The Formula One field will be missing one of its star drivers when it assembles for the Monaco Grand Prix next week.
Fernando Alonso will forego his annual appearance at the principality, where he scored his best result of the season last year with fifth place. He will instead participate in another of the ‘triple crown’ motorsport events: The Indianapolis 500, which this year is being run for the 101st time.
He will encounter a few of his old Formula One rivals plus several hardened veterans of IndyCar’s daunting superspeedway ovals. Alonso got his first taste of sharing a track with them when practice began at the track yesterday. He’ll have many more opportunities to suss them out between now and qualifying this weekend, followed by the race in 12 days’ time.
1. Simon Pagenaud (France) – Penske, Chevrolet
The reigning IndyCar champion has taken two victories on the track’s grand prix circuit which F1 previously used. He had never won on an oval until last month’s race at Phoenix, and that was a somewhat fortunate win. Indianapolis is a completely different beast, however. Bonus trivia point: He used an Ayrton Senna tribute helmet in the 2014 race, marking 20 years since the F1 great’s death.
2. Josef Newgarden (USA) – Penske, Chevrolet
IndyCar’s rising star joined powerhouse team Penske at the start of 2017. He’s out-scored two of his four team mates so far and took his first win with the team in Alabama. Despite a luckless race on the Indianapolis road course last weekend he’s third in the championship. Newgarden’s dominant victory on Iowa’s short oval was gritty stuff as he was still carrying wrist and shoulders injuries from a heavy crash at the Texas superspeedway a few weeks earlier.
3. Helio Castroneves (Brazil) – Penske, Chevrolet
A three-times Indianapolis 500 winner, his most recent victory coming eight years ago. But despite his remarkable consistency Castroneves has never won an IndyCar championship, and he’s gone almost four years without a win of any kind. He’s still quick, however, as his two pole positions already this session attest.
4. Conor Daly (USA) – Foyt, Chevrolet
Son of former F1 racer Derek Daly, Conor Daly turned in some giant-killing runs for the Coyne team last year. But moving to Foyt this year has been a frustrating experience: he’s had to look on from the back of the field as his former team jumped to the sharp end of the grid.
5. James Hinchcliffe (Canada) – Schmidt Peterson, Honda
The amiable Hinchcliffe is a fan favourite. He suffered life-threatening injuries in a qualifying crash at Indianapolis in 2015 which ruled him out of the rest of the season. He made a triumphant return last year, claiming pole position for the hundredth running of the race. Honda’s improving form helped him to a win at Long Beach earlier this year.
7. Mikhail Aleshin (Russia) – Schmidt Peterson, Honda
The driver who edged out Daniel Ricciardo for the 2010 Formula Renault 3.5 title came close to victories at Mid-Ohio and the Pocono superspeedway last year. He knows how punishing IndyCar’s fastest ovals can be after a brutal crash on the Auto Club Speedway at the end of 2014.
8. Max Chilton (UK) – Ganassi, Honda
While Alonso has set himself the target of winning each race in the ‘triple crown’, former Manor racer Chilton has already raced in all of them. He peaked with seventh on the short Phoenix oval in his debut season last year.
9. Scott Dixon (New Zealand) – Ganassi, Honda
The other ‘Iceman’, four-times IndyCar champion Dixon scored his only Indianapolis 500 victory in 2008 while en route to his second title. With Honda enjoying a much more competitive 2017 so far, Ganassi’s switch to the Japanese power plants has proved well-timed and could give Dixon a shot at a second win in the 500. He had a frustrating start to the year, with a poorly-timed caution period spoiling his race at St Petersburg and a strategic error ending his Long Beach victory chances. But consistent points-scoring has helped him to second in the championship.
10. Tony Kanaan (Brazil) – Ganassi, Honda
Kanaan’s 2013 Indianapolis 500 win came after a string of near-misses. At the end of the year he left KV to replace Dario Franchitti at powerhouse team Ganassi but much more was expected than the single win he has taken since then. Like Castroneves, he’s starting to look a little long in the tooth.
11. Spencer Pigot (USA) – Juncos, Chevrolet
As last year, Pigot has switched teams for the Indianapolis 500 as team owner Ed Carpenter occupies his car for the big race. He was among the tail-enders on his debut last year, and needs to show significant improvement to make a case for becoming a full-time driver.
12. Will Power (Australia) – Penske, Chevrolet
No stranger to the soaring highs and plunging lows of racing life, Power has amassed 28 IndyCar wins yet just a single championship in 2014. Victory at Indianapolis has eluded him too. This time 12 months ago he was clearly not on top form following an injury which ruled him out of the first race of the year. He recovered to chase Pagenaud for the title until his car failed in the final race. But a win and a second place in the last two races suggests things have finally turned around for him.
14. Carlos Munoz (Colombia) – Foyt, Chevrolet
Munoz grabbed a somewhat lucky win on the streets of Detroit two years ago but it’s on the superspeedways where he really shines. He started and finished second in his first Indy 500 four years ago, and last year only Alexander Rossi’s outrageous fuel gamble stopped him from winning it. Whether he can recapture that form with the Foyt team, having been dropped by Andretti, remains to be seen.
15. Graham Rahal (USA) – RLL, Honda
His father Bobby Rahal scored an emotional Indianapolis 500 victory in 1986, 11 days before team owner Jim Trueman succumbed to cancer. The young Rahal has come on strong in the past two seasons, playing in the top five of the championship both times. Two of his last three wins have come on speedways. He showed great form on the Indianapolis road course last weekend, climbing from 20th on the grid to finish sixth.
16. Oriol Servia (Spain) – RLL, Honda
The only other Spanish driver in the race is a veteran of the American racing scene. This will be Servia’s ninth 500, though as he is no longer a full-time driver he will inevitably start at a disadvantage.
17. Sebastian Saavedra (Colombia) – AFS, Chevrolet
The unpromising Saavedra took a somewhat fortunate pole position on the Indianapolis road course three years ago, then failed to get off the line and was hit from behind. This will be his first start in two years.
18. Sebastien Bourdais (France) – Coyne, Honda
Bourdais dominated the old Champ Car series before starting his one-and-a-half year F1 stint in 2008. He returned to a reunified championship in which he’s struggled to make the same impression, but that may have changed this year. Having jumped ship to Coyne as the KV team collapsed, Bourdais took an improbably win from last on the grid in the season-opener. He followed it up with second at Long Beach but luck has been against him lately. Mikhail Aleshin took him out at Phoenix and his Honda engine failed in the Indianapolis Grand Prix.
19. Ed Jones (UK) – Coyne, Honda
The Dubai-born racer won the Indy Lights championship last year and has quietly impressed in his first races as team mate to Bourdais. He started last year’s Indy Lights support race from pole but Dean Stoneman beat him to victory by two-thousandths of a second.
20. Ed Carpenter (USA) – Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet
The oval specialist and Indianapolis native took pole position for this race in 2013 and 2014. He is spectacular on those low-downforce qualifying runs, but his last three attempts at the race have ended in disappointment.
21. JR Hildebrand (USA) – Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet
Unless he ever manages to win the race, Hildebrand faces forever being known as the driver threw away victory in the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie by crashing within sight of the flag. Following three part-time campaigns he finally managed to land a regular seat again this year, but injured his hand in a collision at Long Beach and had to miss a round.
22. Juan Pablo Montoya (Colombia) – Penske, Chevrolet
Alonso’s biggest rival for the ‘triple crown’? Montoya already has Indianapolis 500 (2000, 2015) and Monaco Grand Prix (2003) victories to his name – now he just needs someone to offer him an LMP1 car. In the meantime he’s back for a two-race stint at Penske. He qualified a decent fifth on his return last weekend but slipped down the order in the race. Expect him to bring his best for the big race, especially after the disappointment of being the first driver to retire last year.
24. Sage Karam (USA) – Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Chevrolet
A quick driver who’s not been able to hold onto the regular spot in the series he deserves. Karam has turned to sports car racing as he’s only been able to get one-off Indianapolis 500 deals since his 2015 campaign for Ganassi. Last year he dropped out early but was an impressive ninth on his debut in 2014.
26. Takuma Sato (Japan) – Andretti, Honda
How differently might Sato be thought of had his audacious bid to pass Dario Franchitti at the beginning of the final lap in 2012 come off? He spun into the barriers, thereby sealing Franchitti’s final win in the race. The long-time Honda servant will be one of Alonso’s team mates in the six-strong Andretti squad having moved over from Foyt at the end of last year.
27. Marco Andretti (USA) – Andretti, Honda
It’s eleven years since a teenage Andretti missed out on victory at Indianapolis on his debut, beaten to the line by Sam Hornish by just six hundredths of a second. Few might have expected his IndyCar career since then to have featured just a pair of wins, the last coming in 2011 before the current chassis was introduced.
28. Ryan Hunter-Reay (USA) – Andretti, Honda
An IndyCar champion and an Indianapolis 500 winner to boot, Hunter-Reay’s form has been marked by inconsistency of late. A timely third place on Saturday was his best result of the season so far. He played a vital role in team mate Alexander Rossi’s win last year by positioning his car so Rossi could run in the slipstream. But he’ll want to be the one taking benefit from any team co-operation this time.
29. Fernando Alonso (Spain) – McLaren/Andretti, Honda
Alonso has made a brave decision to break out of his F1 comfort zone and take on a totally different challenge. With the might of McLaren allied to the expertise of Andretti, he should go into the race with at least as much chance of anyone as winning. Although he will have ample testing time to acclimatise to the speeds involved in racing on ovals, Alonso is well aware that the most difficult thing to learn will be how to drive in traffic.
40. Zach Veach (USA) – Foyt, Chevrolet
This race was supposed to be Veach’s IndyCar debut, but he made an early promotion when he stood in for Hildebrand earlier this year. He ended last year;s Indy Lights championship on an upward swing, winning two of the last three races.
49. Buddy Lazier (USA) – Lazier, Chevrolet
Lazier famously was carrying a back injury when he won the 1996 Indianapolis 500, which was the first to be organised after IndyCar racing split in two. At the age of 49 he’s back again to hold his own against the big names in his tiny, owner-run team.
50. Jack Harvey (UK) – Michael Shank/Andretti, Honda
After finishing fifth in GP3 the same year Daniil Kvyat won the title, Harvey switched focus to America where he finished second in Indy Lights for two years in a row with Schmidt. He also tested for their IndyCar team, but following a season on the sidelines he will make his Indianapolis 500 debut in a car run by Michael Shank racing and Andretti.
63. Pippa Mann (UK) – Coyne, Honda
Mann has been a sporadic IndyCar racer for most of the last six years, and a regular at Indianapolis. Once again she will drive for Coyne, a team which has enjoyed much improved form so far this season.
77. Jay Howard (UK) – Schmidt Peterson, Honda
Back at Indianapolis for the first time in six years, this will be Howard’s first 500 since the current chassis was introduced.
83. Charlie Kimball (USA) – Ganassi, Honda
His uncompromising manner in traffic makes Kimball a regular focus for criticism among his rivals. But Indianapolis tends to be a strong venue for this one-time race winner. He finished the last two races inside the top five.
88. Gabby Chaves (Colombia) – Harding, Chevrolet
After winning the Indy lights title in 2014, Chaves did a full season with Herta in 2015 but was in the tough situation of being a rookie driver without a team mate. He only did a partial season last year.
98. Alexander Rossi (USA) – Andretti-Herta, Honda
The astonishing circumstances of Rossi’s rookie victory last year will no doubt have inspired Alonso into believing he can do the same. The win was a masterclass of strategy and disciplined driving, as during the race Rossi discovered he could sustain high average lap speeds while reducing his fuel intake, aided at times by help from his team mates. Unsurprisingly that was the highlight of his season: Rossi’s next-best result was fifth. He’s begun his second season fairly well: Hunter-Reay is the only Andretti driver ahead of him in the points.
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