An institution of American motorsport, the Indy 500 will run for the 103rd time on May 26, and as ever, it has the feel of an event that is anyone’s to win.
Last year, there was certainly a similar overriding feeling, and in an international partnership made in heaven, Australian driver Will Power won the event inside the beating heart of an All-American Team Penske Chevrolet.
Chevvy Ready to Dominate?
Back in 2018, several drivers from both Chevrolet and Honda defied expectations to rally after a poor qualifier. Under normal circumstances, there is little to separate the two manufacturers, but on the evidence of last year’s event – and developments ahead of the 2019 race – Chevrolet cars may have a slight edge.
In addition to getting a 1-2 on the podium in 2018, Chevrolet had also claimed nine of the top eleven grid spots beforehand. It was a heady day for a cornerstone manufacturer of stock car racing, and broke a three-year wait for victory – its seventeenth overall at the Indy 500. The presence of a Team Penske driver in winner’s lane also came as little surprise.
Saturday’s qualifying round for this year’s event saw Chevrolet strike the first real blow, with six of the top-seven drivers on the day bearing the iconic cross. The only Honda driver to finish in the top seven was Colton Herta of Harding Steinbrenner Racing, who has enjoyed a strong start to his rookie year in IndyCar.
Along with fellow Chevrolet driver Spencer Pigot, 2018 event winner Will Power was one of just two drivers to breach the 230-mph threshold during that session. To some IndyCar aficionados, that alone is enough to justify Power’s standing as one of the favourites ahead of Sunday’s race, as he once again races under the banner of stock car heavyweights Team Penske.
A Close Call
In approaching the 2019 event as the reigning title holder, Will Power has a real psychological edge, but another Penske-Chevrolet driver in the form of Josef Newgarden was an unstoppable force in the practice sessions. With some bookmakers, he commands the same odds as Power.
Impressive though Chevrolet’s performance was in 2018, many Indy 500 bettors will do well to remember that only two other cars racing under the manufacturer managed to make the top ten of the final classification.
The rest of the spots in the top ten were taken up by Honda, with a particularly impressive performance coming from Alexander Rossi, who jumped from 32nd on the grid to score an honorable fifth-place finish. This time around, he scored the fastest ‘no-tow’ lap in Wednesday’s practice session, which puts him in the position of joint-third favorite in the long list.
Along with Rossi, Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi-Honda) is joint-third or fourth-favorite across the board. He was sandwiched between Newgarden and Pigot in Wednesday practice.
Outsiders to Watch
A win for New Zealander Dixon would ensure the presence of a non-American driver across the podium yet again, and further underline the Indy 500’s reputation as a great opportunity for any driver, regardless of nationality or past achievements.
For that reason, the sight of Brazilian driver Hélio Castroneves in a relatively healthy position within the long list is intriguing. Along with British driver Dario Franchitti, Castroneves is the joint-most successful foreign driver in the Indy 500, with three wins to date.
Castroneves finished a mediocre twelfth in Saturday’s qualifying session, but his occupation of a Penske-Chevrolet car appears to have automatically slashed his odds of victory.
The State of Play
Sadly for the purists, one man will be notable in his absence from proceedings. Failing to to qualify, two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso will be an onlooker. Having previously won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Monaco F1 Grand Prix, Alonso was aiming to complete motorsport's Triple Crown, and become the first driver since Graham Hill to achieve it.
With a man of Alonso's stature falling at this stage, the unpredictable nature of IndyCar is more self-evident than ever.
Tellingly, the first five races of the 2019 season have been won by as many different drivers. Josef Newgarden was high on the short list prior to his opening-day win at St. Petersburg, and tops the standings ahead of the Indy 500, but the races held since the Russian opener have provided an element of shock.
In the following race, rookie driver Colton Herta was a surprise winner at Circuit of the Americas, becoming the youngest-ever winner of an IndyCar event. The unfancied Takuma Sato then won in Birmingham, and most recently, Simon Pagenaud won his first race in two years, and finds himself in the inside front row for the Indy 500.
It is all to play for, and with the Indy 500 often tearing the formbook and the qualifying grid to smithereens, this weekend could easily be a major chapter in the Indy 500’s history books.