Tuesday, April 5, 2011

An Early Look At the Centennial 500 Field

Not all the entries are in for this year's Indy 500, and we're already looking at an incredibly deep field. Sure, we knew before this should be a pretty good year, but this could be the best year from a competition standpoint that we've seen in...well, that's call it a good long while.

Consider this: you've got 4 champions confirmed as returning (Castroneves, Franchitti, Wheldon, Dixon). You have Penske's Ryan Briscoe and Will Power, who are definite threats to win. You have the Andretti team (Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Mike Conway) , all of whom have shown at least something at Indy, plus veteran John Andretti, who you know will find a way to make the field. Dreyer and Reinbold will have Justin Wilson, Davey Hamilton, and Paul Tracy. KV Racing looks to be resurgent with Tony Kanaan and Tomas Scheckter (the latter in partnership with Redline SH Racing) on board, plus the streaky duo of Takuma Sato and EJ Viso.

Sam Schmidt Motorsports could be one of the top teams this May. Not only do they have Alex Tagliani (lightning-fast here in 2010), but oval ace Townsend Bell is also going to run for them. Jay Howard (in association with Rahal-Letter-Lanigan Racing) is still looking to make his first Indy 500. Also an intriguing part of the mix is Foyt Racing, who signed Bruno Junqueira as their second car alongside Vitor Meira.

Junky should have more time to prepare this year.
Among the smaller teams, there's fan-favorite Simona de Silvestro with HVM Racing, Ed Carpenter with Sarah Fisher Racing, and AFS Racing's Rafa Matos. All three drivers are easily capable of making this field. Oriol Servia's situation at Newman/Haas is settled, and he should be quick.

Can you imagine being a rookie in this year's 500? Ana Beatriz and Sebastian Saavedra have competed here before, but James Jakes, James Hinchcliffe, JR Hildebrand, and possibly Martin Plowman or Pippa Mann are going to have their work cut out for them--then again, it's looking like every driver out there will, too. Still, you have to think at least one or two rookies will fail to make the field. I would have thought that last year, too, though, and look what happened.

The projected car count is already over 33. Still circling as potential drivers include former 500 winner Buddy Rice, Bertrand Baguette, Simon Pagenaud, and perhaps even Robert Doornbos. Wade Cunningham isn't currently scheduled to run Indy, but still might find a place. Alex Lloyd should be in high demand after his showing last year (if he doesn't end up in Coyne's other car for Indy). We know Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan will likely run a car of their own, Panther Racing will have someone in their second car, and Conquest should have their second car going by then. Foyt may also still have one additional entry. There are definitely going to be some folks sent home unhappy next month.

There are very few "weak" names or "field fillers" throughout that list. As the later entries to the 500 continue to file in, we'll probably see a couple of more surprises among the field. But there's no question in my mind that this is going to be a tough field--perfect for a very special Indy 500.

(Image courtesy of IndyCar Media)

2 comments:

  1. As long as they don't start crashing, Kimball and Hildebrand's equipment should get them in the show. I'd be a bit worried for the rest though, especially Jakes, who's never seen an oval. I don't expect Baguette back as he's more of a road course specialists anyways.

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  2. Baguette's best finish actually came on an oval last year. We'll have to see. I know he's been working on plans to get to at least the 500 this year. I think he could probably make the field in a semi-decent ride.

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