By Kirby Arnold, David Morgan and Luis Torres
In a leadup into Sunday’s 105th Indianapolis 500, Motorsports Tribune had a roundtable discussion about seven questions regarding the race. More than just about who’ll win the race, our writers gave their thoughts on some themes that defined this Month of May.
Without further ado, here’s what Kirby Arnold, David Morgan and Luis Torres’ responses:
This year’s lead up to the 105th Indianapolis 500 has had a lot of unknowns. There could be as many as 8-12 guys who can win the race. Who will have their face on the Borg-Warner Trophy May 30? Defend your case as to why you chose that driver?
Kirby Arnold: Going the safe route here and picking the guy who’s been consistently fast all month – Scott Dixon. Yeah, it takes a certain amount of good fortune to win Indy and anything truly could happen, especially if the race comes down to a late yellow and a heat-race shootout at the finish. But Dixon and the whole Chip Ganassi Racing team have been the class of the month, and Dixon’s race strategist Mike Hull is as good as they come at making the right calls.
David Morgan: Scott Dixon. He’s been incredibly consistent throughout the Month of May and has the speed to get it done again at Indianapolis. I know it’s been a while since he’s won the 500, but it’s hard to bet against him at this point.
Luis Torres: If there’s one thing I’m appreciating to realize as I get older is no one’s given anything at Indy. The track chooses its winner. Both have picked Scott Dixon, but I’m choosing Colton Herta. There’s something about him all week that oozes confidence in a quiet manner. He’s been the true threat to Dixon for much of May and I’m confident it’ll favor the young racer on the rise.
No question Team Penske struggled last weekend finding speed and will start further back. Do you think the trend continues or they’ll come out to play?
KA: Team Penske definitely will have a presence up front at some point in the race. Sure, they missed something with the boost cranked up on their Chevrolet engines for qualifying that another Chevy team, Ed Carpenter Racing, seemed to figure out.
But race pace is a different deal, and with cooler (and heavier) air predicted for race day than the heat of qualifying weekend, everyone’s going to be fast on Sunday.
I look for Team Penske to move up steadily the first half of the race and, with 50 laps to go, have at least a couple of cars (I’ll go with Newgarden and Pagenaud) inside the top 10, maybe the top five. And keep your eyes on Will Power’s drive from the back row.
DM: The Captain will no doubt light a fire under his drivers to pick up the pace heading into Sunday, but they’ve certainly got their work cut out for them if the pace from qualifying is any indication. Only time will tell if they can put on a good show at the boss’s race track.
LT: What I saw from Carb Day, no question Team Penske have done something right. They’ll work their way towards the front with Will Power being the man to watch. He’s starting 32nd and brings such urgency for success. This too will make all the difference for who wins Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, which I have Scott McLaughlin penned down as this year’s recipient.
Takuma Sato is looking to become the first man since Helio Castroneves to win back-to-back Indy 500s. Should he win, he’ll take home $380K of Borg-Warner prize money. Do you like his odds of winning a third Indy 500?
KA: I love Sato’s odds, especially if he’s among the top four and there’s a late-race restart. And I fully expect Sato near the front all day, if not in the lead if Scott Dixon encounters problems.
Mr. No Attack No Chance definitely will be attacking.
DM: Sato will be in the mix at some point during the afternoon, but I don’t see him adding another Indianapolis win to his resume this year.
LT: Taku is a curious case this year. He has been quick, but not necessarily stealing the headlines like Dixon or Herta. Sato will find a way to be in the mix late in the race, but he’ll come up short on winning back-to-back 500s. Sorry, the trends won’t continue in 2021 like some are hoping to happen.
What are the odds of seeing the 500 boils down to fuel mileage, like 2011 and 2016 when Bryan Herta’s entries won the race?
KA: I’m not a fan of fuel mileage races (although I’m even less a fan of phantom yellow flags that one series I know seemed to do regularly when the field got strung out).
I have a feeling the 500, in expected cool conditions that could help everyone in the field feel racy, may be fairly tight throughout the field. And with that comes a certain amount of risk-taking as the race moves into a shootout in the late laps. I wouldn’t be surprised at a few late yellow flags as drivers make bold moves to gain track position, especially on restarts.
DM: I really hope it’s a straight up race to see who will be hoisting the trophy at the end of the day instead of watching fuel mileage numbers to see who can make it to the end. The drama is interesting with fuel mileage, but it’s always more fun to see two (or more) drivers battling it out down the stretch for the win.
LT: A late-race caution is probable. The conditions are ideal, but with passing being common, it can create for daring moves that’ll ultimately go awry. I don’t see this 500 boiling down to fuel like each half decade.
I personally enjoy it because it has a suspense unlike anything else, but not liking those odds Sunday.
This month has seen several drivers stand out at IMS. In your eyes, who’s had the most impressive Month of May?
KA: Scott Dixon, obviously, has been the fastest of the fast.
But so have his teammates, especially Tony Kanaan and Alex Palou. If Kanaan’s car is on rails, there’s no reason he can’t win his second 500, provided he can get around Dixon. Colton Herta has had an outstanding month, but in an under-the-radar way, so has his Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay.
And don’t under-estimate the Meyer Shank Racing duo of Jack Harvey and Helio Castroneves. This team has gotten progressively stronger since joining IndyCar a few years ago, and Castroneves is starting near the front with a good car and experience as a three-time winner.
DM: Rinus VeeKay. From his crash in testing to his bonkers run in qualifying to snag a top-three starting spot last Sunday, the second-year driver has made a complete 180 and is peaking at the right time to make some noise when the green flag drops on the Indianapolis 500.
LT: Not going to lie, Marco Andretti. As I said in a previous question, Indy can pick who it wants to be kind or rude. I’m still amazed how he’s gone through a wild month and continues without ramifications.
The floor during qualifying, making the race and finding a broken gearbox on Carb Day. It’s beyond bonkers how things are going his way. He’s been sporty after qualifying too, so don’t be awfully surprised on being a contender. Something about this year’s 500 just feels interesting.
It’s been eight years Chip Ganassi Racing last won the Indy 500. All four of their cars made the Fast Nine with a great shot of winning while others have yet to rival them. If there’s a team that could extend Ganassi’s drought, which team can pull it off?
KA: I would LOVE to say someone from Ed Carpenter Racing, either young Rinus VeeKay or Ed Carpenter. But I’m going with someone from Andretti Autosport – Colton Herta.
If not him, then Andretti teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay. Alexander Rossi will have a presence, too, and he’ll probably be a must-see driver on restarts with those Tomas Scheckter-style outside passes.
But to pick one who can beat the Ganassis, especially Dixon, I’ll say Herta.
DM: It’d be hard to bet against one of the other powerhouse teams in Andretti Autosport to be the team that keeps Ganassi out of victory lane. With its lineup of stellar drivers, at least one of them could be the roadblock between Ganassi and another Indianapolis win.
LT: Seeing how things have panned out the past few days, Team Penske COULD be that team. However, I don’t see it that way because Andretti Autosport looks like Ganassi’s kryptonite. Going to be hard to bet against CGR, but I just like AA’s chances a lot more. I went for Colton Herta for that reason, there’s something about his month that’ll transition into Indy glory.
Scott Dixon said that despite not winning at Indy since 2008, nothing’s given or owe to anyone. What really makes Indy so tough that vouches Dixon’s comments?
KA: Indianapolis Motor Speedway is like a living, breathing beast that changes as the race progresses. It takes just the right adjustments to keep up with changing conditions, flawless pit stops (particularly late in the race when a stuck fuel hose or a jammed wheel gun can lose a driver several positions), daring moves on restarts and a certain amount of luck.
There’s a reason – or maybe several reasons – that Dixon, one of the greatest ever in an IndyCar, is still trying to win his second 500.
DM: There’s just something about Indianapolis that gets everyone involved to bring their A-game. All of the drivers and teams want to win The Greatest Spectacle in Racing and with everyone putting in 110%, it’s that much tougher to rise above and be the driver at the top of the heap when the checkered flag drops.
LT: Indianapolis just hits different! The nature of the beast is one way to also describe the holy grail of motorsports. Dixon’s comments are totally on the money because you must time everything. If you skip a beat, the track will make sure to bite you and end your shot of winning the 500.
Dixon is no stranger to shortcomings since his 2008 triumph. Everyone in the field will have that feeling if they’re going to be contenders or pretenders. That’s just how IMS can be, more so than any other circuit in the NTT IndyCar Series.