Indianapolis 500 Preview

After thousands of laps and millions of dollars in preparation – the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 is finally here. It’s funny how each Month of May has its own set of storylines. If you go back to the Open Test, the storyline was Kyle Kirkwood had just won Long Beach and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLLR) cars were completely out to lunch at Texas. All eyes were on how they would do on an even bigger oval.

Fast-forward to today and we see that Kirkwood and all of the Andretti Autosport cars have cooled down, but the RLLR are still out to lunch – to the point that their star diver, Graham Rahal, was bumped from the field. By now, we all know that Graham is back in the field at the expense of Stefan Wilson, who broke a vertebra in a crash with Katherine Legge during Monday’s practice.

I will get sidetracked here as I go off on a rant. I often talk about the lack of intelligence you see on display in various IndyCar Facebook groups. Well there was no lack of ridiculous opinions on social media Monday night. The worst however was from someone who was so certain that RLLR’s Katherine Legge purposely took out Stefan Wilson, in order to get Graham Rahal back into Sunday’s race.

I’ve heard a lot of crazy conspiracy theories in my day, but this one may take the cake. Does this person not realize that Legge could have been killed by doing such a thing? This is about as dumb as those people ten years ago that claimed Dario Franchitti crashed on purpose late in the 2013 Indianapolis 500, just so his good friend Tony Kanaan would be assured to win.

I don’t think I’m wrong when I say – drivers never crash on purpose. End of rant.

This weekend is my favorite weekend of the year, but it also comes with sadness. After spending so much time up here for the past three weeks and the Open Test in April. My Month of May is about to come to an end. An entire year of anticipation comes to a climax on Sunday. Then Monday, all we can do is think of the new memories made this month and start dreaming about next year.

The weather for this weekend is still looking good. I’m almost scared that Saturday will bring some major change to the forecast, but right now it’s looking really good.

Susan and I drove up last night – and I mean late last night. We weren’t fifteen miles from home, when I hit some obstacle neither of us ever saw (it was still daylight – about 5:15 pm). It sounded like we hit a major pothole and shook the entire car. Within a few hundred feet, I heard and felt that dreaded sound telling me we had a flat. We pulled the luggage out to get the jack and spare. I did a pretty quick change if I say so myself. Then we booked it to Discount Tire in Madison, TN. We called ahead and they agreed to stay open. The tire was ruined, and the whole set had 42,000 miles on them, so I ended up buying a whole new set of tires – not really what I had budgeted for the weekend. The whole ordeal set us back more than two hours. By the time we finally checked into our hotel, it was 12:30 am. Here’s hoping we have our one disaster behind us for the weekend.

We are going to Carb Day for the practice from 11:00 to 1:00 (on Peacock) and we will also stay for the Pit Stop Competition. But we plan to leave before the bands get going. We’re too old for the drunk party scene.

Both of my brothers are coming this weekend. It is the first time since 2016 that all three of us have attended the race together. The middle brother is flying in this afternoon and my oldest brother will be driving in around 6:00 pm. We all live in three different states. Now that our mother has passed away, we only see each other on Race Weekend in Indianapolis – which gives me yet another reason to look forward to this weekend.

We plan to visit our usual eateries; Dawson’s, Charlie Brown’s and tonight I am going to indoctrinate my brothers into my latest craze – The Workingman’s Friend, for possibly the best burger ever. We plan to take in The IMS Museum on Saturday, and turn in fairly early Saturday night; because it’s a 3:30 am wakeup call on Sunday.

The Graham Rahal bumping and getting back into the field two days later is a big story heading into the race, but it’s not the only one. There are several storylines heading into Sunday, but which ones will factor into the race results?

The Penske cars are a story, or perhaps a non-story. Josef Newgarden led the way at the Open Test with a speed of 227.792 mph – a speed that would not even make the race. When qualifying was over and the grid was set, Newgarden was halfway down the chart. He will start seventeenth, in the middle of Row Six. Not only was he not the fastest driver in the field, he was the slowest Penske driver. Scott McLaughlin will start directly in front of Newgarden, in the middle of Row Five. Will Power was the fastest from Team Penske, but that’s only good for the outside of Row Four. But one would be very foolish to count this team out, based on qualifying speeds. Any one of their three drivers can win this race. They will be interesting to watch on Race Day. I fully expect them to move up through the field once the green flag flies.

The Foyt cars are another story. Benjamin Pedersen is flanked on each side, by 500 winners Marcus Ericsson and Will Power. If Pedersen can survive the start, I think he can have a very solid finish. Santino Ferrucci starts on the inside of Row Two – the same starting position for Foyt in 1967 and 1977, his last two wins at the track. Ferrucci’s qualifying speed was no fluke. He was fast all month (week) and carried that into the qualifying weekend. He can win in this car.

The McLarens were fast all through practice and most of qualifying, but they were probably a little disappointed that their fastest car, when it counted the most, was Felix Rosenqvist – who will start on the outside of the front row. Rosenqvist has a habit of qualifying well, but sometimes tends to drop like a stone when the race starts. If he is still running up front by Lap Ten, he may be a factor all day. Pato O’Ward almost won this race a year ago. He seems faster this year, and more mature. He can certainly be counted among contenders for Sunday.

Then there are the Ganassi cars. Someone last week said something to the effect that they were tired of Ganassi winning the 500 all the time. While they may win a lot of races each season, Ericsson’s win last year was the first for Ganassi since Dario Franchitti’s win in 2012. My definition of winning all the time is not once every ten years. If you weren’t happy Ganassi won in 2022, you’re probably not going to be too happy in 2023 either.

The only Ganassi driver that has not won the Indianapolis 500 happens to be sitting on the pole. Alex Palou has a great shot to win, and many are picking him to drink milk on Sunday. Marcus Ericsson has been fast all month, and is probably not pleased with his tenth starting position. Two-time winner Takuma Sato is another who has been quick all month. He has nothing firmed up after this race, and would really like to prove that he is still competitive. Getting his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy for a third time would be a great way to prove that point.

Although you could never tell it by looking at him, I think Scott Dixon is mad and has a lot to prove. He is probably still mad about letting last year’s race get away; when he got caught speeding on pit lane on his last pit stop, after dominating the race. I can’t imagine he is real excited about starting on the outside of Row Two, either. After coming so close, for so many years – I think Scott Dixon is due.

The Speedway doesn’t care who is due. The track picks the winner. It is probably more of a sentimental pick, but I still think Scott Dixon will win this race. Since Fast Friday, he has been sort of overlooked for this race. It’s always a mistake to overlook Scott Dixon, so he is my official pick to win the 2023 Indianapolis 500.

Susan will have a post here tomorrow, then I will post here Sunday morning and then after the race. I will also have my Random Thoughts post on Monday, but it may be delayed a few hours. I may write it Monday morning from our hotel before we head back home.

Enjoy the race!

George Phillips

6 Responses to “Indianapolis 500 Preview”

  1. Well George….I wouldn’t expect a Christmas card from Scott & Emma this year. You just put the Phillips’ hex on Dixon’s fortunes for the race! haha

    Hope you have a wonderful time with your brothers and here’s to another memorable 500!

  2. Did you go with reds or blacks, George?

  3. billytheskink Says:

    I expect the race will once again come down to a two car shootout in the final stint with a lot of weaving involved. It’s on the contending cars to figure out how to find their way into that top 2 in the first 170 laps.

  4. Not a Dixon fan so I am hoping you are wrong but I am hoping more for a safe and exciting race. If Dixon winning is safe and exciting, so be it. That said, everyone said it was Dixon’s pole to lose last week and he just was flat when it mattered, so I am hoping we see that again, to be honest.

    My hope for a 1st time winner: O’Ward or Palou
    a 2nd timer: Rossi. I would REALLY like to see McLaren beat Ganassi though! I also have a strange feeling that RHR will have a good run this weekend.

  5. OliverW Says:

    Nelson Piquet junior crashed on purpose, Singapore GP 2008. Not that Katherine Legge did. No chance.

    My head says Palou while my heart says Santino.

    31 other possibilities !

  6. Kessler Maurice Says:

    It was FIRESTONES of course, right?

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