Saturday, May 27, 2017

Indy 500: The field of 33 in 2017

It's the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday. For those die-hard race fans out there, it's the most exciting day of the year. Last year's sold-out spectacle delivered a beautiful day and a win for an American rookie, Alexander Rossi.

As I started putting the list together of the starting grid this year, I realized just how much I'd like to write about everyone. Each driver has his or her own story, and everyone wants to win the 500. There are seven former winners in the field and five rookies. Some have had plenty of heartbreak at Indy (Marco Andretti, JR Hildebrand, Takuma Sato, to name a few).

The lone woman in this year's field is Pippa Mann, starting 40 years after Janet Guthrie became the first woman to ever run in the Indy 500. It's also 25 years since Lyn St. James won Rookie of the Year honors at Indy in the famous 1992 race.

Here's the starting grid. I went a little in depth with the first three rows, since past winners have more often than not started near the front. A winner hasn't come from the front row in a few years now, but historically being up front at the start is helpful. Forty-two winners started in row one, 18 in row two and then just eight in row three.

Happy Indy 500!

Row 1 

Scott Dixon - No. 9 
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing
Engine: Honda
Past Indy 500 winner: 2008

Dixon, known as the "Ice Man" for his cool, calm and collected nature, is the polesitter with the fastest average speed during qualifying in 21 years at 232.164. He's a former Indycar Series champion and really should have multiple Indy 500 wins under his belt already. Team Ganassi should never be counted out. I wouldn't be surprised to see Dixon lead a good chunk of the race and go on to the victory. He won from the pole in 2008; the last Indy 500 winner to win from the pole was Helio Castroneves in 2009.

Ed Carpenter - No. 20 
Team: Ed Carpenter Racing
Engine: Chevy
Past Indy 500 poles: 2013 and 2014

The local boy from Indiana, Carpenter is a team owner and only drives on ovals. He's always started well at Indy, with this year as no exception. Carpenter is still looking for his first Indy 500 win.

Alexander Rossi - No. 98
Team: Andretti Herta Autosport
Engine: Honda
Past Indy 500 winner: 2016

Rossi cemented his name into history last year by winning the biggest race in years. A fuel gamble paid off and he finished the yard of bricks first, taking the checkered for the 100th running of the historic race. Rossi finds himself on the front row looking to be the first repeat Indy winner since Castroneves in 2001-02.

Row 2

Takuma Sato - No. 26
Team: Andretti Autosport
Engine: Honda

Sato is with Andretti Autosport for the first time this year. His most notable memory from the Indy 500 is battling with Dario Franchitti for the lead going into turn one of the last lap in 2012. They touched and Sato went into the wall while Franchitti won his third 500. Sato's only IndyCar victory was in 2013 at Long Beach, a street course.

Fernando Alonso (rookie) - No. 29
Team: McLaren-Honda-Andretti
Engine: Honda

Alonso is running his first Indianapolis 500, so he's technically a rookie. But he's no stranger to racing. He's a former Formula 1 champion with plenty of race wins under his belt in open-wheel. He's made the biggest headline splash for this 500, giving up driving in F1's Monaco Grand Prix in order to run Indy. Many eyes will be on him to see how he runs the race. He's also a favorite, especially with his qualifying effort.

JR Hildebrand - No. 21
Team: Ed Carpenter Racing
Engine: Chevy
Best Indy 500 finish: Second, in 2011

His history at Indy is probably a memory he'd like to forget. Sure, his best finish was second, but that doesn't tell the whole story. He led coming out of turn four on the final lap of the 2011 race. He decided to go around a lapped car, however, got too high on the track and hit the wall. The victory went to Dan Wheldon, in what was his last victory ever as he was killed later that season in a crash in Las Vegas oval.

Row 3

Tony Kanaan - No. 10
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing
Engine: Honda
Past Indy 500 winner: 2013
Past Indy 500 polesitter: 2005

Kanaan is definitely one of the veterans on the IndyCar circuit. After a lot of years of tough finishes and heartbreak, Kanaan finally broke through to drink the milk four years ago. It was an emotional victory for him, from what I remember. He's long been a fan favorite, and that hasn't changed this year.

Marco Andretti - No. 27
Team: Andretti Autosport
Engine: Honda
Best Indy 500 finish: Second, 2006

This may be one of Marco's best shots at winning the race that has given his family such bad luck over the years. He's trying to buck the Andretti Curse and get just the second victory as a driver with the last name Andretti. His grandfather Mario won the race in 1969. His father - now team owner - Michael led lap after lap at Indy over the years but found some of the worst luck and never won as a driver. Marco made it into the Fast Nine in qualifying and has shown good speed all month. He's had his fair share of good finishes over the years, including five top-fives, but he'd like to erase the runner-up finish in his rookie season when he was passed at the line by Sam Hornish Jr.

Will Power - No. 12
Team: Penske
Engine: Chevy
2014 IndyCar Series champion

Power isn't known for his success on ovals. He has 30 IndyCar victories to his name, passing one of the greatest to ever drive for Roger Penske: Rick Mears. The glaring difference between Power and Mears is that Mears is part of the four-timers club for Indy 500 winners. Power is seeking his first Indy 500 win. Perennial-power (no pun intended) Team Penske didn't qualify well, leaving Power the only driver of five to make the Fast Nine. He might have the best shot, though you can never count Penske cars out at Indy.

Row 4

No. 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014 Indy 500 winner)
No. 19 Ed Jones (rookie)
No. 16 Oriol Servia

Row 5

No. 7 Mikhail Aleshin
No. 15 Graham Rahal
No. 8 Max Chilton

Row 6

No. 83 Charlie Kimball
No. 5 James Hinchcliffe (2016 polesitter after a near-fatal 2015 Indy crash in practice)
No. 22 Juan Pablo Montoya (2000 and 2015 Indy 500 winner)

Row 7

No. 3 Helio Castroneves (2001, 2002, 2009 Indy 500 winner.)
No. 77 Jay Howard
No. 24 Sage Karam

Row 8

No. 2 Josef Newgarden
No. 1 Simon Pagenaud
No. 14 Carlos Munoz

Row 9

No. 88 Gabby Chaves
No. 4 Conor Daly
No. 50 Jack Harvey (rookie)

Row 10

No. 63 Pippa Mann
No. 11 Spencer Pigot
No. 44 Buddy Lazier (1996 Indy 500 winner)

Row 11

No. 17 Sebastian Saavedra
No. 40 Zach Veach (rookie)
No. 18 James Davison (replacing the injured Sebastien Bourdais)

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