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Ben Smith

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Outcome of race is complete mystery

It’s a race of unknowns

– James Hinchcliffe

INDIANAPOLIS – Or to put it another way: This crystal ball would make a nice carafe, all hollowed out.

Put to its original purpose, it’s as worthless as a Confederate five-spot right now, or perhaps one of those dog-slow Lotuses poor Simona de Silvestro and Jean Alesi are saddled with. A nice Briggs-and-Stratton gets around faster today.

That’s not a prediction, mind you. Only an empty-headed fool makes predictions about this least-predictable of sporting events, and it’s a double helping of fool who tries to predict anything as they drop the green on the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Here’s what we’ve got going today, for starters: meteorology.

The weather boys are calling for a blistering high of 96 degrees, perhaps the hottest race day ever. Add to that the absence of rain for better than two weeks, and the Brickyard becomes the world’s largest Teflon skillet. And add to that the fact that none of these new Chevies or Hondas or Lotuses have gone 500 miles yet ….

And Mayhem Ensues, as they say. There will be engine failures. There will be some car-meets-wall moments. And depending to whom this happens and when, it will dictate everything from pit strategy to the name on the Borg-Warner Trophy.

Lord knows who that will be. Or how they’ll get there.

“We just don’t know how this car is going to race,” says Hinchcliffe, who starts in the middle of Row 1.

“I think the race is just gonna be so different because of the car,” agrees Will Power.

“It’s closer to an Indy Lights type race because they have less power and you have more grip now,” he goes on. “So everyone is just wide open and it’s punching a hole. In a way it makes it more difficult to execute passes.”

Or, not.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of passing this year,” Scott Dixon said this month.

So, there you have it: A race of unknowns.

Could be it’s Marco Andretti’s year, given that he’s been fast all month and always finds his way to the front. Or the year for a Ryan Briscoe or a Hinchcliffe or a Ryan Hunter-Reay. Or maybe it’s Power’s time, or Tony Kanaan’s, finally.

All I know is this: IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard, haunted still by the utterly avoidable tragedy of Dan Wheldon’s death in Vegas and beset by a host of other issues, would take last year’s dramatic finish in a heartbeat. Needs it, maybe.

“Nobody said this was going to be an overnight success,” he said this week.

Or easy to call today.

Only a fool makes predictions about this thing?

Well, I’m your fool, then. And on a day of unknowns, I’ll go with the most known quantity out there.

Three-time winner Helio Castroneves makes it four today. Book it.

Or not.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.