Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Got 2013 Indy 500 answers? Step right up

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website – via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – A whirlwind weekend of qualifying for Sunday’s 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 presented more questions than answers.

So, let’s get to it:

Q.: Are the cars faster than last year?

A.: Yes, sometimes breathtakingly fast for the drivers with Chevrolet motors.  Straightaway speeds in the 235 miles per hour range were commonplace last weekend, and Chevy power plants are in the top 10 qualifying cars?

Q.: Can pole position winner, Indianapolis hometown favorite and solo racing team owner Ed Carpenter, not a well-known name outside of IndyCar, win the world-famous race this Sunday?

A.: Absolutely.  Carpenter is an oval specialist, so much so that it appears he drives the road courses just to pass the time to get to the high-speed ovals.  Carpenter is experienced, brave and smooth.  If he stays out of harm’s way – always a tall order at Indianapolis – get ready for the most popular home boy 500 win since Howdy Wilcox crossed the finish line first in 1919.

Q.: Is three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti a non-factor this year?

A.: Don’t even think about it.  Last year, Dario qualified 16th in a Honda-powered car that appeared far inferior to the Chevys.  In the last practice before the 2012 race, Franchitti and teammate Scott Dixon were turning the fastest laps at the track.  Then, on race day, they quickly moved to the front, with Franchitti edging Dixon for the win.  Dixon starts 16th this year, and Franchitti goes off 17th.   Just based on past history, expect both to move up and be in contention before the 250-mile mark.  Both of these guys know how to win at Indy.  Chevy’s pole day muscle might end up being a lukewarm memory when the checkered flag falls on Sunday.

Q.: Can Helio Castroneves win his record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500?

A.: Yes, he can.  The normally spot-on-perfect Roger Penske racing team has slipped and miscued at numerous key moments over the past several years (especially a mind-blowing series of stumbles that cost driver Will Power the IndyCar series title the past three seasons).  Yet Castroneves qualified well (he will go off eighth) and seems dialed in to the competition this year.  Castroneves’ record outside of the Indy 500 is merely good; his record at Indianapolis is exceptional.  He knows how to manage race pace and when to go all-out at the end.  I picked him as a favorite earlier this year.  I still like his odds on Sunday.

Q.: Can a virtually unknown driver win on Sunday?

A.: Absolutely.  The Indy 500 has a way of crushing seemingly sure-fire winners late in the grind, and accidents/mechanical failures can eject favorites in the blink of an eye.  A comparatively little-known driver can carve his/her name in auto racing history on Sunday.  Frankly, it would not surprise me to see it happen.

Q.: Who is the sentimental favorite to win it?

A.: Hands down, Tony Kanaan.  Starting 12th with Chevy power, he’s in good position, although he was grumpy about his car’s ability to handle in traffic in last weekend’s final practice session.  I’m discounting that, because Kanaan always seems to get it figured out by race day, and he has had a hall-of-fame series of runs from back to front in past 500s.  Alas, multiple heartbreaks have kept him from drinking the winner’s milk at Indy.  Should he pull out a win this time around, the throng of Indy fans might just shake the grandstands apart jumping up and down.

Q.: Who will win it?

A.: I like Carpenter.  I like Castroneves.  I like Franchitti.  I like Dixon.  And I like Kanaan.  But I’m picking Marco Andretti to win it.  Andretti started this month with a few fast laps, and then it’s like he dropped off the publicity radar.  That’s somewhat amazing, considering his famous name and the fact that he’s starting the race on the front row in a very fast machine.  I’ve been impressed with Andretti’s savvy season so far.  He says he put in a lot of work in the off-season, and yeah, it sure looks like that made a difference.  He’s looking like a smarter, better driver all the way around this year. I’m picking Andretti to run up front throughout Sunday’s race, and I expect him to lock it down over the last 20 laps, breaking the so-called Andretti curse at Indianapolis and putting the Andretti name in Victory Lane for the first time since grandfather Mario won the 500 back in 1969.

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