Monday, May 9, 2011

The Indy 500: Nothing Is Certain

This week, IndyCars will be on the track at Indy! You're going to have all manner of experts, prognosticators, and self-professed gurus telling you what's going to happen this month as 40+ drivers attempt to qualify and race at Indy.

Here's the thing: we have no freaking idea what's going to happen.

OK, not specifically. We know a Ganassi or Penske car will likely be on the pole--that's a gimme. But there aren't many drivers in this field you can look at and definitively state they have no chance in hell of making this race. Because they do, whether it's a rookie, veteran, big team, or Indy one-off. As Robin Miller would put it, we're not looking at many "wankers" in this field.

We all make picks and make our choices for our field of 33 because it's human nature and it's fun. But we're all going to be surprised at least a couple times this month. Indy is notorious for not giving a crap what you or I have as our "locks" when it comes to Pole Day, Bump Day, or the race itself.

That said, we know a few things that will probably happen, we just don't know the names. Here are my three main expectations I try to keep in mind when working on my own prognostications for this 500:

Someone You Expect To Struggle, Won't: There are plenty of rookies to go around this year, and many of them are expected to have at least some difficulty getting into the race itself. You can say the same for several of the smaller teams and their efforts to make the race. Yet 10 minutes after the final gun on Bump Day, we'll be scratching our heads, thinking, "How did they manage"?

2010 Example: Mario Romancini, Bertrand Baguette. Many folks figured 1 Conquest car would qualify at best. As it turns out, neither Romancini or the Breadman had much to worry about on Bump Day. Of course, there's also Sebastian Saavedra, who by an insane series of events found himself bumped in, back out, in, out, and finally in again.

Someone You Don't Expect To Struggle, Will: A good driver, possibly even a series regular, is going home. Crashes. Changing track conditions. The wrong setup. With 40+ drivers, the margin for error is much, much thinner than in previous years.

2010 Example: Paul Tracy. Most people had him safely in on Pole Day. After the team withdrew a time that would have seen him in the field, he couldn't find what he needed on his last run, and shockingly sat out the biggest race on the schedule. Tony Kanaan was also an absolute question mark until the very last minute, but squeaked in.

Someone's Finished Early: Even the most solid drivers can face catastrophe early at Indy. You have 33 drivers taking their IndyCars as fast as they can around an extremely unforgiving race track. It doesn't take much to see an early favorite out--even if it isn't entirely their fault.

2010 Example: Davey Hamilton, Lap 1. He qualified easily on Pole Day, but tangled with Tomas Scheckter before most of the crowd had even sat down. Bruno Junqueira would also be an unfortunate example--burning fast on Bump Day, but out of the race seven laps in.

Time for Indy. Enjoy the surprises. The Speedway's going to make most of us look like jackasses at some point this month; might as well enjoy it.

It's Indy: Expect the Unexpected
(Image Courtesy of IndyCar Media)

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