INDIANAPOLIS – Milk is on the ice, celebrities are at home and Indianapolis Motor Speedway is once again hitting both the running of the engines and the largest crowd at a sporting event since the pandemic began.
The Indianapolis 500 will enjoy a sold -out 135,000 spectators on Sunday – nine months after the race was without fans for the first time in its 105 -year history – and will drop the green flag on a full house and a party not seen since early 2020.
“We’re just excited to open up America,” said Roger Penske, who bought Indianapolis in January 2020, almost two months before the country broke out of the pandemic.
The speedway will have 240,000 permanent grandstand seats and infield space and suites available for nearly 400,000 on race day. But Penske won’t open the gates until October, when only 10,000 a day are allowed to enter the landmark facility over a three -day weekend for an indyCar race.
Americans are excited to return to a class of normalcy. They want to bring back their traditions and their sport, not just “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” which has withstood world wars, the Great Depression and now the pandemic.
By vaccinating, more than 90,000 made on the speedway, Penske obtained clearance with the last permit of 40% in attendance.
“The good news is, it’s starting to run here and I think with the opening in America we could be the premiere event,” he said. “It’s an honor for us to be in a position to implement something like that. We’ll continue to adapt it. I’ll do the same transaction as well. I just see the benefits on a longer -term basis. I’d like to. I will definitely run as much as I expected and not my exception. ”
It is also expected and not expected that six -time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon will start from the post on Sunday for the fourth time in the Indy 500. Dixon is considered the best driver of his generation and is followed by Mario Andretti by just one win for second on IndyCar’s consistent list of wins. He only had one win in the Indy 500, in 2008, and three runner-up finishes.
“It’s the busiest race in the world and the toughest race in the world. I feel more lucky and privileged to win it once but that can also bring you a deep sense of wanting to get it again, ”Dixon said. “Would I trade some championships for 500 wins? Maybe. I don’t know. I feel like there’s a lot of weight in the IndyCar championships but the Indy 500 is the Indy 500.”
Dixon and Chip Ganassi Racing’s four entries are the most consistent in Indianapolis reaching 500. The group includes Tony Canaan, who at age 46 is the oldest driver on the field, and Alex Palou, who damaged Saturday qualifying but recovered Sunday to qualify sixth next to Canaan.
This season saw the change of guard with five different winners through the first five races of the season, four of them 24 years or younger. Three were the first-time winners and Dixon was the only veteran to date to represent the win column.
He started in the front row with Colton Herta, a 21-year-old four-race leader last month who got a two-year contract extension from Andretti Autosport, and Rinus Veekay, in 20 youngest to lead the line in race history.
VeeKay picked up his first career win earlier this month on Indy’s road course and told a Borat -loving Dutchman that the win allowed him to show more of his playful personality. He pursued a professional car racing career for more than half of his life and shortened his surname from van Kalmthout to VK which helped ease his transition for sponsorship negotiations in the United States before finish the current form of VeeKay.
A butterfly has landed on his shoulder the past two weeks, some of his Ed Carpenter Racing members have spotted the red Cardinals for luck, and VeeKay now believes he was shot like any other kid. on the field to get an Indy 500 in trouble.
“We’re growing up in the computer age, the digital age,” VeeKay said. “That will help simulators that are very normal to us, help us feel comfortable with the simulator. That could translate into better outcomes.”
The impressive youth group included Pato O’Ward, the 22-year-old Mexican who gained prominence with Arrow McLaren SP and along with 500 team-mate two-time player Juan Pablo Montoya. McLaren brought Montoya back to the race for the first time since 2017 and isn’t too worried about the kids harvest.
“At the end of the day you look at how many young people have won 500 in the last few years?” According to Montoya. “Did they have a shot? Sure, there is no question. I think they were Pato and Herta and all the kids, they had a lot of talent and all. You have to reach it in 200 laps, you know? So let’s take a look. ”
No one knows what was in Team Penske’s cars after a dubious qualifying effort. Did Will Power win in 2018 and Simon Pagenuad won in 2019, but Power barely qualified for the race.
“Our cars are good every Sunday,” said the unconcerned Penske, who won the 18 Indy 500s record.
Marco Andretti, last year’s occupant, is back for the lone race on his IndyCar calendar and has hated his car all week. A change made after qualifying last Sunday settled him and now he thinks he could have a shot at winning from the 25th.
Andretti was one of six entries in Andretti Autosport but Herta was the star. Alexander Rossi, who won his 100th run back in 2016 as a 24-year-old rookie, closed out two years without a win in the IndyCar Series. He was second in the 500 in 2019, fourth in 2018 and was still trying to get the full joy of the surprise win.
“Every year that passes and you watch others win, it’s like a knife to your heart because you know how special Indy is because you’ve tasted it,” Rossi said. “It’s like having the most dessert in the world and then you don’t want it anymore.”
The race includes nine previous winners, including two-time and reigning race winner Takuma Sato by Rahal Letterman Lanigan. But many young new drivers are planning to compete on Sunday and Dixon is wary against relying on the most confidence on one of the world’s most daunting trails.
There is diversity, Dixon said, between champions and race winners and Josef Newgarden said it took him a lot of time to figure it out. Newgarden is now a two -time IndyCar champion but is still aiming for its first win in the Indy 500.
“There are guys who are fast and have elements throughout the pack, but they don’t have it all,” Newgarden said. “There’s a difference between someone who’s really good and good and fun and wins races and never wins a championship.
“If you look at the 500 and what it takes, versus what the championship takes, they’re different. There’s an argument where you want it. And that’s a different question.”