26 May 2012

2012 Indianapolis 500 Preview

There is nothing quite like the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500. This Sunday will be the 96th running of the race at the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana as around 400,000 strong as 33 drivers will try to win the biggest race in American motorsport. Who's going to win at the Brickyard? Here's the official B-FLO 360 preview.

Here are some questions to be pondered.

How will J.R. Hildebrand respond after seeing the Indy 500 crown slip out of his hands a year ago?
Everybody remembers the wild finish to last year's 500 with rookie J.R. Hildebrand gambling on fuel late and came a few hundred yards short of victory before crashing coming onto the frontstretch while passing the rapidly slowing Charlie Kimball, giving the win to the late Dan Wheldon. That heartbreaking defeat dominated the racing headlines and for many drivers would define the rest of their careers. Hopefully for the young Californian, that's not the case. And for Panther Racing, who has now finished second in Indianapolis for four straight years, it was yet another bridesmaid's finish. Look for Hildebrand to be a contender on Sunday as he has strong equipment, but I don't think he will find the victory. He will start 18th.

How will the ladies do, post-Danica?
This is the first Indy 500 after Indycar's biggest star departed to race in NASCAR full time. She will surely be missed this weekend as she always seemed to either run well or have a mishap, making headlines either way. But there is still a decent female contingent in this year's race with three females in the field; Simona de Silvestro, Ana Beatriz and Katherine Legge. de Silvestro is the only one with experience at IMS but if anyone has a shot at winning, it's Beatriz, who has looked pretty solid in the practices plus runs for an elite team in Andretti Autosport. Don't expect a podium finish but a top ten is certainly attainable. She rolls off 13th on Sunday.

Can Marco Andretti break his family's curse?
One of the biggest stories year-in and year-out is can finally a member of the Andretti family return to victory lane for the first time since Marco's grandfather Mario won back in 1969. We all remember how close Marco came in 2006, getting passed on the frontstretch by Sam Hornish, Jr. Andretti Autosport as a whole has found some difficulty at the Brickyard of late but the whole team, especially Marco, has shown a lot of speed in the practice sessions and Marco will certainly be a contender come race day. He rolls off in fourth.

Any rookies to keep an eye on?
No rookie has won the Indianapolis 500 since Helio Castroneves won in 2001 and only two have done it overall, although several have come close, including the aforementioned Hildebrand. There are eight rookies in the field for Sunday and while it appears the favorite among the rookies is Josef Newgarden, who has flashed a lot of speed all month and starts seventh, a potential sleeper amongst the rookies is his Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing teammate Bryan Clauson. Clauson, who some NASCAR fans may remember from doing some part-time racing in the Nationwide Series a couple years back, starts way back in the pack in 31st but has a car that has looked really fast and could raise some eyebrows.

Is this the year Tony Kanaan finally breaks through?
It seems like we have this discussion every year if the Brazilian, who has come so close before to finally winning but has come up short every time, can finally kiss the bricks. He has led the third most laps at Indianapolis of any driver that has not won the 500. Kanaan has looked like he has a solid racecar and as always will be in contention for the victory but I just don't see him coming in victory lane. He'll have to wait another year. Kanaan rolls off in the eighth position.

So who is going to win?
This is a pretty strong field, even as they barely got the field to 33 drivers, and the usual suspects from Penske (polesitter Ryan Briscoe, Will Power and three time winner Helio Castroneves) and Ganassi (2008 winner Scott Dixon, Charlie Kimball and two time winner Dario Franchiti) will be strong contender but I ultimately think the victory will come from Andretti Autosport. And of the four Andretti drivers (James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and the aforementioned Andretti and Beatriz), which one do I think will come out on top? My pick is Marco Andretti. I know full well about the Andretti Curse but I think Andretti has a fast car and will finally get the breaks to come out on top.

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