The Month of May – Setting the Field (Fast Nine)

“Bump Day” and Pole Day have now come and gone.  Drivers are out on their normal media blitz before Carb Day, leaving us race fans in a state of suspended animation.  Waiting, waiting, waiting for the green flag to drop on the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.  So in that interim, let’s take a look at the field.


Row 1: Dixon – Carpenter – Rossi

The real story here should be Dixon’s mind boggling speed of a 232 lap average.  That is just damn near superhuman, which is to say Dixon-worthy.  What makes this most terrifying is the fact that Dixon’s teammate, Tony Kanaan starts two rows back from the Kiwi Iceman, so do not be surprised if the two of them make their way to the top of the field to run in tandem for about the first 150 laps.

But my favorite story out of this front row is Alex Rossi.  Talk about a name stamping drive.  There will always be those who deride Rossi (I am NOT one of them) for winning Indianapolis on fuel strategy and not merit.  This drive shows that they are crazy.  Rossi is one hell of a driver (look at Barber this year).  And he’s hungry.  Do not be surprised if he runs near the front all day long

Also, Ed Carpenter is second.  Odds on him finishing? 5/1.

Row 2: Sato – Alonso – Hildebrand

Where has this pace been from Sato?  Yes, Andretti always dials it in at Indianapolis, but holy hell, the ex-F1 driver looked like he was back in his glory days of diving down the inside of other drivers when he was three miles away.  Sato’s qualifying lap look like it was on the absolute ragged edge.  Hell, he brushed or damn near brushed the wall on almost every lap.  But that’s why I’ve always liked Sato as a driver.  He pushes himself and the car.  Could he be on for a redemption drive, taking back the trophy he came so close to winning back in 2012?  If he keeps himself out of trouble and doesn’t make a dumb move on lap 1, there’s a good chance, yes.

Alonso’s story has been written about enough, so I won’t go into massive detail about just how impressive his drive to put himself into the fast nine was, but rest assured, it was impressive.  I would like say about Alonso, however, now that we have gotten into the time of the month when, for reasons unbeknown to the world, ABC allows Eddie Cheever to open his mouth and reveal, with every passing sentence, just how much of an idiot he is.  Cheever and every else keeps talking about Mansell Mania as the closest comparison to Alonso fever.  That is an incorrect analogy.  Mansell came over to race full time with IndyCar.  Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, Jackie Stewart.  They came over for the one off.

On the outside of the third row is JR Hildebrand.  Now, however much I would like to derride Ed Carpenter an his entire team, it’s clear that they have a good setup, planting both of their cars firmly within the first three rows.  Hildebrand may always be known as the winner of the 2011 Indianapolis 499.7, but he has proven since then that he is a throughly well qualified racing driver.  He put on a good display in Phoenix and will look to continue that trend here at Indianapolis.

Row 3: Kanaan – Andretti – Power

Fan favorite TK will have good starting position as he rounds out the “I Actually Know What I’m Doing” contingent of the Ganassi stable.  TK is always a contender at IMS.  He knows the track and he loves the track.  As stated above, because he shares data with teammate Dixon, he will no doubt be better prepared come race day.  TK is a guy that doesn’t like to peak to early in the race, so don’t be surprised if he lingers in the top ten, only to make a massive push later in the race.

Marco Andretti seems to have gotten his groove back, or at least slightly.  You can say what you will about Marco, and there has been plenty said, but the man knows how to run Indianapolis.  A top nine start for Marco has to feel like a good morale boost, and like Dixon/Kanaan, he will be able to share information with his teammates like Alonso and Rossi.  That should help him get the best setup possible and be in for a chance to win the race.  Plus, he has the brickyard whisperer, Bryan Herta, talking into his ear for this year’s race.  Herta won with Dan Wheldon in 2011 and he won last year with Alexander Rossi.  Maybe it’s Herta’s touch that can finally break the Andretti curse.

By far, the biggest surprise out of qualifying was the outright non-pace of the Penske boys.  Newgarden, Castroneves, Pagneaud, and Montoya didn’t even make the fast nine and Will Power, the only one who did, couldn’t get his car out of ninth position.  Does this spell disaster for The Captain and his drivers come race day?  Probably not.  It’s a long race and all of the Penske drivers have massive amounts of experience at Indy.  It may be weird to see them not at the front during the opening stages of the race, but don’t be surprised if, by the end of the race, all five of them are up near the front.

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