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INDY 500 Pre-Race Notes from Mark
BPS File photo from the 2010 race
BPS File photo from the 2010 race

By: Mark W. Theisen

W EST BEND, WI April 16, 2011: I eagerly await the 15th of April each year and no, it is not because I enjoy paying taxes, it is because that is the date that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway announces the entries for the year’s race. With the 100th anniversary of the first 500 this year and all of the excitement it has generated this year’s entry list was highly anticipated.
Eighty-three cars dot the list with 42 drivers assigned to those cars, the most entries since 2002. The other 41 cars are back-up machines for the registered drivers and could factor into the battle for the coveted 33 starting positions once the primary cars are qualified for each entrant. At any rate, with 42 drivers and 33 positions the battle will be intense right down to the final minutes of bump day on May 22nd.
Defending Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti heads the entry list that also features three other Indy 500 champions: Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon. A fifth 500 winner, Buddy Rice is waiting in the wings should he get an opportunity in one of the back-up cars from an entered teams. Rice could not fund a ride this year and is a vivid example of just how hard it is to find sponsorship money in this tight economy.
Team Penske, the winner of 15 Indianapolis 500’s in its stalwart history, is again the odds on favorite to win this years race as it has entered cars for Castroneves, who is seeking his fourth win in the 500, Will Power and Ryan Briscoe. Each driver will have two Honda powered Dallara chassis at their disposal. Figure Castroneves as the man to beat as he is not only after his fourth win to tie him with legends, A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr., and Rick Mears but to do it in the 100th anniversary race. The pressure will be on him but he certainly knows the track and how to win a 500 mile race.
Target Ganassi Racing has entered two cars each for Franchitti and Scott Dixon as they are out to try and win the 500 for the fourth time as a team. Team owner, Chip Ganassi, has started a satellite team this year out of shops in Brownsburg, Indiana that will have Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball trying to make the race as well.
Andretti Autosports will have Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Mike Conway and John Andretti as their drivers. John Andretti’s entry is a one time entry under the banner of Richard PettyMotorsports/Andretti Autosports. Conway, this afternoon, completed a remarkable comeback from a devastating crash on the final lap of last year’s Indy 500 to win the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach passing Briscoe and Franchitti to take the lead after his teammate Hunter-Reay suffered electrical woes as he was poised to winner his second straight Long Beach race.
Ironically it was Hunter-Reay who ran out of fuel on the final lap of last year’s 500 and slowed on the track only to be struck be Conway who flipped wildly in the air and into the wall completely destroying his car. In the off-season Michael Andretti, team owner, hired Conway because of what he saw before that crash and after he had spent nearly a year recovering from his injuries. Today that confidence was repaid with a victory on Conway’s part and it came at Hunter-Reay’s expense.
The first three 2011 IZOD Indy Car series races have produced a different winner from a different team with Franchitti winning the opener at St. Petersburg and Power winning last week at Barber Motorsports Park setting up what promises to be an exciting and competitive season as the series moves to Brazil for the final tune-up before the 500 on May 1st.
Dreyer & Reinbold Racing has Justin Wilson, Paul Tracy, Davey Hamilton and Ana Beatriz as its entries for the 500 with KV Racing Technology-Lotus placing Takuma Sato, E.J. Viso, Tony Kanaan and Tomas Scheckter in their potent race cars for the race.
Wheldon will drive for Bryan Herta Autosport in the 500 while Ed Carpenter takes over the wheel at Sarah Fisher Racing. Fisher who co-owns the team with her husband recently announced that she was expecting their first and would pass on trying to qualify for her 10th 500. A solid ambassador for the IRL, Fisher has entered a second car without a named driver to try and get in the field once Carpenter has made the show.
A.J. Foyt racing has two cars entered, one for regular team driver Vitor Meira and a second for Bruno Junqueira. James Hinchcliffe and Oriol Servia will be behind the wheel of entries from Newman/Haas Racing. Dale Coyne Racing has entered four cars but only has announced James Jakes as its driver for two with the other seat still open.
J.R. Hildebrand will drive the entry from Panther Racing while the second car from Panther was entered without a named driver.
Raphael Matos will drive for AFS Racing; Sebastian Saavedra for Conquest Racing, Sam Schmidt Motorsports completes the entry list with three assigned drivers: Alex Tagliani, Jay Howard and Townsend Bell.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway opens for practice on May 14th, with qualifications set for May 21st and 22nd. The top 11 starting position will be awarded on the 21st with the field being filled on the 22nd.
Since my last writing the Speedway has announced that on race day morning, May 29th, seven former winners of the 500 will drive past winning cars around the day in pre-race festivities. The drivers are: Mario Andretti n the Boyle Maserati that won the 1939 and 1940 500’s; Arie Luyendyk Sr., driving the Domino’s Pizza Lola in which he won the 1990 race and averaged 185.981 in doing so, a record that still stands today; Bobby Rahal in the #14 Miller that won the 1928 race; Al Unser Sr., in the #82 Lotus Ford that Jim Clark won in 1965 and was the first rear engine car to win the event; Al Unser Jr., in the Blue Crown Special that won in l947 and 1948; and Bobby Unser in the #8 National that won in 1912.
In addition these and 262 other current and former 500 mile drivers will be on hand on Saturday to sign autographs and meet the fans.
Information is still coming on a race-day morning stunt conducted by Mattel Toy Company under its Hot Wheel banner that features a record setting jump being made on a specially constructed ramp that can be viewed by fans in the North Vista or H Stand. Special tickets for unobstructed view of the jump with other considerations are available by contacting the Speedway now.
The final bit of news has Donald Trump named as the driver for the Camaro pace car for this year’s race. A controversial announcement, nonetheless, he does bring attention wherever he goes and it can only help the race gain additional exposure.
I hope your working on your dream 500 starting field.

The Speedway opens in less than a month!!!!