: He's a rookie in this race. That's not the compelling story with him though. He's carrying on a family tradition - and his brother's memory. Justin Wilson, who raced in eight Indy 500s, died last season after a piece of debris hit his head during a race at Pocono. It marked another devastating blow to the racing community. No doubt Stefan wants to do well in his racing career, for his big brother. Stefan starts back in 30th.
Takuma Sato: One of just a few Japanese drivers to ever start at the Indy 500. He was oh-so-close to victory in 2012, running tight with Dario Franchitti. On the first turn of the last lap, they touched wheels and Sato was sent into the wall while Franchitti took the checkereds. Sato would be the first Japanese driver to win the Indy 500. He's already the first Japanese driver to win an IndyCar race, with a victory at Long Beach in 2013. He starts 12th on the outside of row four.
Mikhail Aleshin: The Russian already left a mark on this year's race, making the Fast Nine during qualifying. He'll start from 7th, and he'd be the first Russian to win the race.
Pippa Mann: Not long ago, the Indy 500 had four women drivers in the starting field. The women have recently lived (unfairly) in the shadow of Danica Patrick. This year though, Mann is the lone woman in the field. The Brit will make her sixth start in the 500, looking for a better finish. She ended up 20th in her rookie attempt, her best result. She starts from near the back this time, too, on the inside of row nine.
Helio Castroneves: He's been trying to make history since his win in 2009, giving him three Indy 500 victories. As I've written in the past, I don't think he won in 2002. Controversy reigns. The record books have him with Ws in 2001, 2002 and 2009 however, so he's been chasing history to try and be the fourth driver to win four Indy 500s. He still runs with the successful Penske team, which can never be counted out, and will start on the outside of row three.
Matthew Brabham: Another driver with a strong family tradition behind his name. The Australian/American rookie's grandfather, Jack Brabham, was a three-time F1 world champion. Matthew's dad, Geoff, and uncles David and Gary were all racers, too. Matthew raced in Australia, the Pro Mazda series, Indy Lights in 2014 and 2015, and Formula E in 2014-15. He's making his first start at Indy, with perhaps some family pressure on the line. He starts 27th.
2016 Indianapolis 500 starting grid:
Row 1: James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, Ryan Hunter-Reay
Row 2: Townsend Bell, Carlos Munoz, Will Power
Row 3: Mikhail Aleshin, Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves
Row 4: Oriol Servia, Alexander Rossi (R), Takuma Sato
Row 5: Scott Dixon, Marco Andretti, JR Hildebrand
Row 6: Charlie Kimball, Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Kanaan
Row 7: Sebastien Bourdais, Ed Carpenter, Gabby Chaves
Row 8: Max Chilton (R), Sage Karam, Conor Daly
Row 9: Pippa Mann, Graham Rahal, Matt Brabham (R)
Row 10: Bryan Clauson, Spencer Pigot (R), Stefan Wilson (R)
Row 11: Jack Hawksworth, Buddy Lazier, Alex Tagliani
(R) = Rookie
Former winners in the field: Hunter-Reay, Castroneves, Dixon, Montoya, Kanaan, Lazier
Through 2013 (97 races), here's where the winners have started. (Thanks to my dad for going through and putting this list together.):
Row 1: 42 wins
Row 2: 18 wins
Row 3: 8 wins
Row 4: 6 wins
Row 5: 8 wins
Row 6: 4 wins
Row 7: 5 wins
Row 8: 2 wins
Row 9: 2 wins
Row 10: 2 wins
Row 11: 0 wins