Friday, May 11, 2012

Indy 500 Practice Opens - Penske & Helio Favorites

Helio Castroneves on track during April 2012 open test at IMS
This weekend marks the opening of official practice for the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500 and Penske driver Helio Castroneves will share the favorite's role with IZOD Indycar points leader and teammate Will Power. The Penske team has been a juggernaut so far this season with Helio capturing one win and Power taking the other three races - two on road courses from starting positions uncharacteristically deep in the starting fields at Barber and in Brazil. Helio has a chance to make history this month and join Indy legends AJ Foyt, Al Unser, Sr., and Rick Mears as the only four-time winners of the 500. I predicted earlier this year that Helio would win the 500 in my season preview story on the 2012 IZOD Indycar series so I hope he is able to make me look good. For the full story click here. It's hard to believe that it has been 25 years since Big Al won his fourth 500 but time passes when you're having fun, as the saying goes, and I am excited to be back shooting the biggest race in the world again this May.

Preparations for this year's 500 have been compressed again into a single week of practice with Pole Day and Bump Day at the end of the week. Sadly, there will probably be no bumping this year as the entry list has only just reached 33 car-driver combinations with the late of addition of former Formula 1 driver Jean Alesi and a brand new team with Lotus power. Teams have been leaving Lotus lately like rats jumping from a sinking ship so it is unlikely, as Alex Lloyd so eloquent wrote in the May 10, 2012 Indianapolis Star, that we will see any additional entries since Indycar wants to keep Lotus in the field and their underpowered, underdeveloped engines are not likely to be very quick at all. With no testing at IMS whatsoever thus far, Lotus teams will likely have the last row party all to themselves, which is a real shame for Simona DiSilvestro who has shown both talent and courage in her brief Indycar career thus far.

I can't talk about this year's Indy 500 without mentioning the fallen - last year's winner, the late Dan Wheldon. His presence will be sorely missed this month as he had been pegged to drive the GoDaddy machine for Andretti Autosport this season not long before he was lost at Las Vegas. James Hinchliffe has done a marvelous job as his replacement so far this season and it would be fun to see him win Indy and make good on his promise to shave his head if he wins Indy this month. To do it in Dan's honor, in a car Danny was slated to drive, would somehow see justice served and Indy is usually full of surprises so it is not beyond the realm of possibility for Hinchtown to come through on May 27th and get to chug the winner's milk. Even though I picked Helio to win, sentimentally I'd like to see Hinch pour the milk over his head ala Danny a little more than three weeks from now so we'll just have to see what happens.

As the late radio voice of the Indy 500, Sid Collins, used to say:  "Stay tuned for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing".

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