The month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is in full swing and the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 is but a few days away. It’s Fast Friday morning, a perfect time to spend a few minutes handicapping the field. Nothing scientific, this is not Sabremetrics for IndyCar, it’s more an educated review of the chances for success, for the teams and drivers participating in this year’s edition of the greatest spectacle in racing.
The quality of this field is exceptional, with conservatively 10 drivers having a legitimate chance of kissing the yard of bricks. But, this is racing and with the obvious raciness of the DW12 and a little bit of lady luck, almost anyone who takes the green flag has a shot at the win. They say you make your own luck, and that’s true when it comes to good fortune. Car preparation, intelligent strategy, and a clean drive can turn a mid-pack car into a winner. But racing luck almost always appears simultaneously in two forms. One driver’s good fortune is almost always another driver’s bad luck. A single yellow flag at the wrong time, especially late in the race can spoil a sure win for a the most capable driver and team.
So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the field for the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500. We’ll sort through the field in no particular order. The “win potential” is a subjective rating of A, B or C, with “A” being the most likely to win and “C” being least likely.
Buddy Lazier, Lazier Racing Partners
A former winner who certainly knows his way around the race track, although he certainly lacks hands on experience with the current equipment package… anywhere. That said, it is safe to say, Buddy will drive a good race and he certainly knows how to win at Indy. However, given the speed at which Lazier Racing Partners in association with Conquest (with a little help from former Hemelgarn team members) is putting together this effort, not to mention the limited engine program (at the time of this writing they’ve turned 3 laps), it is going to be a pretty steep hill to climb to victory lane. Win potential: C-
Ed Carpenter, Ed Carpenter Racing
Ed Carpenter knows what it takes to win a 500 mile race, taking the season finale last year in Fontana. Now, Fontana isn’t IMS, but Ed certainly has lots of miles around the brickyard. He was a contender late in the race last year, while holding onto to a squirrely race car. The Fuzzy’s machine should be considered a strong contender come race day. Although some might say the recent Derrick Walker announcement is a bit of a distraction, it might serve more as motivation to Derrick and the team to be victorious in his swan song as team boss. Walker is a four time winner who has never taken part in the victory lane celebration. There’s motivation there to swig some milk before he “heads over to the dark side”… his words. Win potential: A-
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is a savvy and experienced team with a seeming knack for posting good results at the Speedway. RLL can’t be considered in the same stratus as Penske or Ganassi, but they are an experienced organization that is highly capable of posting another Indy win. Besides, who wouldn’t want to see David Letterman kiss the yard of bricks! Win potential: A-
Graham Rahal. Graham has talent. He has the genes, he’s posted a win in the series and shown flashes of brilliance and speed. The turn 4 wall collected him in his first two starts at Indy, but he had a good day in 2010 with RLL, and finished 3rd in 2011 with Ganassi. So far this season, Graham and the team seem to be searching. Granted, it’s been all street and road courses so far and fortunes may change on the oval, although the first few days of practice yet to produce the speed they expect. Chalk it up to running old engines out of miles, running a brand new chassis out of the crate for the first time… bottom line, they’re not yet quick. Regardless, do not write off Graham Rahal. The RLL boys were about two miles from a victory last year with Sato. Don’t be surprised to see the Midas machine lurking near the front in the last 100 miles. Win potential: B+
James Jakes. This will be Jakes’ sophomore year of eligibility after red-shirting with a DNQ with Coyne in 2011. Bobby Rahal speaks well of James and he has run some decent stints in the first four races, but has yet to produce a result above mid-pack. That said, he is an RLL driver. RLL puts drivers in position to win the Indy 500 regardless of experience and prior results, just ask Bertrand Baguette and Takuma Sato. Win potential: C+
Michel Jourdain, Jr. Michel returns to the Brickyard for the second year in a row. Jourdain is a third year driver, albeit with a 16 year gap between his first and second start in the 500. Bobby respects Michel’s driving talent, with a history going back to the CART/Champ Car days. Jourdain’s hope is the strength of his team. He’ll get a good car, good service and smart strategy on race day. Is it impossible for him to sip the milk? Probably a long shot, but he will give the Office Depot car a nice drive on race day. Win potential: C-
That’s a wrap on the first installment. Tune in tomorrow for part 2.
“Little Al tries, Fittipaldi says no. Five laps to go.” – Paul Page, ABC broadcast of ’89 Indy 500