Is it May yet? That is the question many American based racing drivers and fans ask, and those fans will now be happy that the calendar has ticked around to that month, mainly due to the fact that the Indianapolis 500 is almost upon us.
The Greatest Spectacle in Racing hits it’s 100th edition in 2016, and will close out the month that will also see the third edition of the Grand Prix of Indy, run around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s in-field road course.
The Indianapolis 500 is one of the biggest motorsport events of the year, not just in the Verizon IndyCar Series, but worldwide, and has seen names like AJ Foyt, Rick Mears, Al Unser and Dario Franchitti take victory and etch themselves in motorsport folklore, with each of the previous 99 winners symbolised and immortalised on the Borg-Warner Trophy.
Last year’s event saw Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya take his second Indy 500 triumph, fifteen years after his first, with team-mate Will Power taking second ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Charlie Kimball and Scott Dixon.
Dixon was the top qualifier the week before ahead of Power and Simon Pagenaud, with speeds during the practice sessions leading up to the qualifying sessions topping an average of 230mph.
The Grand Prix of Indy, held two weeks prior to the Indy 500 had seen Power dominate from pole position, leading 65 laps to finish ahead of Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and ahead of Montoya.
But what of the class of 2016? Who will come out on top this year, and can someone become the first driver to win both the Grand Prix of Indy and the Indianapolis 500 in the same year?
Grand Prix of Indy
The Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis will see the biggest road course entry list of the season so far, with twenty-five Dallara’s entered, including four drivers that are only scheduled to race here and in the following Indy 500.
JR Hildebrand returns to the Verizon IndyCar Series with Ed Carpenter Racing, while 2015 Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot will race again for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing alongside Graham Rahal.
Veteran Canadian Alex Tagliani is also a welcome addition to the field in a third AJ Foyt Racing entry, while the fourth addition is that of Matt Brabham, a third generation superstar driver in a Pirtek Team Murray entry that’ll be run in conjunction with KV Racing Technology.
Simon Pagenaud heads into the Grand Prix of Indy on the IndyCar form of his life, having taken two runners-up spots and two victories in the opening four races for Team Penske, and is a former winner of the event back in 2014.
His Penske team-mates Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves and Will Power will also be in contention, with the team having taken all four pole positions and three of the four victories so far in 2016.
The other team to take a victory in 2016 is Chip Ganassi Racing with Scott Dixon at the Phoenix International Circuit, and he and his team-mates Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton will be looking for a strong performance around the Indy road course this weekend, and for Chilton in particular, he should be looking to build on the opening four races of his IndyCar career.
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have both James Hinchcliffe and SMP Racing-backed Mikhail Aleshin on board, while alongside Hildebrand at Ed Carpenter Racing will be highly rated Josef Newgarden.
Sebastien Bourdais will continue with KVSH Racing alongside the Pirtek Team Murray-run Brabham, while alongside Tagliani at AJ Foyt Racing will be Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth. Graham Rahal will be one of the pre-race favourites for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, and will partner Pigot, while Dale Coyne Racing will run Conor Daly and Gabby Chaves, who replaces Luca Filippi.
Andretti Autosport will be looking to get their disappointing season back on track during the month of May, with Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz all looking for good results, while Alexander Rossi will be competing in the Andretti-Herta Autosport #98 entry.
At the time of going to press, there are six former winners of the Indy 500 set to compete this year, with Buddy Lazier’s yearly one-off entry in his own team joining series regulars Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan and Juan Pablo Montoya in the field.
There are doubts about the veterans appearance however, with funding meant to be short, but the Indy Spirit is strong, and there is every possibility we shall see Lazier on the grid once more.
As well as the Grand Prix of Indy entries of Hildebrand, Pigot, Tagliani and Brabham, there are also a number of other one-off entries for the Indy 500. Townsend Bell is a notable entrant in a fourth Andretti Autosport entry, while Pippa Mann returns to the field for Dale Coyne Racing, as does Bryan Clauson, who’s own entry is in conjunction with Jonathan Byrd’s Racing.
Stefan Wilson will race the #25 KVSH Racing entry, and will have a lot of support as he races the same number that his late brother Justin raced in 2015 before his untimely passing in an accident at Pocono last August.
Sage Karam returns to the Indy 500 with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, who make their now traditional one-off appearance of the season in the legendary event, while the extremely likeable Oriol Servia pilots the third Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry.
Ed Carpenter makes his second appearance of the season as the oval-only driver joins Hildebrand and Newgarden in his own team for the Indy 500, and will be one of the pre-race favourites having had a good pedigree on ovals, including taking pole at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway back in 2014.
As well as Pigot, Brabham and Wilson, regular 2016 IndyCar drivers Alexander Rossi, and Max Chilton will make their own first Indy 500 appearances this year, with Andretti Herta Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing respectively.