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A Beginners guide to the Indianapolis 500

A Beginners guide to the Indianapolis 500

F1 News

A Beginners guide to the Indianapolis 500

A Beginners guide to the Indianapolis 500

The 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 will finally take place this Sunday, after being postponed from it’s usual May slot due to Covid-19.

Marco Andretti - son of Michael and Grandson of Mario - lines up on pole, with Scott Dixon and Takuma Sato alongside him on the front row following last weekend’s qualifying.

Fernando Alonso lines up 26th as he aims to add to his Monaco Grand Prix and Le Mans 24 Hours victories and complete the motorsport triple crown.

Here is a beginners guide with everything you need to know to enjoy the so-called “greatest spectacle in racing”.

The Race

The Indy 500 is the race to win in America. So much so, drivers and teams will solely enter this race in a season. 33 cars will line up on Sunday to tackle the 2.5-mile superspeedway over 200 laps, a total distance of 500 miles.

Everything about the race, from the build-up to the post-race, to the race itself, is all about the excitement. Remember the driver introductions at the Circuit of the Americas for the United States Grand Prix in 2017? That happens every year at Indy. Row-by-Row, the drivers take to a specially built plinth as they make their way towards pit-road to enter their vehicles.

There is usually a big military presence with the usual Memorial day scheduling, along with big parades down the home straight and amazing renditions of the national anthems. How the pre-race will shape up this year remains to be seen.

Even starting the race is a spectacle. Every year, a well-known celebrity is invited to be the honorary starter and allows them to wave the green flag to start the race. Last year, for example, the role was given to Christian Bale and Matt Damon.

At Indy, the drivers take the start in a three-wide rolling formation. This is the only race they even attempt to do such a thing and it truly is one of the best spectacles in racing as the whole field shuffle their way towards the first of four turns.

The drivers tend to try to settle into a rhythm over the first half of the race, with cautions being major game-changers. A caution is a yellow flag, but unlike in Formula 1, any yellow flag will bring out the pace (safety) car. This is due to the high-speeds involved with running on a superspeedway.

With that in mind, expect to see plenty of full-field pit-stops during caution periods, as due to the length of the track, a green-flag stop can put a driver a lap down if a caution is thrown before others follow suit. There are usually six-or-more stops during the race, with the choice of Red or Black Firestone tyre compounds. Red is the racier tyre, whilst Black will give you less wear and a longer stint.

Obviously, like in Formula 1, the pace car will back the pack up and eliminate any advantage the leader may have. So don’t expect massive gaps between first and second on the road. In fact, you may see the drivers work together - even if they are not team-mates. Fuel strategy is absolutely key in a category where refuelling is allowed, and with the cars running at full throttle for most of the race, a slipstream can increase your stint length by between one and four laps.

Something that may sound confusing as a newcomer to the race is where a driver attempts to not lead going onto the final lap. This is due to the massive slipstream effect at Indianapolis. With the likelihood of a late-in-the-race caution, being second and then making your move for the win on the final lap is usually a good strategy.

Whoever comes out on top will have their name - and face - immortalised on the Borg-Warner Trophy.

Oh, Champagne? Who needs that? At Indy, the winner receives a bottle of milk in ‘victory lane’. They even get to choose what type of milk. Emerson Fittipaldi chose Orange Juice - the best kind of milk!

Who to watch out for?

There are a few ex-Formula 1 drivers aiming to drink the milk this coming Sunday. Takuma Sato looks to be in the best position after qualifying third. The Japanese driver is a former Indy 500 champion having won in 2017 and will be looking to make it a second victory with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Another previous winner is Alexander Rossi, who came so close to taking a second 500 last year. He will start 9th for Andretti Autosport.

As stated previously, Fernando Alonso is back for another shot at the 500, although his life will be tough from 26th for Arrow McLaren SP, whilst Max Chilton will race the sole entry for Carlin and will start 30th on the grid.

Marcus Ericsson looks to be reborn after moving to the series. He will start 11th for Chip Ganassi Racing, with a great race-car underneath him and a good chance at taking the flag on Sunday.

Some drivers may be recognisable from Formula 2, Formula 3 and their predecessors GP2 and GP3. Josef Newgarden is a two-time series champion in Indycar, searching for his first victory at the brickyard. He is racing for one of if not the best team in the field - Penske.

Felix Rosenqvist has looked fast ever since he joined the series, and will line up directly behind team-mate Ericsson. Santino Ferrucci is also involved for Dale Coyne Racing, as is Conor Daly - who makes a one-off appearance for Ed Carpenter Racing.

Arrow McLaren SP will have their two regulars lining up for a shot at victory. Watch out for Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew as they try to make their way to the front from 15th and 21st.


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