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The Greatest Spectacle in Racing celebrates its 100th running Sunday, and it’s primed to live up to the billing.
One of the biggest crowds in decades is expected. Six former champions are in the field. And all the drama that is the Indianapolis 500 unfolds when the command to start the engines is given at 12:14 p.m. The 33-car field takes the green flag at 12:21 for the 500-mile race around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Here are 7 things to know about this year’s race:
James Hinchcliffe leads the field to the green flag at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the same track that nearly killed him last year.
During practice last season Hinchcliffe, roaring into Turn 3 at nearly 200 mph, slammed into the wall. A piece of his car’s suspension impaled his thigh and severed an artery. The word ‘miracle’ has often been used to explain how he survived.
The Canadian returned to IMS with no fear, winning the pole with a four-lap qualifying speed of 230.760 mph. He’s started second in two of his previous four Indy 500s, with a career-best finish of sixth in 2012.
Twenty drivers have won from the pole, the last being Helio Castroneves in 2009.
IndyCar points leader Simon Pagenaud has won the last three races in the series, including the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 18. A fourth would give him his first Indianapolis 500 victory.
Pagenaud, who's finished second in the first two races this season, has sped to a 76-point lead over runner-up Scott Dixon. Pagenaud has seven wins in his seventh season of IndyCar racing. His best finish at the Indy 500 is 8th in 2013.
Six Indy 500 champions are entered. Helio Castroneves kissed the bricks in 2001, 2001 and ‘09. Juan Pablo Montoya won in 2000 and 2015. Buddy Lazier won in 1996 driving for Chaminade graduate Ron Hemelgarn. Scott Dixon (2008), Tony Kanaan (2013) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014) are also past champs.
Roger Penske’s team has 16 victories at Indy. Penske drivers were denied the front row, but are lurking in rows two and three. Will Power starts sixth, Pagenaud eighth, Castroneves ninth and Montoya 17th. For the record, Chip Ganassi Racing has four championships, Andretti Autosports has three and A.J. Foyt Enterprises two.
Will Marco end the curse?
The Andretti family has 71 starts and has led 28 races among five family members. They have one victory to show for it with Mario’s win in 1969.
Marco starts 14th in his 11th career start that has an impressive four top-5 finishes, including one of the greatest finishes in Indy 500 history when Sam Hornish beat Marco to the line in 2006.
Five rookies compete in this year’s field: Matt Brabham, Max Chilton, Spencer Pigot, Alexander Rossi and Stefan Wilson. For of those drivers – Brabham, Chilton, Pigot and Wilson – have IMS experience racing with the Indy Lights.
Indy 500 is fan-tastic
Here’s some advice for this year’s race – get there early and plan to stay late.
More than 300,000 spectators are expected . Traffic outside of IMS will likely be bumper to bumper when the gates open at 6 a.m. Pedestrian traffic inside IMS will be shoulder to shoulder with the first sellout in more than two decades, according to reports.
IMS officials, like most IndyCar and NASCAR tracks, don’t release official attendance counts. This year’s crowd is expected to swell by more than 70,000 people from last year’s race.