Who will win the 101st Indianapolis 500?

With this week marking the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500, Craig Woollard looks at the field of drivers ahead of the race, and tries to pick out a winner for the race that stops America.

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Race week is upon us. The 101st Indianapolis 500 is just days away. 32 men and one woman will take the green flag on Sunday, and at the conclusion of 500 frantic miles, just one driver will be victorious. Seven previous winners are within the field of 33, as well as four rookies (which includes a certain Spanish two-time Formula 1 world champion). Every driver is in with a chance of victory, but some will have a better chance of victory than others. Which driver will be victorious in the 101st Indianapolis 500?

The favourite for the race must be polesitter and 2008 victor Scott Dixon. The Chip Ganassi drivers have played up their chances at this race for a while now, and their transition to the Honda package has gone perhaps better than expected. Tony Kanaan, who won the race in 2013, should also be strong from seventh. Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball, the two other Ganassi entries, will have a tougher job from the fifth and sixth rows respectively.

Andretti Autosport is entering the race with six entries, and with five of those entries starting within the top ten. Defending race winner Alexander Rossi has been very impressive all month, and will likely feature whatever the conditions. Takuma Sato likewise, although the Japanese driver, who came close to winning in 2012, remains erratic. 2014 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay will also be in with a chance of victory, despite missing out on the top nine shootout. Hunter-Reay was one of the fastest of all on Sunday, and has also looked very quick throughout the month. Marco Andretti should also be in the mix. Oh, and that Fernando Alonso guy will also be in with a real shout of winning the thing.

Ed Carpenter Racing has somewhat surprisingly been the strongest Chevrolet package throughout much of the month and both of the team’s entries have a good shot at winning the big race. Carpenter himself has looked in the best position to challenge since he took his two consecutive pole positions here a few years ago. JR Hildebrand, who came within yards of winning in 2011, is also having a strong month.

Team Penske may have no less than five entries, but it has been a strangely quiet month from them. 2015 runner-up Will Power was the fastest of the five drivers on Saturday, but will start the race from ninth. The rest of the drivers are starting in the middle of the field, and this will make the opening phase of the race for them all tricky, and that is only if they can navigate the first few laps without incident. Despite their lack of pace, and their inability to recover from a poor first day of qualifying, it would still seem unwise to count Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya out of contention before the race has even begun.

Alonso has stolen many of the headlines but another surprising rookie has been Ed Jones of Dale Coyne Racing. Coyne’s team has suffered massively with the loss of Sebastien Bourdais following his awful accident on Saturday, in terms of both driving talent and financial strain after losing several engines through the month. Bourdais was looking quick enough for pole position, and to be in contention, but Jones has quietly done a stellar job too. From row four, he is likely to feature in the race, and remember that Coyne is an absolutely masterful tactician. Bourdais’ replacement – James Davison and one-off entry Pippa Mann are starting down the order, and are not as likely to feature as Jones is.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is starting towards the middle of the field, but if they can start the race well, then their two drivers – Oriol Servia and Graham Rahal, may well feature. Veteran Servia has been particularly impressive.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports will be starting with their three drivers right in the middle of the pack. Mikhail Aleshin has always been quick on ovals, but has not yet got the result to show for it, and last year’s polesitter James Hinchcliffe has not quite looked as strong as he did last year. The only entry to top the timesheets on any day so far has been additional entry Jay Howard.

Another outside shot at victory could well be the very rapid Sage Karam. Karam has always been a force to be reckoned with on the ovals and the youngest driver on the grid very much has a point to prove. Karam is the only single car entry with a realistic shot of featuring at the front.

Entries further back through the field – including the three A.J. Foyt entries of Carlos Munoz, Zach Veach and Conor Daly are going to have to find something special to work their way towards the front. Andretti’s sixth entry, piloted by Jack Harvey who is making his Indy 500 debut, is also likely to struggle. New teams Harding Racing and Juncos Racing will be treating this event as a learning experience, while Buddy Lazier’s single-car entry with his father’s team is another one expected to struggle.

Picking a winner for this great race is always difficult. Will it be the dream debut for Alonso? Can Andretti finally break the family curse? Can Carpenter do it for Chevrolet? Can Penske recover from a poor month to take victory? Can Castroneves become a four-time winner?

All of those are possible, but perhaps not as likely as Dixon winning this race from pole position once again. It is difficult to look past the New Zealander at this stage.
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