Indy 500 will be ultimate test of IndyCar changes Indy 500 will be ultimate test of IndyCar changes
The 96th running of the Indianapolis 500 is likely to draw a large audience as one of the most significant events in motorsports; however,... Indy 500 will be ultimate test of IndyCar changes

The 96th running of the Indianapolis 500 is likely to draw a large audience as one of the most significant events in motorsports; however, this year’s 500 on Sunday, May 27 will mark the first time the IZOD IndyCar Series will run its new chassis on a high-speed oval, just one of the series’ several changes.

In addition to the new Dallara DW12 chassis, turbocharged engines have also made their return to the series for the first time since 1996, according to Sports Illustrated. The new Indy cars also include new safety features like additional crash absorbent bodywork and protected rear wheels which help to keep a car from going airborne in the event of interlocking wheels — as was the case in the 15-car crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last October which claimed the life of 2011 Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon.

This year is also the first time since 2005 that the Indy 500 will feature multiple engine manufacturers, according to Sports Illustrated. Team Penske and Chevrolet have dominated the first four races of the season, with Helio Castroneves taking home one win and one pole and teammate Will Power has earned three victories and two poles.

Penske driver Ryan Briscoe already earned a pole back in April and added another to his resume during Pole Day on Saturday, May 19, in which he earned the title of pole sitter for next week’s Indy 500, where he will compete to become the 11th Penske driver to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Of the three Team Penske drivers starting in the first two rows, Briscoe is undoubtedly in the best position and has the most to prove — the driver has yet to win a race the past two years.

Briscoe’s Penske teammates, on the other hand, have impressive resumes — Power has won 14 of the last 38 races and Castroneves is working on his fourth Indy 500 victory, a feat that has earned him the position of being the best driver at the infamous 2.5-mile oval, according to Sports Illustrated. The teammates are currently first and second in the point standings.

According to Briscoe’s teammate, the driver has a good chance of putting his losing streak to an end when he starts from the pole in Sunday’s race. “The best way to win the Indy 500 is to start from the pole,” said Castroneves, four-time Indy 500 pole-sitter. “It’s meant to be won that way.”

Starting alongside Briscoe on the front row are Andretti Autosports’ drivers James Hinchcliffe, who replaced Danica Patrick, and Ryan Hunter-Reay, who failed to qualify for last year’s 500. Marco Andretti will start fourth followed by Power in fifth and Castroneves sixth.

Prior to Saturday’s qualifying session it was looking as if this year’s 500 would become the first since 1947 to run without a 33-car starting grid, according to USA Today. The second round of qualifying, which took place on Sunday is often referred to as “Bump Day,” because a field beyond 33 cars requires those drivers with the slowest times to be bumped from the lineup. This time around there was no bumping necessary due to the fact that only 33 cars qualified — Ed Carpenter took the final spot resulting in a full field, something that seemed unlikely.

According to USA Today, the expense of the new chassis and engine combination and a shortage of chassis and parts led several teams to drop out of this year’s event even prior to qualifying. The 2011 Indy 500 had 41 drivers who attempted to qualify. Sunday’s lineup includes only two Lotus-powered cars (Simona de Silvestro and Jean Alesi).

Despite a decrease in the number of those attempting to qualify for one of the most popular events in motorsports, the lineup is full of competitors looking for their first win or vying for a shot to add another title to their belt, but all of them are eager to earn a victory in the prestigious race.

According to Sports Illustrated, Hinchcliffe was in the top five in practice speeds throughout the first week of practice and is currently third in points. Dario Franchitti will look to earn his third Indy 500 win and become one step closer to his fourth consecutive series championship.

While Indianapolis Motor Speedway does not release attendance figures, the 2011 Indy 500 received a 4.3 overnight Nielsen rating, up eight percent over 2010, while NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Coca-Cola 600, which ran on the same night, received a 4.0 rating, according to a blog on timesunion.com.

Online ticket marketplace StuhHub has tickets available for this year’s Indy 500 ranging from $38 for general admission to $806 for a suite.