Thursday, May 25, 2017

101st Indy 500: Who Will Win

As last year showed when rookie Alexander Rossi won on a daring fuel strategy, picking a winner of
the Indianapolis 500 is at best, educated throwing a dart on the wall. This year, with maybe 20 drivers or more having a legitimate chance to win, it really does ultimately come down to a guess.

But there are some points to consider:  First, Hondas are faster than Chevys, no question. They just pull more speed down the straights. But that difference will probably even out a bit during actual racing. 

Second, Hondas this season are having real engine reliability problems. Blown engines almost disappeared from Indycar racing the past decade. But Honda's new engine seems to have brought them back. There have been several engine failures already in the Indycar season, and five failures this month at Indy.

Third, Don't count out Team Penske despite not running the fastest so far this month. They know how to win.

So here is my list.

(Most likely to be in Victory Lane:

Scott Dixon -- Speed, top team, and if anyone can make the Honda engine last, it is Dixon
Ryan Hunter-Raey -- Experienced, aggressive and should have won last year if not for pit road accident.
Helio Castroneves -- Still racy and knows how to win at Indy.
Will Power -- Despite lack of speed in qualifying, Penske will be there, and Power is the fastest of the Penske cars

(Just a bit below Tier One, but still among the class of the field)

Ed Carpenter -- Local hero has speed and knows how to race at the Speedway, but somehow he seems to get caught up in incidents in the last part of the race.
Josef Newgarden -- Great young driver, now driving for Penske. Reliability of Chevy & expertise of Penske
Simon Pagenaud --  Quick, experience and smooth.
Juan Montoya  -- He's been quiet and has something to prove after losing his full-time ride at Penske)
J.R. Hildebrand -- If Indy owes anyone a win, it's J.R.   Maybe a surprise to some that I would have him this high, but he is quietly fast, driving for the Carpenter team that has gotten the speed out of the reliable Chevys. He isn't a dark horse anymore.

(Solid contenders. No surprise if one of these drivers win).

This list largely is filled with Andretti team Hondas. Some will finish, but I'm not confident that all of the Hondas will finish.

Fernando Alonzo -- The F-1 champion has taken to Indy like he grew up on 16th Street
Marco Andretti -- Indy owes the Andretti family one, but then it has for nearly 50 years.
Alexander Rossi -- Defending champion. This year he won't need a fuel strategy. He's fast, confident and talented.
Tony Kanaan -- The most popular driver at the track, he's still fast and on a good team.
Graham Rahal -- Would be an incredibly popular winner. His team has a knack of running much better in the race than in practice and qualifying. And he seems to have really matured as a driver.

(These are outside contenders, but it would not shock me to see 
any of these drivers win with the right breaks).

James Hinchcliff -- Running for Schmitt-Petersen, he has the disadvantage of a smaller team, and he's not shown nearly the speed he showed last year. But never count out Hinch.
Takuma Sato -- Now driving for Andretti, he has the speed, the team and the daring to win. But somewhere along the line, Sato usually makes that one mistake -- usually taking himself out of the race. But don't forget, a few years ago, he made that attempted pass on the last lap for the win -- and nearly pulled it off.
Charlie Kimble -- Running for Ganassi, he has four Top 10 finishes in the last 5 Indy 500s, including finishing the past two in the Top 5. I'm not sure I'd bet for him to win, but betting or him to finish in the Top 5 might be smart money.  And if you're in the top 5, you never know what can happen.
Max Chilton -- The least known of the Ganassi drivers, Chilton has been wickedly fast this month. A break or two, and he could win.

(If you draw these guys in the office pool, don't throw away your slip. 
They could be the next Alexander Rossi).

Ed Jones -- The rookie was fastest in the final full practice session. He's been fast all month. He has the speed to compete. Can a rookie win? Just look at last year.
Sage Karem -- Only 22, he's running a "one off" in his fourth 500 for a brand new racing team. It doesn't sound like a winning combination, but Karem has quietly been consistently fast and has kept his car clean. Karem has talent, and as he showed in his rookie race, he can drive a smart race. I don't look for him to win, but I think he will be hanging around near the top 10 when we get to the final 100 miles.

MY PICKS -- I'm cheating and taking two

Long overdue, he's the smartest, coolest and most consistent driver in Indycar. But when it comes time to get racy, he will go wheel-to-wheel with anyone. 

What I said about Dixon -- it applies to Hunter-Raey. I think they are the two best drivers currently in Indycar. And if it comes down to a shootout, I'll take Hunter-Raey over anyone. Exhibit A: Hunter-Raey nearly going in the grass to pass Castroneves in Turn 3, right in front of me, in the final laps on his way to Victory Lane.

No comments:

Post a Comment