INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis 500 has been stripped nearly to the bone for the 104th working of “The Best Spectacle in Racing.”

The enduring take a look at of man and machine is seen as too necessary to new proprietor Roger Penske to cancel within the yr of the coronavirus pandemic. Its significance to the survival of IndyCar groups meant the race needed to be staged even when the gates at Indianapolis Motor Speedway can be closed to followers for the primary time in its lengthy, storied historical past.

“Just about each sponsorship you’ve is tied to this occasion. It is the 800-pound gorilla,” mentioned Bobby Rahal, proprietor of three automobiles entered in Sunday’s race, which was rescheduled from its conventional Memorial Day weekend slot. “I believe the concept of not having the Indy 500 would have been disastrous to most likely each workforce. It will have been a dying knell to some groups, so, sure, this race needed to occur.”

Penske, the billionaire businessman who closed his buy of the nationwide landmark speedway and the sequence itself in January, will host the marquee race virtually out of pocket. The Indy 500 was canceled solely throughout World Battle I and World Battle II, and Penske’s workers has gone to excessive lengths to make the race nonetheless really feel like a world-class occasion even with out followers.

It is cachet improved when Marco Andretti won the pole, a feat not performed by his well-known household since Mario Andretti did it in 1987. Marco was simply 2 months outdated when his grandfather received his final Indy pole, and Marco’s father, uncle and cousin all did not duplicate the hassle.

Mario’s victory in 1969 is the one Indy 500 win amongst 5 Andretti drivers overlaying 74 begins. It was Marco, as a rookie in 2006, who final got here closest to ending the “Andretti Curse” when he was crushed on the end line.

That is his time, 14 years later, and Andretti is up for the problem.

“I really feel good, and I am not wired. My grandfather and I even talked about it. There’s one thing about our household that lives for any such good stress,” Andretti mentioned. “I really feel at residence. I really feel in my aspect. Feeling stress means you’re taking part in for one thing.”

His high competitors appears to be his Andretti Autosport teammates, because the Honda-powered automobiles trounced Chevrolet in qualifying. The Andretti camp begins 4 drivers within the first three rows, and Honda took all however one of many 9 slots.

The entrance of the pack features a pair of rookies: Alex Palou in a Honda for Dale Coyne Racing and 19-year-old Rinus VeeKay, the lone Chevrolet driver to crack the quick 9 and who’s mentored by fellow Dutchman and two-time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk.

The Chevrolet contingent is generally caught behind the 33-car discipline, which crammed up late. DragonSpeed Racing and driver Ben Hanley introduced an entry simply final week and missed nearly two full days of observe getting a automotive ready.

“It is the 800-pound gorilla. I believe the concept of not having the Indy 500 would have been disastrous to most likely each workforce. It will have been a dying knell to some groups, so, sure, this race needed to occur.”

IndyCar workforce proprietor Bobby Rahal

The again of the sector contains Penske’s whole four-car fleet, which incorporates the previous two winners, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power; defending IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden; and three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves.

For Castroneves, it simply is perhaps the winding down of his 20-year relationship with Penske. The sports activities automotive arm of Crew Penske is taking a pause in 2021, leaving Castroneves and not using a full-time job. He very a lot desires to return to IndyCar subsequent season.

“The conditions could also be with one other workforce. Who is aware of?” Castroneves mentioned.

Castroneves and Tony Kanaan, two wildly in style drivers, are each dealing with uncertainty after this 500. Kanaan knew he wouldn’t run a full IndyCar season, however his five-race farewell tour has been ruined by the pandemic and he desires to be again at Indy subsequent yr.

As the 2 work on their schedules, they’ve been among the many first drivers introduced to compete in Tony Stewart’s upcoming all-star sequence for veteran drivers.

Fernando Alonso is again for a 3rd try at closing out the Triple Crown of motorsports. The 2-time Method One champion didn’t make the Indy 500 final yr, and this may very well be his final likelihood for a bid so as to add Indianapolis to a résumé that features victories at Monaco and Le Mans.

Alonso is returning to F1 subsequent season and can miss the Indy 500 the subsequent two years. He mentioned if he wins Sunday that he may have achieved his purpose, however the Arrow McLaren SP workforce has been solely mediocre main into Friday’s ultimate observe. The McLaren workforce did present a flicker then, with teammate Pato O’Ward topping the ultimate velocity chart. Alonso, the one driver to crash throughout Indy 500 practices, was 23rd.

Considerably beneath the radar of the Andretti-led Honda problem of Chevrolet is five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, who will begin second alongside Andretti. The Iceman has been phenomenal on this abbreviated season with three wins and 4 podium finishes. He has a comfy lead within the IndyCar championship standings and is in search of so as to add a second Indy 500 win to his stacked résumé.

Dixon was genuinely happy for Andretti after Andretti knocked him from the pole, however the enjoyable is over come Sunday.

“I hope it is us profitable the Indy 500,” Dixon mentioned. “That is what we’re occupied with. It is actually all simply occupied with us attempting to win the race and be greatest ready.”

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