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Car FYI 2020 Indianapolis 500 Preview

Photo Credit: Chris Owens


 Different Date, Different Atmosphere


A motorsport spectacle first held in 1911, the Indianapolis 500 have been affected by global events on several past instances. The earliest occasion was 1916 when a shortened 300-mile race was ran while the first world war was underway. The conflict cancelled the event entirely for 1917 and 1918. Cancellations would also occur during the United States’ full involvement in the second world war with no racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway between 1942 and 1945. After the war, a massive investment made by new track owner Tony Hulman saved the Indy 500. 

As the world fights a different battle in 2020, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the NTT IndyCar Series decided to postpone the Indianapolis 500. Instead of the traditional event scheduled for the Sunday of the United States’ Memorial Day long weekend, August 23rd was selected for a revised date. 

Another major change to the operations of the 2020 Indianapolis 500 is in regards to spectators. Roger Penske intended to run the race with fans in the grandstands initially planning to welcome half the speedway’s spectator capacity. With cases of the COVID-19 continuing to threaten the area of the speedway in Indiana, the percentage was dialled down to 25 percent on July 21st before a decision on August 4th that elected to run the Indy 500 closed to fans. The necessity of social distancing has also led to the cancellation of several festivities around the Indy 500.

Television coverage for the 104th Indianapolis 500 starts 1:00pm eastern time on NBC (Sportsnet 360 in Canada), the green flag for the 200-lap race will be thrown at 2:30pm.  



A Great Motorsport Name On Pole

Photo Credit: John Cotes

The Andretti family is one of the most prominent names at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Since 1965, five members of the extended racing family have competed at the classic Indy car event. Winning the Indy 500 once in 1969, Mario Andretti had scored the pole position for the Indianapolis 500 on three occasions with the final run coming in 1987. For the 2020 race, 33-year-old Marco Andretti becomes the second member of the great American motorsport dynasty to clinch the pole position.

Piloting his #98 Honda-powered Dallara to a four-lap average time trial speed of 231.068 miles per hour, Marco Andretti narrowly captured the top starting spot. Andretti’s pole-winning four-lap average speed was only 0.17 miles per hour ahead of Scott Dixon.

Marco Andretti’s 15th attempt to claim the Borg-Warner Trophy, his best result in the 500-mile race was a tightly contested runner-up finish to Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006. Losing the race by a margin of just 0.0635 seconds, the feat was accomplished in the third generation driver’s rookie year at the Indianapolis 500. 



Reigning Indy 500 Champ Starts Deep In The Field

Photo Credit: Chris Owens


The 2019 Indianapolis 500 was a career highlight for French driver Simon Pagenaud. Starting the race as the polesitter, Pagenaud drove his #22 Team Penske race car to a hard-fought victory after a late-race challenge from a feisty Alexander Rossi. After qualifying for the 2020 Indianapolis 500, it apparent this year’s race is not going to be the same outing as 2019.

Simon Pagenaud will defend his Indy 500 crown starting from a 22nd place spot. The entire Team Penske IndyCar organization were involved in a surprisingly lackluster qualifying outing. Starting highest of Roger Penske’s four-car effort is the #1 Shell V-Power Nitro car driven by 2019 NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden who claimed a 13th place position for the 500-mile event. Having won 18 previous Indianapolis 500 races, Team Penske cited problems obtaining grip on the hot 2.5-mile speedway track as a culprit for their poor showing in time trials. However, it may be unwise to count out the team with three Indy 500 winning drivers and past success of finding victory lane at the Brickyard.    



The Honda/Chevrolet Battle

Photo Credit: Joe Skibinski


Every year since an engine rivalry was reinstated into IndyCar Series in 2012, the match-up between Chevrolet and Honda has been hotly contested. Although the engine supplier’s competitive drive is present throughout the current NTT IndyCar Series schedule, each manufacturer truly wants a winning edge at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

The pole-winning race car Andretti Herta Autosport with Marco Andretti and Curb-Agajanian was propelled by a twin-turbocharged Honda V-6 engine. In fact, all three cars starting on the front row of the 2020 Indianapolis 500 are Honda powered entrants. Of the Firestone Fast Nine qualifiers, only the #21 Ed Carpenter Racing race car of Rinus VeeKay featured Chevrolet power. With Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 being taken to the green flag by a 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray pace car, it’s fair to say the qualifying outcome was not the scene bowtie enthusiasts wanted to see.

When the race commences, 200 laps on the fast Indianapolis Motor Speedway will present a greater challenge to Chevrolet and Honda engines along with the cars propelled by the powerplants. In last year’s event won by the Team Penske powered Chevrolet of Simon Pagenaud, some observers believed the winning car’s engine featured a mild performance advantage over the 2019 Indy 500 runner-up Alexander Rossi’s Honda powered Andretti Autosport entry. 



The 2020 Indy 500 Rookie Crop 

 

Photo Credit: Karl Zemlin

For 2020, five drivers will be starting in their first-ever Indianapolis 500. 

Fielding two rookies in this year’s race is the Arrow McLaren SP team who have entered Mexico’s Patricio O’Ward and American Oliver Askew. O’Ward will start in 15th place while Askew will take the green flag in 21st place. Though competing in their first Indy 500, both Arrow McLaren SP pilots have previously experienced victories at the track. O’Ward swept both Pro Mazda races on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s race course in 2016 while Askew won two races on the road course in the 2017 US F2000 championship as well as victory in the 2019 Freedom 100 Indy Lights race held on the Brickyard oval. 

Holland’s Rinus VeeKay driving a Chevrolet-powered entry for Ed Carpenter Racing was the fastest-qualifying rookie for the 2020 Indianapolis 500 starting in 4th place. Spanish rookie driver Alex Palou behind the wheel of an entry fielded by Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh also broke into the Firestone Fast Nine session and would ultimately settle for a strong 7th place.

The fifth and final rookie contender in the 2020 edition of the 500-mile event at the Brickyard is Canada’s Dalton Kellett. Set to start 24th for A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Kellett has been historically successful in the Freedom 100. Despite not winning the Indy Lights event, Dalton Kellett placed third in the 100-mile race three times and fifth place in 2019. 



The Indy 500 Race Spoilers?

Photo Credit: Karl Zemlin


While all 33 drivers entered in the 2020 Indianapolis 500 will like nothing less than to drink milk on the victory lane podium, many competitors also need to accept the race as a points-paying round in the NTT IndyCar Series. For full-time drivers in the series, this may inspire some more conservative race strategies when racing on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for 200 laps. For the drivers competing on a select schedule or as a one-off entry at the Brickyard, the incentive of the Borg-Warner trophy is less obstructed.

For 2020, Canada’s James Hinchcliffe is operating on a limited race schedule after splitting his 2019 team when McLaren bought into what was than known as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Hinchcliffe has been piloting the #29 Andretti Autosport car this year with the Indianapolis 500 being the key event for his sponsorship with Genesys and Petro Canada. Posting a top time in the first day of practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, James Hinchcliffe is starting 6th for Sunday’s race.

Another high-profile part-time runner at the 2020 Indianapolis 500 is Spanish two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso. One year after a disastrous set of circumstances that resulted in a failure to qualify for the Indy 500, Alonso will start 26th for the 2020 edition of the race. His second career attempt of capturing the great open wheel racing honour, Fernando Alonso is competing in a third entry for Arrow McLaren SP. 

Other prominent racers making a limited IndyCar Series in the Indy 500 for 2020 include three-time race winner Helio Castroneves with Team Penske and 2013 Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan running a third car out of the AJ Foyt Enterprises stable.


2020 Indianapolis 500 Starting Grid

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