The bump has returned to the Indianapolis 500.
One of the most exciting things of the famous race fans might recall from years past is “bump day,” when race drivers try to qualify for the Indy 500. There are only 33 spots on the starting grid, and for years (until recently) more than 33 would try to get into the field. This year, for the first time since 2011, drivers near the bottom of the pack will need to bump their way into the field. Thirty-five cars are on the entry list for the 102nd running of the race this Memorial Day weekend.
Six previous Indy 500 winners will try to again add their face to the famous Borg Warner trophy. Helio Castroneves, no longer a full-time IndyCar Series driver, will try to join the elite club of four-time Indy 500 winners. Along with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears. Castroneves last won the race in 2009 after taking back-to-back 500s in 2001 and 2002. Scott Dixon won 10 years ago in 2008, Tony Kanaan in 2013, Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2014, Alexander Rossi in 2016 and Takuma Sato, the first Japanese driver to win the race is the defending champion.
Team Penske has had decades of success in the Indy 500 and just won its 200th race May 12 with the IndyCar Grand Prix on the Indy Motor Speedway road course. Sixteen of those victories have come in the Indy 500. However, it’s the Andretti name that has won three of the past four 500s – as a team. It’s quite the story considering the bad luck drivers with the Andretti name have had over the years.
Mario Andretti is the only winner of the 500 as a driver, nearly 50 years ago in 1969. His son Michael, now the Andretti Autosport team owner, came close many times but never won the race behind the wheel. Michael’s son Marco, 31, will make his 13th start in the race. Marco finished second in his first-ever Indy 500 back in 2006, just 0.0635 back of winner Sam Hornish Jr. in one of the closest finishes in the race’s history.
It’s been as close as Marco has gotten to tasting the traditional milk in victory lane.
Andretti Autosport will give itself the best odds to win again from an entry standpoint with five cars vying for a spot, the most of any team.
Kyle Kaiser, Matheus Leist and Robert Wickens will compete for Rookie of the Year honors. Pietro Fittipaldi, the grandson of two-time Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi, was supposed to compete as well, but he broke his left leg and right ankle in a sports-car racing crash earlier this month while qualifying for the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium.
Fittipaldi’s replacement in the Dale Coyne Racing car has not been announced yet. Zachary Claman De Melo, a 20-year-old rookie, took over the ride for the IndyCar Grand Prix. He finished 12th.
Many eyes will be on Danica Patrick as she returns for her eighth and final Indy 500, starting for the first time since 2011 after her stint in NASCAR. She’s announced she’ll retire as a racing driver after this race.
The entry list consists of 14 American drivers and 21 international drivers, including Stefan Wilson of England, the younger brother of the late Justin Wilson who died in 2015 from injuries sustained during the race at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania.
Practice started May 15 ahead of the qualifying weekend, with the race set for May 27.