SAN DIEGO – May 26, 2012 – Even the most casual fans of auto racing know the big names: Andretti, Foyt, Penske, Unser; less so the more recent names like Castroneves, Franchitti, and Ganassi. Those fans know if they watch one race all year, it’s on Memorial Day Sunday.
Will one of these familiar names be in the headlines by the end of the 96th Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 27? Or will a more humble name like Dixon, Power or Briscoe be featured?
Record temperatures threaten to make it the hottest Indianapolis 500 in its history on Sunday. The weather forecast calls for the thermometer to hit 93 degrees by the start time of 12:15 p.m. Eastern. This converts to a track temperature of as high as 145 degrees.
The competition is expected to be equally hot for the 33 drivers vying for the win. Australian Ryan Briscoe won the pole position, the first Australian to do so. Joining him are Americans James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Sitting right behind Briscoe in the second row is Brazilian Helio Castroneves, a popular three-time Indy winner who’s just as well known by many fans for winning “Dancing With The Stars.”
Another Australian, Will Power, is sitting right next to Castroneves in row 2. He is currently in first place in the Indy Car overall standings. Filling out row two is Marco Andretti, grandson of Mario and son of Michael. Two-time winner Dario Franchitti and 2008 champion Scott Dixon figure to be in the mix. See the rest of the starting grid here.
Missing this year is Danica Patrick, who has moved on to NASCAR and is competing in Charlotte this weekend. But there are three other women drivers in the race this year: Ana Beatriz, Katherine Legge, and Simona De Silvestro, and any of them would make history if they won.
ABC will televise the Indianapolis 500 for the 48th consecutive year. The schedule starts with a one-hour pre-race show airing at 11 a.m. Eastern Time. The race telecast begins at 12 noon Eastern and the drivers should get underway at approximately 12:15 p.m.
TSN in Canada will broadcast the race, while 181 countries will show the ESPN International feed. ESPN’s production will use more than 80 cameras, including four on 12 different cars.
If you’re driving to a barbecue or going to the beach and want to follow along, IMS Radio Network affiliates, XM channel 94, Sirius channel 212 and the Armed Forces Radio Network also will carry the race.
A ceremony will be held during the prerace festivities to honor Dan Wheldon, the 2011 Indy 500 winner who died from injuries suffered in a racing accident in October in Las Vegas.
Martina Mc Bride will sing the National Anthem; Florence Henderson will sing “God Bless America,” and Sergeant Ron Walker will sing “America the Beautiful.” Celebrity chef and television host Guy Fieri is the Pace Car driver, and Howie Mandel is the honorary announcer. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels will be the honorary starter.
Missing this year is Indiana native Jim Nabors, Nabors has sung “Back Home Again in Indiana” 33 times since 1972, but he will miss the race because of heart-valve surgery. A recording of Nabors will be played in his absence.
Engine manufacturing competition is back with Honda, Chevrolet, and Lotus engines all racing for bragging rights and it is the first time turbocharged engines have competed since 1996. These new variables along with the heat make it an unpredictable and exciting race this year. In final practice, top speeds hit over 222 miles per hour.
Who is likely to win? An American hasn’t won since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006, and only two Americans have won in the last 13 years. The favorite of many experts would thrill fans around the world: Marco Andretti, a 25-year-old third generation driver from one of racing’s royal families. Andretti has a good pole position, has been driving well and is feeling confident.
Still, the Andretti family only has one Indianapolis 500 win in 43 years – Mario Andretti’s win in 1969. He was a runner-up two other times. It’s a tribute to the Andrettis that Mario’s name is still famous to even the casual racing fan. (I named my Boxer dog Mario after Andretti, true story). Michael Andretti finished in the top five on five occasions.
Marco Andretti just got beaten himself and had to settle for second in 2006 when Sam Hornish Jr. passed him right at the finish line. Marco has also finished third twice, in 2008 and 2011.
Without the celebrity draw of Danica Patrick, an Andretti win would bring big attention back to this race and Indy racing in general.
Helio Castroneves is a serious threat. He’s always a serious threat and he’d love to win number four. His fellow Brazilian Tony Kanaan starts eighth, and he has never won Indianapolis although he has been in the top five five times and was the runner-up in 2004.
Another family dynasty is in the mix. Graham Rahal, 23, son of Bobby Rahal, is driving a Honda for Ganassi Racing. Bobby won in 1986, was second in 1990, and finished third three additional races.
Perhaps the most motivated driver is J.R. Hildebrand. If you remember last year’s race, rookie driver Hildebrand seemed to have the win in the bag, but inexplicably hit the wall into the final turn and driver Dan Wheldon drove straight past Hildebrand’s banged up car to win.
The 24-year-old Californian is a long shot, but he was even a longer shot to win in his rookie start last year.
But it’s the Indy 500, and a lot can happen in 500 miles on a hot day. Whether we get a big surprise, a heartwarming story, or a win by a previous champion, fans will enjoy plenty of thrills, daring driving and exciting racing.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities, along with other news in the sports world. Read more Ringside Seat in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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