25 May 2011

Moving Through the Indianapolis 500 Field: 23-33

With the 100th anniversary running of the Indianapolis 500 just four short days away, it is time move past the drama of ride-buying and focus on the 33 cars and drivers that will start their engines on Sunday.  Today, SB Nation Indiana looks at the back half of the field - can any of these drivers do what Ray Harroun and Louis Meyer did in 1911 and 1936, repspectively, in winning the 500 from this deep in the field?
Note: each of these cars has moved up from its original qualifying position after the No. 41 car was moved to the rear of the field following the driver swap of Ryan Hunter-Reay for Bruno Junquiera.
23. No. 78T - Simona De Silvestro
All De Silvestro has done this month is flip her car into the catch fence at IMS, have the car catch on fire and walk away with second and first degree burns on her hands. Oh, and then 48 hours after that wreck, she drove with heavily bandaged hands and qualified for her second straight 500.
The 2010 Rookie of the Year continues to gain fans with an effervescent personality (including a willingness to sign autographs with her "Mickey Mouse gloves" on as she called them). Asking for a win might be a little much, given her situation, but a top 10 performance would exceed last year's 14-place effort.
24. No. 23 - Paul Tracy
The highest qualifier from Sunday's Bump Day, Tracy left no doubt as to whether he would be in the 500 after withdrawing a time and failing to requalify. With rain imminent at IMS, Tracy put down four blistering laps; had he run those on Saturday, he would have been on the outside of Row 6 instead of the Outside of Row 8.
Always popular among open-wheel racing fans, Tracy is driving this race with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing; last year, the team had both Justin Wilson and Mike Conway in position to capture the Borg-Warner Trophy. If Tracy can avoid trouble, he should be running near the front in the search for his first (or second) 500 title.
25. No. 7 - Danica Patrick
Seemingly quick all month, Patrick (and the rest of Andretti Autosport) were barely up to snuff over the weekend, putting just two of its four primary drivers in the field (a third, Ryan Hunter-Reay, would be added to the field on Monday). Still, when push came to shove, Patrick found speed again, qualifying on the inside of Row 9.
Over the last few years, Andretti Autosport's setups have been better on race day than in qualifications. The team must hope that is the case again, though with Tom Anderson taking the fall for the poor qualification performance, there will be some added pressure on the Engineers. Patrick took a solid sixth last year, and with rumors flying that she will head to NASCAR full time next year (and allowing her to still race the 500), this may be her last best chance at a 500 win. 
26. No. 6T - Ryan Briscoe
It is rare to find a Team Penske car this low on the grid.  However, that's where Briscoe sits after a wreck the morning of Pole Day left his primary car damaged and his backup low on speed. Giving the Team Penske IZOD team a night to work on the backup however, it was only a matter of where Briscoe would qualify, provided he did not find the wall again.
Briscoe, since scoring two top 10s to start his career at IMS, the Australian has seemingly been snake bit, recording finishes of 23rd, 15th and 24th. Avoiding trouble while trying to move to the front of the field will be paramount if he wants to reverse his recent fortune.
27. No. 26 - Marco Andretti
The last car to qualify, Andretti said his mentality on the final run was to "put it in the Show or put it in the fence." Fortunately for Andretti Autosport, it was put in the 500 (at the cost of buying a ride for Ryan Hunter-Reay).  
Unfortunately for the young Andretti, he has a habit of bouncing results around at IMS; in his first five starts look like this: 2nd, 24th, 3rd, 30th, 3rd.  If we follow that pattern (and this certainly isn't the SATs), then Andretti is due for a disappointing performance on Sunday.
28. No. 83 - Charlie Kimball (R)
One of five rookies in the field, Kimball and teammate Graham Rahal struggled during qualifying weekend, while their counterparts at Target Chip Ganassi Racing had plenty of speed in participating in the Fast Nine.  
Still, it would be a mistake to count out Kimball, who will be a strong candidate for Rookie of the Year honors. Having his teammate directly next to him should allow the duo to work their way through the field over the course of the race. Perhaps more important, having a week to pour over data from the Target Chip Ganassi Racing cars and finding the right race trim should give Kimball an edge.
29. No. 38 - Graham Rahal
It's hard to believe that Rahal is making his fourth start at IMS, but the 22-year old is now a veteran of the Indianapolis 500. The middle of Row 10 marks Rahal's worst starting position for the 500, but again, his Chip Ganassi Racing Team has the benefit of being able to study telemetry from the Target Chip Ganassi Racing cars of Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti.
Last year, Rahal was quick, qualifying for the Fast Nine and running up near the front before a Black Flag scuttled his chances at a historic win. On the 25th anniversary of his father's lone 500 win, finding a Rahal in Victory Lane would be a great story (as would a throwback mustache in tribute to his dad).
30. No. 19 - Alex Lloyd
As impressive as Andretti's qualifying effort was on Sunday at the gun, Alex Lloyd's may have saved a race team. It was fairly apparent that rookie James Jakes was slow, and some of the money associated with a run at Indianapolis can help fill the budget for a team. Still, it looked as if Dale Coyne Racing was slow on speed in both cars. Instead, Lloyd, who finished fourth last year, put his car solidly in the field with about six minutes left on Bump Day.
If Lloyd can replicate some of last year's run, in which he finished fourth, it would be remarkable for a team that looked dead in the water until late on Sunday.
31. No. 31 - Pippa Mann (R)
In her first IZOD IndyCar Series event, Mann outqualified Conquest Racing's primary driver, Sebastian Saavedra. The Firestone Indy Lights veteran, Mann has always been quick at IMS, qualifying on the pole for the 2010 Freedom 100 before collecting her first career Lights win at Kentucky Speedway later in the year.
Mann is a dark-horse for Rookie of the Year honors.  Sometimes the award can be won simply by avoiding attrition and collecting a stealthy top 15 finish.  In other years, the driver needs to charge through the field.  Mann has the experience in Lights to do this, but it remains to be seen if her car will have the handling and speed needed to put her in position to challenge for Rookie of the Year.
32. No. 32 - Ana Beatriz
The last of four Dreyer & Reinbold Racing cars in the field of 33, the most of any team in the field, Beatriz will be looking to build on a 21st place finish in her rookie campaign at IMS. The Brazilian is the slowest car in the field, though, which does not necessarily bode well for the race, as the slowest car in qualifying has never won the Indianapolis 500.
However, Beatriz has experience navigating traffic at IMS, running at or near the front in the Freedom 100 on several occasions. Being faced with getting through the field in one piece won't phase the 26-year old.
33. No. 41 - Ryan Hunter-Reay
The Andretti Autosport driver takes the seat originally filled by Bruno Junquiera, who qualified the ABC Supply car 19th on the grid. However, the No. 41 will now carry sponsorship from ABC Supply, DHL and Sun Drop after Andretti Autosport bought the seat in an effort to please its sponsors.
Hunter-Reay has last row experience, starting 32nd in 2009. Since a sixth-place finish with Rahal-Letterman Racing earned him the 2008 Rookie of the Year award, though, Hunter-Reay has not finished better than 18th in the 500. While karma has not seemed to be on his side this week, Hunter-Reay will need it to turn around if he wants to collect prize money for the most positions made up during the race.

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