Wednesday , 19 December 2018
Takuma Sato raises his fist in celebration after winning the 2017 Indianapolis 500. Picture: Indycar

2018 Indianapolis 500 preview: the race

It’s wide open. Race day is not yet here and still shocks have already occurred. James Hinchcliffe – the 2016 polesitter a year after his life-threatening accident – will not take the green flag as one of the 33 starters of the Indianapolis 500 after being the shock bumpee on the first day of qualifying.

And there goes one name expected to be firmly in the mix. Instead, what we have learned over the first week and a bit of practice and qualifying is that Penske possibly has a small advantage over the rest of the field (estimated at about one mile an hour average per lap). It has four entries very capable of victory, and the potential to take a second driver to Victory Lane for a fourth time after Rick Mears back in 1991.

Somewhat surprisingly, none of the six entries from Andretti Autosport (who have won three of the previous four Indy 500s) made the top nine in qualifying. Instead, the front three rows is made up of the four Penskes, the three entries by Ed Carpenter Racing (including returnee Danica Patrick), and two four-time champions. All nine are serious contenders for the win, but outside of the first three rows are a number of wildcards, familiar faces and previous 500 winners who can also very much take it to the front of the pack.

So, who are the runners and riders of the 11 rows in the 102nd Indy 500, and just how likely are they to be victorious and have their likeness immortalised on the Borg-Warner trophy?

Pole – Ed Carpenter (USA) – Ed Carpenter Racing – Chevrolet

Carpenter was truly magnificent in qualifying and took his third Indy 500 pole position, sneaking past the 230mph barrier on his pole run, ruining the Penske party before it had begun. Carpenter has been a sensation in qualifying over the years, his race results have not been as strong. With two similarly strong team-mates, there is every reason that one of the ECR trio could win the race, and the team boss himself is in the strongest position to do so.

2nd – Simon Pagenaud (FRA) – Team Penske – Chevrolet

2016 series champion Pagenaud is in his best position yet to take his first 500 win, at a place where he has struggled in the past. To achieve this goal, his likely will have to beat his three team-mates, none of which will be a pushover.

3rd – Will Power (AUS) – Penske

Ovals were far from 2015 Indy 500 runner-up Power’s strongest point when he first joined the IndyCar series in 2008. In fact, he was usually poor on them. But with experience, he has now become a factor on a regular basis. Power has looked absolutely stellar all month and comes off the back of winning the most recent race in the series – also held at IMS.

4th – Josef Newgarden (USA) – Penske

The reigning series champion and current series leader had a dismal May last year. But in 2018, he is looking absolutely fearsome. IndyCar’s new poster boy winning its most famous race would be of huge benefit to the series. He is yet to win a 500-miler, so there are questions over that.

5th – Sebastien Bourdais (FRA) – Dale Coyne Racing (With Vasser and Sullivan) – Honda

A year on from his season-ruining injury at the same track, the four-time Champ Car champion stunned in qualifying by being the fastest Honda-powered car – beating all of the Andretti Autosport entries. Despite having an illustrious career in American open-wheel racing, Bourdais has not been particularly strong at IMS. He would have been a contender last year, and his replacement and team-mate showed what might have been.

6th – Spencer Pigot (USA) – ECR

The wildcard. Pigot has had a tough start to 2018 but has looked completely pumped this month. No wonder – sixth on the grid is a magnificent effort. Pigot has rarely run at the front and does not have a substantial amount of oval experience. While he has generally become regarded as a road course specialist, this is a great opportunity for the young American to truly make a name for himself on the most fearsome oval of all.

7th – Danica Patrick (USA) – ECR

Can she do it, seven years on? This will be the second half of the ‘Danica Double’ and will mark the 36-year old’s final race. Patrick made her most IndyCar recent start back in 2011, so race-rustiness may be a factor. With ECR, she absolutely can be a contender. No woman has won the 500, but that could change in 2018.

8th – Helio Castroneves (BRA) – Penske

The three-time Indy 500 winner-turned sportscar driver was the runner up last year, missing out by a tenth of a second. Somewhat unsurprisingly, he has been right up there with his three team-mates throughout May. It would be madness to bet against the Brazilian making it four.

9th – Scott Dixon (NZL) – Chip Ganassi Racing – Honda

It’s a decade since Dixon took his sole Indy 500 win, and his best chance in a while ended up upside down and in a fence last year. Dixon’s season has not really got going yet, and while he should feature towards the front, his chance this year seems significantly slimmer than this time a year ago.

10th – Tony Kanaan (BRA) – A.J. Foyt Enterprises – Chevrolet

2013 winner Kanaan has looked competitive in new colours. Foyt has not won the race since the Split era. With Chevrolet engines, and a strong team-mate, expect Kanaan to feature towards the front at some point in the race.

11th – Matheus Leist (BRA) – Foyt

Teenager Leist was the fastest rookie in qualifying, and just a fraction off his illustrious (and considerably more experienced) team-mate. Another Wildcard in this race, Leist’s objective will be to simply finish the race, and get experience. He demolished the opposition in the Freedom 100 in 2017.

12th – Marco Andretti (USA) – Andretti Autosport (with Herta) – Honda

The third-generation Andretti generally goes well at the speedway. He was the quickest of the six Andretti entries in qualifying, and has the masterful Bryan Herta calling the strategy. He will not be the favourite but could be in with a shout for a good result. He will aim to move up early on and run at the front.

13th – Zachary Claman DeMelo (CAN) – Coyne

A last-minute replacement for the injured Pietro Fittipaldi, the young Canadian has taken this opportunity and has grasped it superbly. The rookie will gain a vast amount of experience by mixing it with the names he has qualified around. This entry was third in the race last year and could have won.

14th – Ryan Hunter-Reay (USA) – Andretti

Hunter-Reay brilliantly won this race in 2014 and has featured in other years. He is another champion who is yet to really make strides this year, so Indy would be the perfect place to get his season going. He is one of just two Andretti entries in the top 20, so will aim to work with Marco Andretti to make places early on.

15th – Charlie Kimball (USA) – Carlin – Chevrolet

New team Carlin has so far taken to the speedway pretty well. Both entries safely made the race. The strategy aspect of the race will be new to the team, less so to the drivers. Kimball has shown in the past that he can deliver a good result at the speedway. This year, he should look to help his team gain experience.

16th – Takuma Sato (JPN) – Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing – Honda

Reigning winner Sato returns to the team where he nearly won the race back in 2012. This May has not been as strong as last year, so it is unlikely he will go back-to-back.

17th – Kyle Kaiser (USA) – Juncos Racing – Chevrolet

Rookie Kaiser, running with new team Juncos – which debuted at Indy last year, is making his second oval start. This will be a big learning experience for the young American.

18th – Robert Wickens (CAN) – Schmidt Peterson Motorsports – Honda

Super rookie Wickens is the only full-time entry in the field from Sam Schmidt’s team. Without the experience of James Hinchcliffe in the field, it may be tricky for the impressive Canadian in his first Indy 500.

19th – James Davison (AUS) – Foyt (with Byrd, Hollinger and Belardi)

Davison brilliantly subbed for Bourdais last year. The Australian will just aim to have a clean race this year in what will be his fourth Indy 500 start. He squeezed through bump day and put in a stellar qualifying run to end up on row seven.

20th – Max Chilton (GBR) – Carlin

Chilton led more laps than anybody and finished fourth last year. He has generally gone well at the speedway, but with new team Carlin just learning as much about the car as possible is key looking forward.

21st – Carlos Munoz (COL) – Andretti

Munoz has finished second twice in the past, including in his first 500 start. He is always magnificent around IMS. This is his sole race of the year and might just be one of those wild outside shots for race victory.

22nd – Gabby Chaves (COL) – Harding Racing – Chevrolet

Chaves and Harding have delivered some exceptional performances in the past year on the ovals. With Chevrolet power, it can push on this year for an even better performance. Top 10 probably was not reflective exactly of where the team was in Indy, but it certainly wasn’t bringing up the field.

23rd – Stefan Wilson (GBR) – Andretti

The younger brother of the late Justin Wilson will make his second Indy 500 start a year late after making way for Fernando Alonso last year. His May has been quiet, but his race speeds have looked more than solid, so expect him to be one of a number of Andretti entries looking to move forward.

24th – Sage Karam (USA) – Dreyer and Reinbold Racing – Chevrolet

Karam is always an exciting driver to watch and has a strong team-mate this year. While the young American is fast – mighty fast, he is also prone to being involved in accidents. However, expect him to be a factor in the race one way or another.

25th – Zach Veach (USA) – Andretti

This will be Veach’s second Indy 500 start, in his first full season at this level. He has looked solid-if-unspectacular this month, and is probably a car slightly out of position on the grid.

26th – Oriol Servia (ESP) – Scuderia Corsa (with RLL) – Honda

Servia was struggling early on bump day, but eventually squeezed himself in and had a strong Sunday to stick it ahead of some strong teams. The experienced Spaniard is the ideal candidate for Scuderia Corsa to have onboard and is a firm safe pair of hands in its first IndyCar race.

27th – J.R. Hildebrand (USA) – Dreyer and Reinbold

The driver who came so very close in 2011 is with DRR this year. He is always a force to be reckoned with around the speedway but will have a lot of work to do from this far back.

28th – Jay Howard (GBR) – Schmidt (with AFS Racing)

Howard was involved in the monumental shunt with Dixon last year but is genuinely quick in race trim again this year. He will be one of the key hopes for SPM but is unlikely to be a major factor from this far back.

29th – Ed Jones (UAE) – Ganassi

Jones superbly finished third with Coyne last year and could have won the race if not for some damage sustained. His career at Ganassi has not got to the smoothest of starts and qualifying a lowly 29th at Indy will not help. He has so much work to do if he is to be up there alongside his team leader Dixon.

30th – Graham Rahal (USA) – Rahal

It is over 30 years since a Rahal – Graham’s father Bobby, entered victory lane at Indianapolis. That seems unlikely to change this year. This package is not one of the strongest and will struggle to make it to the front.

31st – Jack Harvey (GBR) – Meyer Shank Racing (with SPM) – Honda

Briton Harvey will aim to simply finish the race this year, after being eliminated early in the race in 2017. He safely made it through bump day, which was rather impressive.

32nd – Alexander Rossi (USA) – Andretti

The surprise bookies’ favourite. Rossi famously won this race in 2016 and was among the strongest drivers in 2017. However, his qualifying run on Sunday was hampered by a puncture, hence why he starts so far back in the field. Winning from the last row is unheard of, although the runner up came from the last row in 1980, ’81 and ’92. Rossi has a huge amount of work to do if he is to work up to his team-mates, let alone the front of the pack.

33rd – Conor Daly (USA) – Coyne (with Thom Burns Racing)

Second-generation driver Daly brings up the rear of the field, after making the cut at the expense of one of his team-mates. IMS has not been kind to him in the past – with just one finish in four attempts.

nb: those new to the event may wish to read last year’s newbie’s guide.

About Craig Woollard

Craig Woollard is an avid motor racing fan and freelance journalist and writer. A mathematics graduate from the University of Essex in 2013, Woollard has ambitions to work within motor racing. He is a member of Autosport's academy programme. In his spare time, he listens to music, sim races, wears hats and drinks cranberry juice.

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