Pre-Practice Predictions

Before practice gets underway this weekend, I thought I would share my starting lineup from the 41 entries currently in the mix. The field is incredible, and the fight will be very tough this year for some of the lower funded one offs and even a few of the regulars. As I am writing this, it’s 75 and sunny with chirping birds and a slight, warm, breeze. The 10 day outlook is however, a different story. Keeping in mind that the weather here can change in an instant, the week of practice looks wet. Tuesday and Wednesday look like they will be sunny, but with rain heavy in the forecast track time will be at a premium. With that said, experience will pay huge this year during qualifying. The ageing Dallara, running in its 8th 500, has brought quite a level playing field recently, although a Penske tub is very different than a Bryan Herta tub, It is a familiar beast that most if not all teams have a moderately sound grasp on. In Indy, it is all about finding the speed, taking down force off, being smooth, and finding that elusive 10/10.

Here is my list, I put them in a possible qualifying order and I have no idea how it will turn out this is a tough field. I have 13 lock drivers, ones who I think will make it during either one of the qualifying days. There are 11 midfielders who possibly have a chance of the miss, but more than likely will make it. Nine drivers have a real chance of not making the field. This portion also contains the incredible just-made-its. The final eight, the go homers, is comprised of the almost mades, and the heartbreak stories that makes bump day the second most incredible day in motorsports.

Lock     Midfield     Just Made      Missed

Estimated Pole Speed: 229.150 on a cool cloudy day with minimal wind disturbance.

Row 1

Scott Dixon –Sometimes known as the ovalmeister, Dixie wins big on pole day and breathes much-needed life into his disappointed season so far.

Dario Franchitti – Quietly and uneventfully putting the car in the middle of row 1 is just another day at the office for Dario.

Danica Patrick – Yes, outside row 1. Andretti Autosport will come through, Danica will finally drive to her talent level and she will finally live up to what was expected out of her. After last year this would be unbelievable. No, I am not a Patrick supporter I will even admit to booing her on pole day last year. I say good luck to her in NASCAR, but I think she will shine this year.

Row 2

Will Power – Still haven’t figured out the whole oval thing yet.

Tony Kanaan – After his ultra difficult time here last year, TK will solidly make it into the field.

Helio Castroneves – No worries for Helio, he just needs to start near the front to have a shot at the win.

Row 3

Oriol Servia – The lone midfielder to break into the top 9. Oriol has showed very well with Newman/ Haas this year and he will continue his good run through qualifying.

Ryan Briscoe – Ryan’s troubles continue and he has a disappointing-for-Penske kind of day. Although just making it into the fast nine this year is a feat in itself.

Alex Tagliani – Tags and FAZZT showed they belonged last year. After a strong start to the season and with the help of the newly formed Sam Schmidt indycar conglomerate Tagliani shows two years in a row in the fast 9.

Row 4

Ryan Hunter- Reay – The new star of Andretti Autosport and one of two first time race winners since 2008, RHR will have a great month backing up his cut short performance of last year.

Marco Andretti – Helping the notion that AA is on the road to recovery and Marco has finally cooled down a bit, starting P11 helps mend things at the team.

Mike Conway – Locking out the fourth row for AA is Conway. He is another new guy who knows how to get around here and it will show.

Row 5

James Hinchcliffe – The first just made sticking it in P13. Another impressive showing from NHR and Hinch cements himself as the rookie to beat this year.

Takuma Sato – KVRT’s first car in show and one of two formula one drivers attempting to start this year. Taku has really showed his true colors this year. Much more calm and relaxed in the cockpit, he has the skill and the car to take him to the front. If he can keep it clean in the week leading up to qualifying he should be OK.

Justin Wilson – Amid rising skill in the series, Wilson does not have much time to perfect his oval game. DRR is not as overextended this year as in years past and that should bode well for him.

 Row 6

Raphael Matos – This could be the swan song for AFS Racing for 2011. A good result could possibly bring more sponsorship and more races for this small team.

Vitor Meira – Super Tex’s main man, Meira has a solid history at the speedway. With a career best finish of second place, he has the ability to contend only if the equipment is up to par.

Graham Rahal – Leading the charge for Ganassi Deux, Rahal will be a second day qualifier but have no problem making it into the field.

Row 7

Scott Speed – With his Formula One and NASCAR experience, Scott will make a good first showing in qualifying. His knowledge of high down force cars and the ability to drive a car off the right rear tire, will give him a good month.

John Andretti – Ever present in May, Andretti will ride the wave of positivity that is Andretti Autosport and make a strong run in qualifying.

Paul Tracy – Comfortably in this year Tracy has gotten the huge monkey off of his back and will be out to stir up trouble all month long. It hurts me to put him in at all but I think he will do well this year as he is more prepared than he has ever been before getting into a car post ChampCar.

Row 8

Buddy Rice – A perfect example of experience paying off. With limited practice due to weather and having driven a similar chassis, the Panoz, to victory in the past, Rice will prevail. It was actually the last victory by anything other than a Dallara at Indy.

Townsend Bell – This man has a spotty history, not much seat time but somehow manages to put in the field every year, a very remarkable feat.

Ana Beatriz – Brazils own sweetheart, Beatriz has a lot of heart and a year under her belt at Indy. Not an improvement in position from last year, but making the field nonetheless.

Row 9

Jay Howard – In the same boat as Tracy, Howard will exorcise the ghosts of a year past.

Ed Carpenter – The old USAC standby will have another successful month at the helm of the number one Sarah Fisher car.

JR Hildebrand – Another rookie and another graduate of Indy Lights, Hildebrand has the skill excel this year. Panther has proven it can provide capable cars and this year will most likely be no exception.

Row 10

Tomas Scheckter – Driving for a new team, Tomas is crazy enough to put just about anything in the field. He will take wing out until the car takes off and have no regrets about it.

Bruno Junqueria – A past pole winner, Junky is almost as big of a wild card as Scheckter but not any less entertaining to watch.

Charlie Kimball – The pure rookie at Ganassi Deux, Kimball will have the added cushion of a wealth of setup information and data from the other cars. Baring totally unexpected events, it would surprise me if Kimball misses the field this year.

Row 11

Alex Lloyd – Being no slouch around the big rectangle, Lloyd makes the field drawing on his experience from years past.

Davey Hamilton- He makes a yearly pilgrimage to Indianapolis and sticks it in the field, this year is no different.

Bertrand Baguette –Trying to improve on his stellar rookie season Bread man barely makes it into the field.

Missed

Ho-Pin Tung – no experience, no backup and a crash in practice will lock him out.

James Jakes – A relatively unknown and not a huge surprise.

Sebastian Saavedra – Fate corrects itself from last year.

Pippa Mann – I KNOW, it hurt to take her out. Her lack of experience, the conquest ride and the beasts in the rest of the field preclude her from competing in her rookie try.

Buddy Lazier – Assuming Ed Carpenter gets in ok, SFR will roll the second car out with possibly Buddy Lazier. We know the two good tubs are with Ed, it just doesn’t look good for SFR 2.

EJ Viso – Wrecks and over driving will seal Viso’s fate for the race.

Simona De Silvestro – This one hurt even more than Pippa. Although Keith Wiggins attempts to put quality individuals at the helm of HVM, the loss of Mike Cannon will seal Simona’s fate this year. Unfortunate too because it would be nice to see her soundly trounce Danica, completing the changing of the guard as the series favorite daughter.

Dan Wheldon – Sadly, I can see Wheldon and BHA having issues this year. A one off and a team that only sees the track once a year may cause making the field tough for him. But with the promise of being the testing team for the new chassis, Dan has a bright future for next year.

A list full of disappointment surprise and heartbreak. As I reread it more than a few times, I couldn’t help but think what an idiot I am with these silly picks. But in reality this is bench racing at its finest and anything is possible during the month of May. If Simona and Pippa both the field you read it here first, weirder things have happened. This should be a very interesting next couple of weeks. With the poor forecast and compressed practice schedule, the shootout for pole will be very close. The pain on bump day will be palpable up and down pit lane when the gun sounds at 6. See you in Indy!

Eric Hall

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