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Today’s Indianapolis 500 Favorite Is: The Field

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 26 2013

There is an abundance of potential winners for today's Indianapolis 500. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

INDIANAPOLIS – The favorite for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 depends on who you ask, but the consensus of the 33 drivers is that the 97th running of the big race is going to be ultra competitive.

The 2012 race was about as competitive as it gets, with 10 drivers leading laps and winner Dario Franchitti finishing less than one second ahead of both runner-up Scott Dixon and third-place Tony Kanaan.

“There are 20 guys on the grid who have a chance to win,’’ said Kanaan. “But that’s no different from last year, except maybe it will be even more competitive.’’

Ryan Briscoe, who has moved from Team Penske to Target Chip Ganassi Racing, said, “Anyone can win at any IndyCar (Series) race this year. I think the series is a strong as its ever been. And it’s totally unpredictable, which is good for the fans.’’

One driver who is definitely a favorite in the 500 is Marco Andretti, a third-generation driver who has finished in the top three three times in seven tries here, including a very close second in 2006, his rookie season.

A year ago, the grandson of 1969 winner Mario Andretti and the son of longtime open-wheel star and current team owner Michael Andretti, led a race-high 59 laps before crashing out of the race 14 laps from the end.

“We learned the hard way last year, putting it in the wall,’’ the younger Andretti said. “People say we had a great race car because we led all those laps and ran up front, but I hated that car. I knew we were going to crash.

“That’s why I got so animated on the radio. But we’ve had another year with the car and I feel much more comfortable this year.’’

Last season was a disappointment to Andretti, but teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay won the series championship and the Andretti Autosport team has won three of the first four races this season, with Hunter-Reay winning once and James Hinchcliffe winning twice.

Andretti has quietly gone about his business and enters Sunday’s race second in the season points, trailing only A.J. Foyt driver Takuma Sato, who won the other 2013 race.

“We’ve developed the consistency to run up front,’’ Andretti explained. “But this is Indy. It’s different from any other race. If I’m second at the end, I’m going to go for it because this race is a championship in itself. If I’m fifth, we’ll go for the podium and the points.

“Obviously, a win here would mean everything to me and my family, but it’s going to be harder than ever because this series is so competitive and there are so many good cars.’’

Hunter-Reay, the first American driver to win the series championship since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006. He would love to have that same distinction in the Indy 500 as the first American-born driver to win the race since Hornish that same year.

“It would mean everything to me, everything,’’ Hunter-Reay said. “This is still the biggest race in the world. It’s where heroes are made. I know it’s where my heroes were made.’’

“But it’s really going to be a hard race to win,’’ he said. “This is only the second year for these cars, but every team has made great strides with them. That’s the thing with this car, you can’t break away. It tows too well.

“There’s going to be constant passing every lap. I think it’s going to be close all the time. If you just crack the throttle, two or three people will go by you.’’

There will also be a race within a race for the spectators to follow.

Both defending champion Franchitti and Helio Castroneves are hoping to join the very exclusive four-win club at Indy on Sunday, joining A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser.

“There are at least 20 cars that can win this race. I believe the difference in this race will be experience, the experience of the driver and the experience of the team,’’ said Castroneves, who last won in 2009.

“I dream every night about (the fourth win), but so many other drivers want to get their first.

Franchitti, who has won three of the last six 500s, said, “It gets tougher every year because the cars are so equal and there is so much quality among the drivers.

“You have to have a good car, a good team and more than a little luck to get it done at Indy. Maybe more than ever this year.’’

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 26 2013
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