INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis 500 is getting its mojo back.
Rumors are flying, speeds are increasing and an Andretti is trying to get back to Victory Lane. Yes, its starting to feel like the good old days in Indy.
Ive been feeling that resurgence ever since I came back over in 2009 and the momentum around the Indy 500 is just increasing, said Dario Franchitti, the defending race winner who is trying to become the fourth member of the four-time winners club. Its growing in stature again.
This years race will be historic for other reasons.
For the first time since 1987, two three-time Indianapolis 500 winners – Franchitti and Helio Castroneves – are expected to be in the starting field. For the first time since 1991, excluding the years of the open-wheel split, Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi are arriving at the 2.5-mile oval without a win.
For a change, nobodys talking about whether race organizers can fill the traditional 33-car field. Theyre talking about whether any late additions could knock one of the 33 on the current entry list out of the starting field.
I think its going to be exciting, said Michael Andretti, the former driver whose team has won three of this seasons first four races. Some teams have not been so competitive in years past. But the racing this year has been at the top level, and it has to be great for the fans. Its as good as its ever been.
Who would expect anything else with a field this talented?
Canadian James Hinchcliffe, one of five Andretti drivers trying to qualify next weekend, has won half of the first four races. Defending points champ Ryan Hunter-Reay, one of Hinchcliffes teammates, won at Alabama but hasnt been on the podium anywhere else. The current leader is 36-year-old Takuma Sato, the first Japanese driver to win an IndyCar race and the driver who crashed on the final lap last May as he tried to pass Franchitti for the lead.
You go for the win, you know, Sato said. Anybody in that position would have done it.
Qualifying weekend could have an old-time flair to it.
Most expect speeds to increase significantly in the second year of this engine-chassis combination. Last year, Ryan Briscoe took the pole with a four-lap average of 226.484 mph. This year, that number could jump.
I think the pole speed will be close to 230, if not 230, Andretti said.
Off the track, theres just as much being discussed.
Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill this week that will give track officials $100 million in public financing to upgrade the facility, which could include lights for night races.
Of course, it wouldnt be Indy if there wasnt endless speculation about who may find a late ride before the second and final day of qualifying ends May 19. One name sure to surface, now that he has passed his rookie test, is Kurt Busch even though the 2004 Sprint Cup champion said hes not ready to try Indy-Charlotte double this May.