2017 Indy 500: Driver-by-driver preview

Motorsport.com's U.S. editor David Malsher and Autosport's editor-in-chief Edd Straw rate the prospects of the 33 starters in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

2017 Indy 500: Driver-by-driver preview
Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Ed Carpenter, Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, Alexander Rossi, Herta - Andretti Autosport Honda Verizon P1 Pole Award front row
Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Ed Carpenter, Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet
Alexander Rossi, Herta - Andretti Autosport Honda
Takuma Sato, Andretti Autosport Honda
Fernando Alonso, Andretti Autosport Honda
Fernando Alonso, Andretti Autosport Honda, with former McLaren Indy 500 winner Johnny Rutherford
J.R. Hildebrand, Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet
Tony Kanaan, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Tony Kanaan, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Marco Andretti, Andretti Autosport Honda, Mario Andretti
Marco Andretti, Andretti Autosport Honda
Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet, celebrates winning the Pit Stop Competition
Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet
Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport Honda
Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport Honda
Ed Jones, Dale Coyne Racing Honda
Ed Jones, Dale Coyne Racing Honda
Oriol Servia, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda
Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
Max Chilton, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Charlie Kimball, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, Tony Kanaan, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, during the pit stop competition
Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske Chevrolet
Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske Chevrolet
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske Chevrolet
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske Chevrolet
Jay Howard, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda
Sage Karam, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet
Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske Chevrolet
Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske Chevrolet
Carlos Munoz, A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet
Gabby Chaves, Harding Racing Chevrolet
Conor Daly, A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet
Jack Harvey, Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport Honda
Jack Harvey, Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport Honda, with Mike Shank and his father
Pippa Mann, Dale Coyne Racing Honda
Pippa Mann, Dale Coyne Racing Honda
Spencer Pigot, Juncos Racing Chevrolet
Buddy Lazier
Buddy Lazier, Lazier Racing Partners Chevrolet
Sebastian Saavedra, Juncos Racing Chevrolet
Zach Veach, A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet
James Davison, Dale Coyne Racing Honda
Detail of the legendary Borg Warner Trophy

1st Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda)
Indy 500 starts: 14 / Debut: 2003 / Wins: 1 (2008) / Laps led: 434
Malsher: When Dixon has a car advantage, he’s near-unstoppable, as he proved here in 2008, but despite his pole he’s unlikely to be able to shake off the best Andretti cars, nor teammate Kanaan nor the top Chevys. The DW12 in its various aero guises keeps the cars running as a pack.
Straw: Fast, accomplished, on pole and a résumé that suggests he should have more Indy 500 wins; that adds up to pre-race favorite status provided nothing goes wrong.

2nd Ed Carpenter (Ed Carpenter Racing-Chevrolet)
Indy 500 starts: 13 / Debut: 2004 / Best finish: 5th (2008) / Laps led: 69
Malsher: A year ago we were wondering if Carpenter was losing his touch on ovals, but qualifying second proves the two-time IMS polesitter is as strong an Indy 500 driver as he ever was, and that Ed Carpenter Racing is on form here as usual.
Straw: A more relaxed approach than he had in his two pole position years should help Carpenter in the race, but things have a habit of not quite working out for him at Indy despite his pace.

3rd Alexander Rossi (Andretti-Herta Autosport)
Indy 500 starts: 1 / Debut: 2016 / Wins: 1 (2016) / Laps led: 14
Malsher: Rossi took some ludicrously inaccurate criticism for the manner of his Indy win last year, and will be eager to lead from the front in the 101st Indy 500 rather than having to carve through the field. One of the favorites for victory.
Straw: Fast enough to win on pace, and he proved last year he has the capacity to pull off a remarkable feat of fuel saving – so should be a challenger in all circumstances.

4th Takuma Sato (Andretti Autosport-Honda)
Indy 500 starts: 7 / Debut: 2010 / Best finish: 13th (2013, 2015) / Laps led: 31
Malsher: Sato’s hard lesson in 2012 could be applied this Sunday as he duels for the lead, and he will never back down in the closing stages, but getting that far may be his biggest challenge.
Straw: Fast but perhaps a little too spectacular in qualifying, the mercurial Sato should have a big say in the race given his speed and previous near-misses.

5th Fernando Alonso (McLaren Honda Andretti Autosport)
Indy 500 starts: 0
Malsher: Alonso has shown his sheer quality, guts and work ethic throughout this month, and there’s no reason why he can’t continue to excel. Of all the current F1 drivers trying a new class of racing, he’s surely the least likely to make a mistake.
Straw: Has taken to driving on ovals like a duck to water and is a credible victory threat, but for all his abilities and preparation he’s still a rookie and will be relying on his sharp racing instinct to see him through the ferocious closing stages if he is to win.

6th JR Hildebrand (Ed Carpenter Racing-Chevrolet)
Indy 500 starts: 6 / Debut: 2011 / Best finish: 2nd (2011) / Laps led: 11
Malsher: Keeping his races relatively incident-free has been a challenge for JR Hildebrand but if Chevrolet ends up having an advantage this weekend, he could drive an ECR car at 99 percent and still win. That’s how fast he and this team can be.
Straw: Only winning the race will get the 2011 last-corner monkey off his back and he’s certainly a quick driver in a quick car, but despite the strong starting position remains outside the half-dozen favorites.

7th Tony Kanaan (Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda)
Indy 500 starts: 15 / Debut: 2002 / Wins: 1 (2013) / Laps led: 305
Malsher: In what may be his final full season in IndyCar, Kanaan needs to take full advantage of a Ganassi-Honda package that could have an advantage over all but six or seven cars. The king of restarts, he should be a strong contender for win #2.
Straw: An Indy winner in 2013 but in recent years has lacked the spark of teammate Dixon. But he’s a sharp operator around Indy, and is perhaps more likely to win here than anywhere else on the ‘17 calendar.

8th Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport-Honda)
Indy 500 starts: 11 / Debut: 2006 / Best finish: 2nd (2006) / Laps led: 141
Malsher: Andretti’s had the family curse at the Speedway hanging over him for too long, and the years when he’s been best Andretti Autosport driver have been the years the team hasn’t been up to par. This year, the stars may just have aligned.
Straw: Desperate to win Indy and has shown a slightly more reserved approach to chasing raw pace during practice and qualifying. He’s a strong performer at Indy, and that patient mindset could help him finally get that win.

9th Will Power (Team Penske-Chevrolet)
Indy 500 starts: 9 / Debut: 2008 / Best finish: 2nd (2015) / Laps led: 74
Malsher: Power has never looked so relaxed at the Speedway, he’s looked comfortable in all conditions on track, and his pitcrew have never been slicker. He may be Chevrolet’s best bet for victory and he really wants that Month of May sweep.
Straw: Penske will be stronger in race trim than it was in qualifying, and Power is most likely to be the team’s, and probably also Chevrolet’s, spearhead.

10th Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport-Honda)
Indy 500 starts: 9 / Debut: 2008 / Wins: 1 (2014) / Laps led: 134
Malsher: The 2014 Indy 500 winner is with the best team, has the best engine, has a great temperament for the race, but is prepared to take risks when necessary. Along with Dixon and Rossi, he has to be a favorite.
Straw: Should have qualified higher and will likely establish himself among the leaders early on in the race. He has the car and the racecraft to be among the favorites from that position. 

11th Ed Jones (Dale Coyne Racing-Honda)
Indy 500 starts: 0
Malsher: Jones has assumed the mantle of team leader at Dale Coyne Racing since Sebastien Bourdais’ accident, and has a seriously quick car under him. His natural composure could see him score a strong result and beat Alonso to the Rookie of the Year award.
Straw: Fast all month and in a car perhaps capable of winning outright given only a slightly fair wind, much will depend on how he responds to the pressure if he is in the mix as his pace suggests he could be.

12th Oriol Servia (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing-Honda)
Indy 500 starts: 8 / Debut: 2008 / Best finish: 4th (2012) / Laps led: 18
Malsher: The other Spaniard in the Indy 500 field, Servia has the car and race smarts to match his previous IMS best – fourth in 2012. Better than that will require quite a few DNFs.
Straw: A wily campaigner who is eminently capable of picking up a decent finish on his return after a year out and has shown good pace in practice. But he’s more a bottom-half of the top 10 fodder on a good day than a victory contender.

13th Mikhail Aleshin (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports-Honda)
Indy 500 starts: 2 / Debut: 2014 / Best finish: 21st (2014) / Laps led: 1
Malsher: Aleshin is extraordinarily brave on superspeedways, but he doesn’t appear to have the car to succeed this weekend.
Straw: Given the pace of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports so far, looks most likely to spend Sunday dicing in the midfield rather than bothering the top of the scoring pylon.

14th Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing-Honda)
Indy 500 starts: 9 / Debut: 2008 / Best finish: 3rd (2011) / Laps led: 6
Malsher: Rahal is usually strong here, but like temporary teammate Servia, he may struggle to match the performance levels of the Andretti and Ganassi cars.
Straw: Very capable at Indy, but the car hasn’t shown eye-catching pace this month so looks like he will be peripheral to the fight at the front.  

15th Max Chilton (Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda)
Indy 500 starts: 1 / Debut: 2016 / Best finish: 15th (2016) / Laps led: 0
Malsher: Chilton admits he sometimes struggles to feel the limit on ovals, but he knows his limitations and works within them so that a top 10 finish would be a satisfying result.
Straw: Has the machinery and is in his second 500, but has yet to prove he can perform at the same level as his Ganassi teammates at Indy.

16th Charlie Kimball (Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda)
Indy 500 starts: 6 / Debut: 2011 / Best finish: 3rd (2015) / Laps led: 13
Malsher: Kimball is fast around the Speedway, always a hard man in defense and a tough have-a-go attacker. With a Ganassi car, he could feasibly win this.
Straw: With Ganassi machinery and a good record at Indy, expect to see Kimball flirting with the leaders at some point in the race and potentially emerging as a dark horse to win.

17th James Hinchcliffe (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports-Honda)
Indy 500 starts: 5 / Debut: 2011 / Best finish: 6th (2012) / Laps led: 53
Malsher: Hinchcliffe has shown little sign of the pace that made him a contender here last year. For the sake of the championship, he may be content with a top-five finish.
Straw: Unless the Schimdt Peterson package dramatically improves on race day, expect this to be a race of consistency rather than charging hard for Hinchcliffe.

18th Juan Pablo Montoya (Team Penske-Chevrolet)
Indy 500 starts: 4 / Debut: 2000 / Wins: 2 (2000, 2015) / Laps led: 192
Malsher: Last year he proved he was fallible at the Speedway by backing hard into a wall, but Montoya’s capacity to surprise and outduel his rivals remains huge, and we can expect a charge.
Straw: The Indy 500 is as good as the whole 2017 season for Montoya, and provided the Penske Chevrolet package is up to fighting at the front he will make his way forward on Sunday.

19th Helio Castroneves (Team Penske-Chevrolet)
Indy 500 starts: 16 / Debut: 2001 / Wins: 3 (2001, 2002, 2009) / Laps led: 296
Malsher: He’s as fast as he ever was, as brave as he ever was, and if his car is set to handle well in traffic, he then knows precisely how to adjust it should he get near the front. This is his 17th 500, and that experience is a major weapon.
Straw: His combination of Indy pedigree and ability to be mercurial means he could well contend for his fourth 500 victory, but he is probably just as likely to float on the periphery of the lead fight but never quite in it.

20th Jay Howard (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports-Honda)
Indy 500 starts: 1 / Debut: 2011 / Best finish: 30th (2011) / Laps led: 0
Malsher: Qualifying 20th, ahead of two Penske cars, is likely to be as good as it gets for Howard, but he’s done way better than most expected.
Straw: Howard has done a very respectable job on his first IndyCar outing since 2011 and looks capable of showing solidly in the midfield.

21st Sage Karam (Dreyer & Reinbold Racing-Chevrolet)
Indy 500 starts: 3 / Debut: 2014 / Best finish: 9th (2014) / Laps led: 2
Malsher: Karam is as brave as they come and that can be both a blessing and a curse, but he swears he’s much calmer this year, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in the Top 10.
Straw: Quick, unpredictable, and given the machinery, will spend the race buried in the midfield rather than troubling the leaders.

22nd Josef Newgarden (Team Penske-Chevrolet)
Indy 500 starts: 5 / Debut: 2012 / Best finish: 3rd (2016) / Laps led: 14
Malsher: Newgarden’s shunt may have knocked his confidence in practice but he’s been fast at the Speedway throughout his career, and he can swiftly work his way to the front, especially with Tim Cindric as his strategist.
Straw: A strong performer at Indy in his first 500 for Penske, Newgarden should be strong even after his practice crash. He will win Indy one day, and will be a factor this year, but needs a good opening stint.

23rd Simon Pagenaud (Team Penske-Chevrolet)
Indy 500 starts: 5 / Debut: 2012 / Best finish: 8th (2013) / Laps led: 35
Malsher: There’s a reason that Pagenaud is the series champion, and that’s because he’s got great all-around game. He’s usually composed in adverse situations, so he will be patient and smart as he heads toward the front of the pack.
Straw: Checked off his first oval win at Phoenix earlier this year, and has the racecraft to be a factor but has yet to deliver a big result at Indy.

24th Carlos Munoz (AJ Foyt Racing-Chevrolet)
Indy 500 starts: 4 / Debut: 2013 / Best finish: 2nd (2013, 2016) / Laps led: 25
Malsher: Munoz is one of the best young drivers we’ve seen at IMS in recent years, but on this occasion he doesn’t have the car to be a victory contender, so a Top 15 is likely the best he can hope for.
Straw: The driver is a potential winner but the Foyt machinery isn’t, even though Munoz will seize any opportunity the race presents him with.

25th Gabby Chaves (Harding Racing-Chevrolet)
Indy 500 starts: 2 / Debut: 2015 / Best finish: 16th (2015) / Laps led: 0
Malsher: A solid Top 15 finish would be a great result for Harding Racing on the team’s IndyCar debut, and Chaves was a great choice as man who can deliver it.
Straw: Even with Dreyer & Reinbold support, this is a new team very much making up the numbers so expect nothing more than a solid run to the end from the able Chaves.

26th Conor Daly (AJ Foyt Racing-Chevrolet)
Indy 500 starts: 3 / Debut: 2013 / Best finish: 22nd (2013) / Laps led: 0
Malsher: Daly’s fantastic to watch around the Speedway but he may need all his car control and bravery to make a decent go of this one, as AJ Foyt Racing still seeks to get the best from the Chevrolet aerokit.
Straw: Not a victory threat in normal circumstances, like all the Foyt drivers, so just needs to keep it clean and could well be on for a similar run to the one he had to 22nd with the team four years ago.

27th Jack Harvey (Andretti Autosport-Honda)
Indy 500 starts: 0
Malsher: Something of a forgotten man due to the 'Alonsofication' of Andretti Autosport, but Harvey – and Michael Shank Racing who are running this team – deserve a lot of credit on their IndyCar debuts. Harvey will be itching to join his AA colleagues near the front.
Straw: A difficult month has shrouded the pace here, but the realistic objective is a solid, but unspectacular, finish for the rookie.

28th Pippa Mann (Dale Coyne Racing-Honda)
Indy 500 starts: 5 / Debut: 2011 / Best finish: 18th (2016) /Laps led: 0
Malsher: Last year was Mann’s best finish in the 500, an 18th place, and exceeding that is a large but quite realistic challenge, given the speed of Dale Coyne’s cars this year.
Straw: A solid finish is the objective here for a driver who is becoming an experienced Indy 500 campaigner.

29th Spencer Pigot (Juncos Racing-Chevrolet)
Indy 500 starts: 1 / Debut: 2016 / Best finish: 25th (2016) / Laps led: 0
Malsher: Pigot’s had a tough second try at the Indy 500 so far, his shunt in practice being the nadir. But on Juncos Racing’s debut in the series, he doesn’t need to perform heroics nor try to match his regular teammates at ECR; just bring the car home in one piece.
Straw: Pigot is no slouch but he’s driving for a new team in Juncos that has yet to show it can extract strong pace from the car. Expect an anonymous race with the finish the main objective.

30th Buddy Lazier (Lazier Partners Racing-Chevrolet)
Indy 500 starts: 19 / Debut: 1991 / Wins: 1 (1996) / Laps led: 70
Malsher: Not sure why Lazier puts himself through this instead of running a young gun, but it’s his team to do with as he pleases and the fire still burns, so…
Straw: The 1996 winner is pleased just to be in the field, and will be even more pleased if he’s still around at the finish in any position for the first time since 2008. 

31st Sebastian Saavedra (Juncos Racing-Chevrolet)
Indy 500 starts: 5 / Debut: 2010 / Best finish: 15th (2014) / Laps led: 0
Malsher: He’s had quicker cars at the Speedway, but on his best days, Saavedra can take advantage of any opportunity handed to him so don’t be surprised to see him pull off some passes.
Straw: Neither driver nor rookie team have shown anything so far this month, perhaps unsurprisingly, so there’s no reason to expect much from Saavedra in the race.

32nd Zach Veach (AJ Foyt Racing-Chevrolet)
Indy 500 starts: 0
Malsher: The most Veach should be looking to do is complete the race and gain experience. He’s got it tough because even the experienced Foyt drivers are struggling this month.
Straw: As a rookie in unremarkable machinery, Veach should be satisfied with a clean run and no mistakes after crashing on Fast Friday.

33rd James Davison (Dale Coyne Racing-Honda)
Indy 500 starts: 2 / Debut: 2014 / Best finish: 16th (2014) / Laps led: 0
Malsher: An invidious position for Davison, as Coyne has had to give him its backup mutt to replace Bourdais’ broken oval greyhound. But he’ll attack his task with enthusiasm; he is, after all, an Indy 500 driver once more.
Straw: Starting the Month of May so late and driving a road course backup car means keeping out of trouble and simply finishing would constitute a good performance.

Predicted Top 3:

Straw: 1. Dixon, 2. Power, 3. Alonso
Malsher: 1. Power, 2. Andretti, 3. Rossi

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