Photo: Luis Torres/Motorsports Tribune

Up to Speed: 107th Indianapolis 500 Preview

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

The long wait is almost over as 33 of the bravest competitors in the world look to make Sunday’s 107th Indianapolis 500 as their moment to shine.

From record speeds to milestones, each driver have their own story with a few standing out more than others. Good, bad or indifferent, this year’s buildup to the 200-lap race has seen it all.

Starting up front is an all-European front row, an Indy 500 first. Leading the cavalry is Alex Palou, who was two laps away from winning the 500 in 2021. Palou set the fastest four-lap average pole speed in history at 234.217 mph, becoming the first Spanish-speaking driver to win pole. Already accomplishing a lot in his young INDYCAR career, a Borg-Warner Trophy is what eludes the Spaniard and hopes to bring Chip Ganassi its sixth Indy 500 win.

Palou isn’t alone as both Rinus VeeKay and Felix Rosenqvist look to bring Chevrolet back into the winner’s circle in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Rosenqvist’s future once again remains borderline as he hopes he’s the one to bring Arrow McLaren its finest INDYCAR moment to date as Ganassi have remained dominant on the speed charts.

But Arrow McLaren aren’t afraid to make their presence known. While he doesn’t dwell on not risking it all to win last year’s 500, Pato O’Ward is hungry of getting his first INDYCAR win of 2023. He’s already finished second three times this season. Perhaps a win will be the massive boost to his quest for the championship and lift the spirits up for his diehard fans that’s been supportive through thick and thin.

As some have the sense of urgency to win, for 2013 Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan, it’s saving the best for last. In what’s slated to be his final INDYCAR race, Kanaan hopes to back up his top-five result a year ago when he drove for Ganassi to close his illustrious career with one last win for his fans. A grand motivation of Kanaan’s racing longevity.

If there’s one team that could play spoiler, look no further than AJ Foyt Racing.

Santino Ferrucci will roll off fourth and is having his best Month of May to date. Not only he’ll look to keep his top-10 streak at Indy alive, but bring Foyt its sixth Indy 500 win either as a driver or owner. Ferrucci’s teammate Benjamin Pedersen has also been sporty, being the class of the rookie field all month. Time will tell how the Michael Cannon effect will unfold on race day as their strong month has been quite the tale due to him being the engineering mastermind we’ve seen at Indy.

Finally, at the back of the grid. Nearly 30 years apart, a Rahal family member was bumped from the Indy 500. It was Bobby in 1993 and at one point, Graham in 2023. Until a two-car crash involving Katherine Legge and Stefan Wilson on Monday changed the landscape.

Wilson suffered a fractured thoracic vertebrae, requiring surgery on Wednesday. Thus, Wilson’s Indy dream was over and Graham Rahal came back into the picture. Rahal will make his 16th Indy 500 start for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing/Cusick Motorsports. A team that also shown promise prior to Monday’s practice crash.

Will a different team and engine supplier lead to a turnaround for Rahal?

Again, time will tell. All stories have yet to unfold, but one thing is guaranteed. Indy just hits different.

Whatever happens on Sunday, the madness, the pageantry and unfiltered drama will paint the story for the 107th Indianapolis 500. It’s the beauty of this race that people love and if everything that’s transpired this month tells us anything, we’re far from done.

By the Numbers

What: 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Presented by Gainbridge, NTT IndyCar Series Race No. 6 of 17

Where: Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Speedway, Indiana (Opened: 1909, first INDYCAR event was 1911)

When: Sunday, May 28

TV/Radio: NBC 11:00 a.m. ET / INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channels 85 & 160)

Track Size: 2.5-mile oval

Race Length: 200 laps, 500 miles

Pole Sitter: Alex Palou – No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (234.217 mph)

2022 Race Winner: Marcus Ericsson – No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (Started fifth, 13 laps led)

2022 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year: Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (finished 28th, two laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Arie Luyendyk – No. 5 Byrd/Treadway Racing Ford (236.986 mph – May 12, 1996)

Indy 500 Race Record: Helio Castroneves – No. 06 Meyer Shank Racing Honda (190.690 mph – May 30, 2021)

From the Driver’s Seat

Tony Kanaan (2013 Indy 500 Champion) – No. 66 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet

“We added more (aero changes). I’m not sure if it’s going to be a better race. But what are we going to call a better race? It’s a matter of opinion. They call a lot of the races between 2013 and 2015 the best race because you had a lot of passes and this and that. I don’t think that’s going to happen this year.

“It will be more strategy. But it’s more difficult. It was a lot more unpredictable in the past. But I think those changes are the right changes. The cars are more where we can race closer, but by racing closer doesn’t mean you can pass all the time.”

Simon Pagenaud (2019 Indy 500 Champion) – No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Honda

“Speed is important because it really helps you position yourself, but there’s so many details. You need to get every pit stop perfect. You need to get every single positioning into your box perfect. You need to get your restart right. You need to get your gears correct.

“There’s so many things — conditions changes and you need to make zero mistakes over 500 miles. It’s the balance between being a 100% intense and on the limit and being just right for the win or too much is very small.

“With the level that the series is at right now with the talent on the teams and the drivers, that’s gotten even narrower. So the margin between being perfect and making mistake is terribly small.”

Last Time in the Indianapolis 500

A year ago, the Month of May really felt it was back in its true form after having no crowds in August 2020, and limited capacity and activities in May 2021. Both of which were due to the pandemic that’s certainly become a distant memory to most folks.

Following the sad deaths of legendary broadcaster Bob Jenkins, iconic reporter Robin Miller and four-time Indy 500 champion Al Unser — all within the past 12 months — it was a different era indeed at Indianapolis.

Once the 200-lap race commenced, fans saw a dominant effort from Chip Ganassi Racing. Particularly, Scott Dixon who was on pace of finally winning his second Indy 500. Dixon had become the all-time lap leader in Indy 500 history at 665 laps, surpassing Al Unser’s mark of 644 that remained untouched for 36 years.

However, Indy had a cruel fate on Dixon’s shoulders as a speeding penalty put him out of contention. Leaving the battle for the win between Marcus Ericsson and Pato O’Ward in the closing laps.

Following the first Indy 500 red flag since 2019 due to Jimmie Johnson crashing at the entry of turn 2. It was game-on between Ericsson and O’Ward when the race resumed with two laps remaining.

O’Ward tried making a daring move, but backed out and avoided a repeat of 2012 when Takuma Sato risked everything to pass Dario Franchitti and crashed as a result. Ericsson would also cut the draft off of O’Ward as well, but any shot of a thrilling finish ended when Sage Karam crashed, bringing out the final caution.

Ericsson became the first driver to win the Indy 500 for Ganassi since Franchitti that year and the first Swede to do so since Kenny Brack in 1999.

“It’s not supposed to be easy to win the 500. Those 10 minutes sitting there in the pit lane during that red flag was some of the hardest 10 minutes of my life probably, thinking what to do, thinking that I’m leading the biggest race in the world, and I’m that close to win it,” said Ericsson a year ago.

“I knew Pato was going to have a run on me because up front we’ve seen all month it’s really hard to defend when you’re up front.

“I was actually sitting during dinner here at the Speedway on infield talking with Dario about this type of scenario, if I’m leading when it’s towards the end of the race the last couple laps, what to do, how to break the tow of the car behind, how to place the car. We had that very conversation last night. That was in my mind when I was sitting there during that red flag.

“I just tried to go out and execute that plan I had made in my head. Pato had a really good run on me. I wanted to put him on the outside because I knew it was going to be hard to go around my outside.

“I was not going to lift. There was no way I was going to lift. I just kept my foot down and that was the race-winning move. He made me work for it, for sure.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, May 26

  • Carb Day (11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. – Peacock)
  • Pit Stop Competition (2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. – Peacock)

Sunday, May 28

  • NTT IndyCar Series Pre-Race Show (9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. – Peacock)
  • 107th Indianapolis 500 (11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. – NBC)

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media and a three-time National Motorsports Press Association award winner in photography. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography with ambitions of having his work recognized.