Although both Motorcycle and Car races were held at the fabled Brickyard prior to its inaugural International Sweepstakes race held in 1911, this year’s Indy 500 marks the 100th running of this classic 500-mile event which was interupted only by World War One & Two.
As a ‘Wee lad, growing up I fondly recall watching the Indianapolis 500 on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, as the tape delayed broadcasts were announced by Jim McKay and Chris Schenkel, with other noted journalists as Chris Economaki being present.
These were the days of such luminary Drivers as AJ Foyt, Gordon Johncock, Mario Andretti, Al and Bobby Unser, Johny Rutherford to name just a few. Being joined later on by Tom “the Gasman” Sneva, “Rocket Rick” Mears, etc.
As back then the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was truly legendary as the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, alongside other “crown jewels” such as the Daytona 24 hours; 12 Hours of Sebring; Monaco Grand Prix; 24 Heurs du Mans and the Daytona 500.
These were the glory years of the United States Auto Club (USAC) leading up to its eventual demise, when McLaren and AAR Eagle chassis powered by the mighty Drake “Offy” (Offenhauser) 4 cylinder turbo ruled the brickyard, for which the Speedway’s moniker was derived from its track being paved with over three million bricks!
In 1979 a new Open Wheel racing series known as Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) broke away from then dominant USAC, becoming Indy Cars pre-eminent racing series. Although the Speedway would remain under the auspices of USAC until the late 1990’s, nonetheless USAC would be left largely commiserating with just the running of Sprint Cars.
Yet in the early 1990’s Tony George attempted to forcefully commandeer CART by announcing his desire to be president (Dictator) of the immensely popular racing series. CART’s governing body responded by telling George he could duly become president but would have no voting power.
Hence George, Grandson of track owner Tony Hulman formed the rival Indy Racing League (IRL) to host its inaugural race at Indianapolis in 1996. This was the year of the famous 25-8 rule, similar to NASCAR’s past Nextel Cup top 35 points owners being guaranteed a starting grid position, comparable to today’s Sprint Cup Top-36 Franchise; Err Charter Members being guaranteed inclusion in all NASCAR races…
George’s 25-8 rule back then stipulated that the first 25 grid positions would go to IRL entrants only with the final 8 up for grabs by CART, for which naturally the latter were not impressed with one iota!
CART countered by running its own U.S. 500 the same weekend as Indy on Michigan International Speedway’s Oval racetrack. Which was then owned by Roger Penske - and “The Feud” between Open Wheel racing series began.
Also known today as “The Split,” both sides refuse to give any ground, as CART has folded after filing for bankruptcy. All of its engine suppliers have left as well as the majority of its founding race teams.
Yet Indy too has seen its share of troubles after losing engine manufacturer’s Chevrolet and Toyota in 2006 and perpetually struggling to maintain the tradition of 33 starters. For which the past several years Bump Day has become a JOKE! Now referred to as “boomp” day with literally NO contestants, which has caused Indy to change its qualifying format more than once.
And as mentioned above, even though CART filed for Bankruptcy in ‘03 and Tony George tried purchasing their assets, George was denied in court and the Feud continued a further four years with the formation of the Champ Car World Series before it too finally ceased after the ‘07 season, also filing for Bankruptcy in early ‘08 before the two rival factions finally mergified in what was known as Reunification!
In 1977 history was made when Janet Guthrie became the first woman to successfully qualify and then race in the storied Indy 500, finishing 29th due to engine maladies, as Guthrie would contest the 500 three times between 1977-79 with a best finish of eighth.
It would be a further 13 years before the second female, Lyn St James raced at Mother Speedway, en route to becoming the first ever female Rookie Of the Year in 1992.
Then it would take until Thy Dawn of the 21st Century, more specifically the 84th running of the storied race on Y2k, nee Two-triple-Zero for the Speedway to record two females racing that year.
St James who’d failed to qualify the previous two years would run her final race with rookie Sarah Fisher becoming the third female Trailblazer to race alongside St James at the Brickyard, with St James effectively passing the torch to the younger Fisher.
Alas, perhaps in an attempt to spice up the final ‘07 IRL Indy 500 Spectale du Jour, history would be made once again when for the first time ever there were three females competing at the Speedway. Although arguably only Danica Patrick’s name was known after causing a furor by brazenly leading for nearly 20-laps in her rookie debut in ‘05 before finally finishing fourth.
Thus Sarah Fisher was largely underneath the shadow of Danica Mania while Venezuelan rookie Milka Duno joined the party.
Female participation topped out with Quattro Femme Fatales racing at Indianapolis in 2010, with Queen Danica topping her previous record for best finish by a woman (fourth) with third in 2009 before the greener payday of NASCAR spirited her away - whilst Sarah Fisher made her Swan Song as a driver.
As there were actually a record Cinco le Femmes that May attempting to qualify for the Indy 500, as the aforementioned Patrick & Fisher would be joined in the race by two rookies: Ana Beatriz from Brazil and Simona de Silvestro from Switzerland - whilst Milka Duno, whom I’d taken to calling “the Wandering Milka” failed to make the show, and was asked to not return afterwards!
The following year once again saw four women racing at the Brickyard, albeit another changing of the guard as it would be Danica’s final 500, with Beatriz & De Silvestro making their sophomore outings while Great Britain’s Pippa Mann, the only female to win a Pole at Indianapolis, although in the lower Indy Lights ranks made her rookie debut.
Yet from the dizzzying heights of Chicagoland 2010, when the All-time record for most women racing in an IndyCar race occurred, with all five above taking the green flag, i.e.; Beatriz, de Silvestro, Duno, Fisher and Patrick. Thereafter, the luster of Femme Fatales in Open Wheel Racing lost its luster, as the tide of le Femmes slowly began subsiding, with only Pippa Mann contesting her fifth 500 in this year’s Magnanimous 100th running of said race
And although anybody can win, theoretically there’s only a small group of competitor’s who can clearly be seen as potential victors. With Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi’s four car teams being the Bowtie’s (Chevrolet) two powerhouse entrants who have to be considered the favorites.
Honda’s Anchor team is Andretti Autosport with five entries and prior to qualifying this year seemed an outside Dark horse. Although the Japanese auto giant’s fortunes suddenly turned round during the week of practice leading up to the revised qualifying format where three of Michael Andretti’s cars ultimately qualified for the Fast-9 Shootout, which determines the Pole winner on Sunday afternoon.
Then there’s the remainder of the field to pose as potential spoilers, as surprisingly none of Chip Ganassi’s driver’s made the Fast-9 shootout, nor did the defending race winner Juan Pablo Montoya of Team Penske! Although the cagey Columbian has finished an astounding first twice and fifth in his three races to date.
While neither of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s two entries made the cut. Although their second driver, rookie Spencer Pigot wasn’t expected to make the show, Graham Rahal, son of team founder Bobby Rahal’s been the apparent top Honda racer since late last season when he was fighting for an unlikely championship title.
Another driver surprisingly not making the Fast-9 Shootout was two-times consecutive Pole winner Ed Carpenter, who has three cars entered in the field for his own squad Ed Carpenter Racing. )ECR) As his only Fulltime season driver Josef Newgarden made the cut, while part-timer J.R. Hildebrand also missed out, and thus like those not making the Fast-9 Shootout can only qualify tenth best on Sunday.
One of the little teams to watch will be Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, for whom Y’all can never count out the crafty veteran Oriol Servia who’s running a “One-off” at Indy - while their two regular season drivers James Hinchcliffe, fondly known as thee Mayor ‘O Hinchtown put his Honda P1 Saturday with a four lap average of 230.946mph.
Meanwhile, Hinch’s team-mate Mikhail Aleshin, the series lone Russian stole the final Fast-9 Shootout position with a gutsy run after beating the final gun’s firing by one second! As Aleshin bumped fellow rookie Honda driver Alexander Rossi, America’s latest Formula 1 driver out of the party!
And the melodrama would play out with the top nine driver’s from Saturday having their times wiped out and each making one lone 4-lap qualification attempt in the reverse order of Saturday’s results where Hinchcliffe was quickest and therefore will go last, with all nine driver’s making the grade averaged over 230mph!
Red Hot IndyCar series points leader Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske in P9 with the “relative” slowest Top-9 speed of 230.102mph will go first, followed by Carlos Munoz of Andretti Autosport with Aleshin next, followed by ECR’s Josef Newgarden and Indy-Only Specialist Townsend Bell in one of Michael Andretti’s three cars, as only Andretti Autosport and Team Penske had three cars apiece in the Fast-9 Shootout.
Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves and Will Power roll off next ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay, the third Andretti car and then lastly the aforementioned Hinchcliffe.
As it’s very Apropos that thee Mayor ‘O Hinchtown retained his top Qualie’ spot and secured his first ever IndyCar Pole position at Mother Speedway NO less. Where just exactly one day before the one year anniversary of his life threatening crash during final practice before the 2015 Indy 500 occurred!
Runner-up Josef Newgarden in the somewhat Minnowesqe Ed Carpenter Racing team claimed the middle of Row-1, just some scant tenths of a mile slower with Chevrolet power, while Ryan Hunter-Reay’s Top Dog at Andretti Autosport in another Honda on the outside of Row-1 with team-mates Bell and Munoz hogging two-thirds of Row-2. While Schmidt Peterson Motorsports was the only team with all of its (Honda) entries in the Top-10 with Aleshin seventh and Servia tenth.
thus with Honda ultimately securing five of the Top-9 starting positions vs. Chevys four, perhaps we’ll have a more balanced field and theoretically more potential winners on Sunday, May 29th, where your somewhat knowledgeable “Stick ‘N Ball” Sportyblog scribe Touchdown Tommy will be braving being Ringside with 230,000 of his closest friends; Aye Karumba!