Saturday , 17 November 2018

Why the 2018 Indianapolis 500 may be one of the most competitive yet

The 2018 Indianapolis 500 will be the 102nd running of the great race. Throughout its history, there have been occasions where the majority of the contenders have been simply obliterated by the opposition. In recent years, Andretti Autosport has been the team to beat after taking wins in 2014, ’16 and last year.

The 2018 edition, however, could well be different. While Andretti’s Alexander Rossi (the 2016 Indy 500 winner) is one of two men on a serious championship charge along with reigning champion – Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, other names and teams have featured at the sharp end of the field frequently throughout the season so far.

The likes of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Dale Coyne Racing have all shown the capability to be serious challengers this year in the first four races alone. Ed Carpenter Racing and A.J. Foyt Racing are two other full-time teams yet to exploit potential shown in the four races run.

35 drivers will attempt to qualify for 33 starting positions ahead of the race at the end of the month. Thanks to the return of Bumping, two cars will be eliminated before the race has even begun. Intriguingly, none of the entries immediately jump out as likely candidates to be bumped from the race.

All of the drivers entered come with at least a solid Indy 500 background or are rookies with big potential. However, some of the teams do not have a huge amount of experience at the Brickyard, which may come to bite them.

There is plenty of opportunity to get fully up to speed for each team, however. With two weeks of practice as well as qualifying, the likes of Juncos Racing, Carlin, Meyer Shank Racing and Harding Racing should all be able to be competitive. Harding had a stunning debut at last year’s Indy 500, finishing eighth.

So, is it possible that a shock name could be bumped from the race? Reigning champions Bobby Rahal and Al Unser Jr were left out of the races in 1994 and 1995 respectively, and are among two of the highest-profile instances of a huge name missing the race.

Of immediate intrigue is knowing the identity of the driver of second of four entries for Dale Coyne Racing. Third-generation driver Pietro Fittipaldi was scheduled to make his first appearance at the Indy 500, but was injured in at Belgium on his World Endurance Championship debut.

This opens the door potentially for the likes of Zachary Claman DeMelo to move into the seat he shares with Fittipaldi for the big race, or for the likes of former frontrunner Ryan Briscoe or Simona de Silvestro to try and form a package in short notice and make a return to the speedway.

But before the drivers can focus on the big one, they must take on the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. The road course event – which runs on a layout different to the ones used by Formula 1 and MotoGP. This event, which has only been run a handful of times, is already establishing itself as a mainstay on the current calendar.

Only Will Power and Simon Pagenaud can call themselves winners of this event, both having done so twice. However, given the nature of the circuit, those with more ‘European’ experience tend to do pretty well at the event. Sebastien Bourdais was magnificent last year before being put out with engine trouble, and he has also been very competitive throughout this season already. Rossi – a driver with more ‘European’ experience than most, is also a likely contender.

While he is yet to race at IMS, this will be a track which will at least feel similar to star rookie Robert Wickens. The Indy road course will at least partially resemble the sort of circuit he would have raced in DTM and in much of his junior single seater career.

But given how the season has panned out so far, counting out other big names would be unwise. While a soaked Barber failed to teach us much about how the season may pan out, it did at least highlight that the likes of Chip Ganassi Racing and the Rahal team are starting to really find their feet in IndyCar in 2018.

Some names have already taken to the speedway this month – Danica Patrick has made her long-awaited return in the standout green car in which she is often associated with from her time in the series more than half a decade ago. Wickens has also turned his first laps of the month. But it will not be until after the race on Saturday that focus will shift to the big one.

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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