Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The 98th Indy 500: By The Numbers

Indy winners add their names and faces to history on the Borg Warner trophy
The 98th Indianapolis 500 is just five days away and the final practice session on Carburetion Day is up next in three days. So my annual foray into looking at the numbers for Indy is due. Since I'm a numbers guy, this is one of the more enjoyable blog posts I do every year as the history of Indy is chock full of statistics. This month alone, drivers have logged 10,959 total laps on Indy's 2.5 mile rectangular oval which equates to 27,397.5 miles. I'm sure that total would have been much higher if rain had not cut short several practice days last week. That's the equivalent of over 54 full race distances so every driver entered this year could have run 1.66 Indy 500's already. But the only 500 miles that counts is coming up this Sunday.

Ed Carpenter, 2013 and 2014 pole position winner
To paraphrase Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, "There's no place like Indianapolis." 500 miles. 200 laps. 800 left turns. Seven or 8 pit stops. 33 drivers. One winner. Over the first 97 races, 67% of the winners have started in the first seven positions, so even though the qualifying format was changed this year due to having only 33 entrants, everyone knows that starting up front matters. That is why the Fast 9 shootout was so important this past Sunday. Thirty years ago in 1984, there were 117 cars entered, so while the times have certainly changed, the importance of winning the pole has not, since 20 previous winners have started in P1. With Ed Carpenter getting his second consecutive Indy 500 pole, he could be the rabbit for the rest of the field to chase on race day. Oddsmakers have him listed as a 7-1 choice to win. 

JPM could do it again this year
Car numbers also have an important history at Indy. Ed Carpenter's #20 has only won three times but the last one to do it with that number was Emerson Fittipaldi in 1989 in the famous duel with Al Unser, Jr. So now 25 years later, Ed has a chance to add his name to the list of winners with that car number. The car number with the second most all-time wins is #2, and this year that belongs to Juan Pablo Montoya who returns to Indy this year 14 years after his one and only 500 appearance when he won as a rookie in 2000. Montoya is also listed at 7-1 odds to win and he is with the powerful Penske team which has racked up more wins than any other team in Indy history. He will have his work cut out for him but he was the quickest driver outside the Fast 9 and nearly had the fastest qualifying attempt of the entire field. JPM will be highly motivated to win again and he has the backing to do it.

Is Will Power ready to win Indy?
Second and third place starting positions have each produced 11 Indy winners so James Hinchliffe and Will Power will be forces to reckon with. The Mayor of Hinchtown has had a tough month of May at Indy, suffering a concussion in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis which kept him off the track for a couple of days during 500 practice last week. But he stormed back in style during the Fast 9 shootout and was on the pole until Carpenter's run as the last qualifier knocked him off. Hinch goes off at 8-1 odds to win. "Willy P" finally won his first oval race last year at Fontana and is at 7-1 odds to win. Historically the third starting position has had an advantage getting into Turn 1 on the start, being on the preferred line, so watch for Will to lead the first lap. I don't think either Hinch or Power will lead the last lap however, as so much can go wrong over 500 miles at Indy.

Can Marco Andretti finally get some good luck at Indy?
According to the oddsmakers, yellow cars will be the ones to watch this Sunday as Marco Andretti is listed as the overall favorite at 5-1. Marco nearly won Indy as a rookie in 2006 and is always strong in the 500 but the Andretti luck (or lack thereof) always seems to bite him in the race. I don't see that changing this year even though he has a strong team at Andretti Autosports behind him.

My favorite to win is the yellow car in the throwback paint scheme: Helio Castroneves. The Pennzoil livery mimics that worn by the car driven by Rick Mears in 1984. Mears just happens to be a four-time Indy winner for Penske and Helio could match that with a win this weekend. He is listed at 6-1 odds behind Marco and is starting fourth where six previous winners have started. He has the #3 on the nose of his Dallara which has been on Indy winners a total of 11 times, the most of any car number. Helio was also the last driver to win wearing the #3 so while his hopes of winning another Indy pole position didn't pan out last Sunday, he would surely trade a pole for Indy win #4 on May 25th. Whatever happens, I will be there shooting for motorsport.com again so be sure to visit the site often to see my photos and get all the news from the Speedway. It's called "The Speedway" for a reason so come on out to IMS this weekend and see history in the making.
My fearless Indy 500 prediction:  Helio Castroneves will get Indy win #4 this Sunday

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