Eight themes to watch for in the 2022 Indy 500

by Jack Benyon
7 min read

It’s Indianapolis 500 time again and The Race has picked out some themes you might want to watch during the race – which you can follow every moment of (as well as the Monaco Grand Prix and Indianapolis 500) on The Race Live Hub.

Fans are back!

Indy 500 fan gathering

It’ll be worth tuning in a touch earlier this year for the atmosphere.

There are a number of factors at play here. The race is expected to be the highest-attended – over 300,000 people – since the 100th running of the event in 2016. That’s double the number allowed last year and much better than the zero number of fans allowed in 2020, with COVID the limiting factor on both occasions.

This will also be the first packed-out Indy 500 since Roger Penske has ploughed around $30million into updating IMS into an even better world-class facility, and you know he’ll be pulling out the stops to make this race bigger and better than those before.

The Race was lucky enough to see and hear some of the run-throughs and practices for the show on Sunday, including the fighter jet flyovers, national anthem, dedication to the troops and the famous ‘Back home again in Indiana’ anthem sung before the race.

It promises to be a spectacle befitting the biggest single-day sporting event in the world by attendance, and it should be restored to that glory in 2022.

Dixon’s battle for two

Scott Dixon Ganassi IndyCar Indy 500

Scott Dixon has five poles at the Indy 500 – one off Rick Mears’ record – but only has one win, his 2008 victory.

We’ve outlined some of the reasons for Dixon’s woe, and you can also hear the record-speed pole winner discuss his relationship with Indy – “it owes me nothing” – on the latest episode of The Race IndyCar Podcast.

Dixon has arguably one of his best chances to win with four Ganassi cars in the top six as rear gunners. The team has been the one to beat throughout May, though it might also possess Dixon’s greatest threat given any of its drivers are good enough to win here, with Jimmie Johnson in the fifth car starting from 12th.

While we’re unbiased, it would just be fair for Dixon to get another win. His solo 2008 triumph is not enough for a driver as good as he is here.

Putting the brakes on it

Indy 500 IndyCar

There were a lot of incidents entering pit road last year with lock-ups and spins. The teams think this is down to brake pad devices.

A spring-loaded device pulls the pads away from the discs in order to stop them rubbing together and creating friction under the heavy g-forces experienced during the 500. These devices were contributing to last year’s incidents.

IndyCar is set to police this more carefully in pre-race tech inspections.

Newgarden’s nemesis

Josef Newgarden Penske Indy 500 IndyCar

There are only four tracks on this year’s schedule Josef Newgarden hasn’t won at. Nashville debuted in 2021, Laguna Seca and Portland are both relatively recent returnees.

The remaining odd one out is the Indianapolis oval.

Newgarden’s won at every other oval the series has thrown at him since he joined Penske in 2017 (Phoenix, Gateway, Iowa and Texas) but the 500 still eludes him.

It’s cost him dearly in the championship in the last two years when Penske has been relatively poor at the Speedway, but in 2022 Newgarden genuinely feels any of his Penske team can win the race, and he’s the second best of its starters in 14th.

He was lucky to avoid the same fate as his team-mate Scott McLaughlin who pulled his time in qualifying to try to improve – only for inclement weather to lead to him going from 15th to 26th in the order. Newgarden was just about to start his attempt when it was called off due to lightning.

Penske has fared better in races than in qualifying for the last two years, but it still has plenty to overcome in the race.

Still, it scored a 1-2 in the last oval race at Texas with Newgarden the victor. Maybe that will be a good omen.

People saving fuel early

Indy 500 practice

Last year Graham Rahal pulled off a wicked strategy and looked like he’d saved a pitstop on most of the rest of the field before he crashed when a wheel wasn’t secured in the pits just after halfway.

This year he says other drivers have already approached him before the race about doing some fuel saving together right from the beginning.

Especially if it’s hot, it’s going to be very difficult to overtake. So expect a few cars sat well back in the pack to cruise around saving fuel, hoping for cautions to bunch the field up later in the race for them to take advantage.

A stellar rookie class

Romain Grosjean Andretti Indy 500 IndyCar

There’s no doubt in any of the Ganassi team or its competitors’ minds that, if Johnson is given a car he’s comfortable in, that he will be more than capable of fighting for victory on Sunday.

He has all the experience and know-how, plus he’s much more at home on ovals than he has been on the road courses. Look out.

Romain Grosjean is actually the top starting rookie in ninth and Formula 1 fans will be glad to know that Andretti’s race cars are supposed to be better than in qualifying trim. But the team has fallen apart on Indy 500 race day after strong qualifying performances in the last two years in a row. That’ll be worth watching, also for Grosjean’s team-mate and fellow rookie Devlin DeFrancesco (24th).

Just behind Johnson, David Malukas has impressed all month, but last year’s Indy Lights runner-up crashed after an incident with Santino Ferrucci in Carb Day practice, giving his Dale Coyne with HMD team a lot of work to do on a car that had been developed and loved all month.

Given it’s a one-car team, Juncos Hollinger has been as impressive as the last time it was here when it knocked Fernando Alonso out of the Indy 500, although a top-10/15 might be a more reasonable goal for it. Callum Ilott has really impressed here and starts his first 500 from 19th.

Road to Indy hero Kyle Kirkwood has experience but his Foyt team is a bit of an unknown given its low resources compared to the majority of the rest of the field. Kirkwood insists his race car is good, and he starts 28th.

Christian Lundgaard is the furthest rookie back in 31st, but Rahal Letterman Lanigan has had good race cars here in the past and this month too when it hasn’t been very windy. So if Sunday’s calm, don’t rule out a top-20 for the first Dane to ever contest the event.

The 30% rule

Indy 500 crash

We can’t take credit for this, but one team boss told The Race this week that, if you just have good pitstops, don’t make any huge errors and are on a relatively normal strategy, you can beat 30% of the field at Indy. So before you’ve even made an overtake, if you get those things right you can finish in the top 24 if you start at the back, as a simple example.

That’s a lot of positions for just having a normal race!

Every year at the 500 some cars will crash, some will make pit errors, some will make mistakes that send them to the back of the drafting pack and some will try an outrageous strategy that won’t work.

So basically, if you’re extremely risk-averse and execute the fundamentals well, you can have a phenomenal day at the 500 without even overtaking a car on the circuit!

You’ll see a couple of cars at the back end of the top 10 come the end of the race observing this strategy.

Indy loves a Hollywood storyline

Rinus VeeKay Indy 500

Rahal said it best, this event is often like a fairytale. Well, for whoever wins, anyway! Here are some of the scripts the Indy 500 gods might decide to consider in selecting a winner on Sunday…

– 30 years since Al Unser Jr won and formed the first father/son duo to win the race with his father, Al Sr (Rahal could repeat this feat, 36 years after his dad Bobby Rahal won in 1986).

– Helio Castroneves is racing for a record fifth win. No one has won from 27th since Fred Frame in 1932. It’s 30 years since the last time a driver (Rick Mears) was going for a fifth win.

– Dixon needs 75 laps to become the driver with the most laps led in Indy 500 history.

– It’s 50 years since Team Penske won its first Indy 500, with Mark Donohue in 1972, and 40 years since Chip Ganassi’s first Indy 500 in 1982 (as a driver).

– Pato O’Ward (Mexico), Alex Palou (Spain) and Lundgaard (Denmark) could be the first drivers to win the 500 from those countries.

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