Those looking for a sentimental choice to win Sunday’s 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 have an excellent choice in veteran American driver Graham Rahal.
Those looking for an obvious choice to win the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” however, are faced with a much more difficult task.
After last Sunday’s final rounds of qualifying at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, television screens and websites were lit bright by video and photos of the highly popular Rahal with his broken heart in full display.
Rahal had just been bumped from the field on the final lap in the final minute of qualifying and was an emotional mess as he broke down in front of cameras. He fell sobbing into the arms of his wife — drag racer Courtney Force — and toddler daughter, Harlan Ann.
The 34-year-old Rahal further suffered the indignity of being the only member of his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team to not make the show.
But this is Indy. Two days later, driver Stefan Wilson was injured when he was rammed to the wall from behind by Katherine Legge, who is making a one-off appearance on the RLL team.
The injured Wilson quickly was ruled out of the race and his team owners, Dennis Reinbold and Don Cusick, offered his car to Rahal.
“Everything in life happens for a reason,” said Rahal, who will jump from Honda power to Chevrolet. “Sometimes it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but when I got the call from Dennis (Monday) afternoon, right away I felt compelled that this was, for some reason, my calling was to be here, to be able to help as best I could and to fill in.
“Clearly this is Stef’s ride. It’s his seat. He’s done a great job to get it to the point that it is. It was an honor for me to receive the call.”
Then there are the 33 others who will head into Turn 1 at 230 mph on Sunday.
The field is deep in talent and crazy fast — the fastest ever, as the average qualifying speed was 232.184 mph. And at the front, all three driver/car combinations starting in Row 1 qualified at an amazing, record-setting 234-plus mph.
Starting from the pole will be Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou of Spain.
For Palou, the race will be about redemption. Palou was leading a year ago but fell back to 30th on a Lap 77 restart thanks to a caution called just as he entered the pits. He was forced to serve a drive-through penalty for stopping when pits were closed, but still drove back through the field and earned a top-10 finish.
“We’ve been really fast the past two years,” Palou said. “I think we just need to try to get the strategy right, get more confident in traffic and just get a clean day.”
Nine previous winners of the 500 are in the field. One of those, Helio Castroneves, has four wins, which ties him with A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser Sr. as winningest ever at the iconic 2.5-mile flat oval. One more, and he stands alone.
One of A.J. Foyt Racing’s drivers, American Santino Ferrucci, qualified fourth-fastest and has a real shot at giving the legendary Texan his first win as an owner since 1999.
“I’m happy we’re starting fourth,” Foyt said. “I won the race from the fourth spot (twice) so maybe that’s a good luck charm. I never won it from the pole, so maybe it’ll come true again.”
Thirteen Americans will start the race. The 21 foreign drivers represent 13 countries.
For those who may not be Rahal fans, the hugely popular Tony Kanaan of Brazil has announced this will be his final 500. He won the race in 2013 and finished third a year ago. “It’s time,” the 48-year-old Kanaan said.
And then there is Legge, who qualified at 231.070 mph — the fastest four-lap speed by a female driver in the event’s history.
The weather is supposed to be clear, so the projected start at 12:45 p.m. ET looks safe.
–Field Level Media