This Sunday is the prestigious and historical 96th running of the Indianapolis 500. Despite the significance of this race, there seems to be a lot in the media of how the Indy Racing League (that is the open wheel racing series that hosts this race), is on hard times and being overshadowed by the more popular Nascar racing.
While it’s true the Indy racing has had a drop in popularity (even NHRA Drag Racing is getting better television view numbers on a tape delayed race), it’s not because of a lack of skill or quality of racing.
Indy Racing (IRL), can be described a niche form of racing, it’s not the loud and broad appeal of Nascar, but there is no short of heritage, characters or world class driving. Familiar names in racing lore like Mario Andretti & AJ Foyt are still involved in the sport as owners. And Helio Castrovenes (who is also a former “Dancing With the Stars” reality show champion), is a perennial favorite to win this and any other race.
Now IRL has lost two of its most popular drivers, fan favorite and two time Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon died in the final race of 2011 in Las Vegas in one of the most horrific crashes I've seen in my time of being a race fan. His death put a spotlight on the sometimes overcrowding of the race field and sometimes questionable race conditions that the series dealt with last year.
Also IRL had popular driver Danica Patrick leave to race full time in Nascar's middle level Nationwide series and part time in their elite series known as Sprint Cup. She is backed by none other than Dale Earnhardt Jr. (son of the late iconic Dale Earnhardt Sr), for the Nationwide races and for the Sprint Cup she is supported by three time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, who also ran and won in the IRL series in the 1990's.
The pole sitter for this year's Indy 500 is Ryan Briscoe and he is a weekly contender in this racing series and a win at the fabled Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a quick way to gain a lifetime a respect and more than 15 minutes of fame.
Next on the line up for Sunday’s racer is James Hinchcliff, known to fans as “Hinch”, he is doing a great job filling the seat left by Danica Patrick. Hinch is a character who has quickly made a name for himself as a good driver and great personaility.
The next two drivers race for the icon Mario Andretti, they are the two best American born IRL racers in Ryan Hunter-Reay & Marco Andretti who is the grandson of Mario and the son of racer and car manager Michael Andretti . These guys put on a good show every week.
The next guy on the starting grid is currently dominating the sport and he is Will Power and he lives up to his last name. He leads a lot of laps yet with smooth moves and grace and he takes over most races and has the field scrambling to catch up.
Three time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves is next in line, he is in every race and is not shy about letting you know how good he is. Known for climbing the fences at races he wins, “Spiderman” is a good as it gets.
Newcomer Josef Newgarden is next, a rookie who drives like a season veteran, he drives for the legendary Sarah Fisher and keep his teammates honest.
Fan favorite and former series champion Tony “TK” Kanaan pulls up next. Though he has a strong following and was 2004 champion, he’s winless at Indianapolis and has been on the smaller KV racing team the last few years but he has the heart of a champion, literally.
E.J. Viso is the 9th driver for the big race and he has really come along the last few years and doing well on both road, street and oval raceways.
Former Formula 1 (F1), driver Rubens Barrichello comes up next and he is in his first year in IRL and making the transition from F1 to Indy. Despite both series being “open wheel”, it’s a very different car and tracks but Rubens is quickly adapting and sure to win shortly.
Alex Tagliani won the pole (top starting position), in last years Indy 500 but couldn’t finish the race, with unfinished business, I’m sure Alex is ready to race.
Another racer with pedigree is Graham Rahal, his father is former Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, he is a steady competitor trying to put his family name back on the Borg & Warner trophy.
Ana Beatriz is next and looks to improve on her incomplete first race from last year.
American Charlie Kimball is 14th, he’s known for being the first man to finish the race who has diabetes and he is a weekly competitor in the series despite his condition.
Scott Dixon (known to fans as Scotty D), is a former winner at the Indy 500 (2008), and a threat every week to every other driver.
Two time defending series champion Dario Franchitti (also known as Ashley Judd’s better half), and a team mate to the above mentioned Scott Dixon is a man who has done it all in IRL. He even tried his hand at Nascar but it didn’t work out for him and he came back and won the IRL title the very next year.
James Jakes comes up behind the current champ and despite being in his second year he drives with cache and will compete.
Last year’s almost winner J.R. Hildebrand has the most “unfinished business” of anyone in the field. He was one turn away from winning the Indy 500 last year but crashed into the wall shortly before the checkered flag.
Takuma Sato is a solid driver who does not back down from anyone and is doing well in the series this year, he is not to be ignored.
Townsend Bell is a part time racer but should be in this race from start to finish.
Justin Wilson is a serious veteran racer who can “make himself dangerous”, on the right course and put himself in contention any given race.
Michel Jourdain who has experience in every kind of race car imaginable (including Nascar), returns to Indy and like Rubens Barrichello must make the transition into the Indy Car series on its biggest stage.
Simon Pagenaud has been making his mark in the sport as of late with savvy moves and good racing.
Sebastian Saavedra is another young racer who is learning the sport and trying to make progress but at this race, if you run well you can also make history.
Sebastien Bourdais is a veteran driver looking to add to the trophy case and be part of history.
Wade Cunningham drives for legendary AJ Foyt and has won at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the minor league Indy Lights series, so he knows the track and how to win.
Oriol Servia is a charismatic driver who looks to get to the front of the field, I have no doubt he will be a contender.
Ed Carpenter comes in at # 28, and with his veteran presence looks to recover from his wreck in qualifying for the Indy 500 earlier this month.
Mike Conway is another veteran driver and he races for AJ Foyt, he even carries his old number of 14.
Katherine Legge has made a name for herself this year by contending in several races.
Bryan Clauson starts on the last row of this years Indy 500 but has a lot of racing experience.
Simona DeSilvestro was racing at the local Joliet Autobahn in the Mazda Star series a few years ago and now is at the Indy 500, I expect her varied experiences to get her though this race.
Lastly Jean Alesi brings up the rear at # 33 but having driven in Formula 1 gives him a veteran presence and as his adapts to Indyracing, I’m sure he will catch on.
So that’s your field this year, 33 drivers going as fast of 220 MPH on the historic 2 ½ mile Indinapolus Motor Speeedway, looking to get a crack at history, without cracking up the cars in the process.