Well, tomorrow is the big day, the number one day of the “Shane Rogers – one man stimulus package – world tour of North America”, and the world’s biggest single day sporting event.
I thought I’d write this like a form guide, we’ll see how many of these I get right:
2 Raphael “To” MATOS – Luczo Dragon Racing – Starts P12
“Future champion” says Jay Penske. I’m inclined not to argue. But everybody needs a learning year. This is his. A keep it off walls, top 8 finish is a par result, and there’s no reason from form why he can’t do that. Five rookies this year, four have hit concrete, Matos hasn’t.
3 Helio “Not Guilty” CASTRONEVES – Penske Racing – Starts P1
His race to lose and consequently my pick to win. Has done nothing wrong all month, on or off the track. The feds dropped the last charge Friday, because even they think waiting to announce it until Monday given his likelihood to win isn’t a great idea.
This will be a race decided on pitstops, pit position, and track position, and Cindric is the master strategist.
4 Dan WHELDON – Panther Racing – Starts P18
Don’t let the starting position fool you. After a tough month, Wheldon and Panther found the magic formula on Carb Day, and could give the big 4 a surprise on race day. Unlikely to win, but a Panther Podium is a possibility.
5 Mario “FJ” MORAES – KV Racing Technology – Starts P7
The surprise packet of the month, Fast Jonas has not only been quick and stylish on the track, but undoubtedly the best looking when floating around the paddock. Probably heard nothing of what he was told in the driver’s briefing this morning. That’s great for us. Could crash and burn, or be the next Garza. I’m tipping a Garza and a surprise P4 for the Brazilian.
6 Ryan BRISCOE – Team Penske – Starts P2
Done nothing wrong all month, but slightly shaded by a Castroneves with a new lease on life in the past eight weeks. Expect him to be quick and upfront on race day, keeping the Ganassi cars away from the dancer. One more year of experience and he’ll be right for the win. Just not this year.
7 Danica “Rainbows and Puppydogs” PATRICK – Andretti Green Racing – Starts P10
Not right up front, but that’s more the car than her. Can threaten if strategy falls her way, otherwise a 50/50 chance for the top 5.
8 Townsend BELL – KV Racing Technology – Starts P24
Done all the right things with a second week practice program, including being a tail gunner for Moraes when he was setting the track on fire. A top 10 result is possible, and well deserved given this months form.
9 Scott “I can’t believe Australia swapped him for Russell Crowe” DIXON – Chip Ganassi Racing – Starts P5
Didn’t have the mumbo to live with Penske on pole day, but will be there when it counts when the green flag drops. Will keep Briscoe and Castroneves honest, but won’t have enough. P2 this year.
10 Dario “I’m not even Irish” FRANCHITTI – Chip Ganassi Racing – Starts P3
A new lease of life after the NASCAR nightmare of 2008 sees him start front row, one of only three that can be the wicked witch in Helio’s fairytale. Trying to equal Arie Luyendyk’s record of having two different hairstyles on the Borg-Warner Trophy, but it won’t happen.
11 Tony “This bus driver sucks, I’m going to barf” KANAAN – Andretti Green Racing – Starts P6
Biggest mistake this month was early on, committing to the 11 primary for too long into the first week to threaten for pole before rolling out the Frankenstein 11T car. Perennial placegetter who’s caught the bad luck disease from Michael, I think the bus barfing is a symptom. Due for a good one, but unfortunately I can’t see better than P4
12 Will “Toowoomba Tornado” POWER – Penske Racing – Starts P9
The perfect month. Held back in qualifying, but will have the reins let go during the race and could be a real surprise. Will go the alternate strategy if it’s available, and if in front with 10 to go with fuel to conserve, could surprise. The Dark Horse, literally.
13 E.J. “Total” VISO – HVM Racing – Starts P29
Viso is Lithuanian for total, which is rather approriate seeming that’s what it looks like he’s going to do every lap, but somehow he manages to save it with supreme car control. Or is it insanity? We haven’t figured it out yet. HVM have been playing catch up since #00 hit the wall, and haven’t really had it since. Not a threat to the engraver.
14 Vitor “AJ says no loving anymore” MEIRA – AJ Foyt Racing – Starts P14
Has flown under the radar with an unassuming performance, but unassuming means “not very fast”, and unlike last year where a win was possible, a top 10 is a good result here.
15 Paul TRACY – KV Racing Technology – Starts P13
All sports needs villians, and the Thrill from West Hill still illicits boos from the IRL followers despite the fact their God put him in a car for a few races last year. Has the ability to come off the couch, get on the Jimmy Vasser diet, and do the business. Top 5 possible.
16 Scott SHARP – Panther Racing – Starts P20
Panther’s tough month, combined with some tough scheduling, has made this not the easiest month for Sharp. Race day won’t get any easier
17 Oriol “Pleased to” SERVIA – Rahal Letterman Racing – Starts P25
Second week starter for cash strapped organisation. Bob and Dave’s excellent adventure are making up the numbers until they find a sponsor and do some R&D. A shame, they’re a great mob.
18 Justin WILSON – Dale Coyne Racing – Starts P15
When you consider where the other “transition teams” are, a fine effort given the budget. Top 10 is the race day goal.
19 Tomas “I’ve been everywhere, man” SCHECKTER – Dale Coyne Racing – Starts P26
Also a P10 chance, which is a good result for a week two program. Won’t get an opportunity like 2002 tomorrow though.
20 Ed CARPENTER – Vision Racing – Starts P17
Goes well here, but never seems to reach the position on the pylon where he should.
21 Ryan HUNTER-REAY – Vision Racing – Starts P32
Lucky to make the field given he’s in the 34th fastest car here. Will not feature other than in the IZOD commercials.
23 Milka DUNO – Dreyer and Reinbold Racing – Starts P30
Did nothing wrong in getting the car into the field. Top 15 is best result.
24 Mike CONWAY – Dreyer and Reinbold Racing – Starts P27
Challenging month for Conway, who’s biggest problem is not acquiring the same reputation Briscoe got in 2005 for crashing. He’s a better driver than his result will show tomorrow, because he’ll be focussed on getting the distance. And making sure he brings his accrediation, as they don’t let people who look like 16 year olds into race cars without it.
26 Marco ANDRETTI – Andretti Green Racing – Starts P8
Beginning to show the signs he can be one of the leaders at AGR with a solid P8 on day one of qualifying. Hasn’t stood out enough for mine to be a threat, but a top 5 is a 50/50.
27 Hideki MUTOH – Andretti Green Racing – Starts P16
No mistakes, but nothing else of note either. Top 10.
36 Alex TAGLIANI – Conquest Racing – Starts P33
Only mistake he made in qualifying was being in the wrong car at the wrong time. Deserves a start here, but my prediction is they won’t give lapscorer tennis elbow I’m afraid.
41 A.J Foyt IV – AJ Foyt Racing – Starts P19
Great qualifying effort to get in on Day 2, but that will be the month’s highlight
43 John ANDRETTI – Dreyer and Reinbold Racing – Starts P28
Last attempt, last minute qualifying effort electrified the crowd like no other at a bump day for a very long time. Sponsor’s bills paid with the exposure on Versus, a top 15 is a bonus.
44 Davey HAMILTON – Dreyer and Reinbold Racing – Starts P22
Not bad for a bloke that hasn’t driven for 12 months. The old dawg’s still got it. Deserves a good finish for a disciplined month.
67 Sarah FISHER – Sarah Fisher Racing – Starts P21
Her best month here. Team has stepped up a couple more notches from last year, doing things right, rather than right now. Top 15 easy.
99 Alex LLOYD – Chip Ganassi Racing/Sam Schmidt Motorsports – Starts P11
Doesn’t need twitter, you can see what he’s up to from Google Earth. Been the talk of the month with the Pink Car, but what we really should be talking about is the day one qualifier, and the best of the one off starters. Inexperience at this level may hurt him tomorrow, but for the future, will stand him in good stead. Could jump in the #9 or #10 tomorrow, and be a contender.
00 Nelson PHILIPPE – HVM Racing – Starts P31
Concerns about ability to qualify after accident and tough task getting back up to speed. Just needs to keep out of trouble and gain experience this year.
02 Graham RAHAL – Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing – Starts P4
One of the stories of this race. Rahal’s come from the kid you were going to tell to stop playing hookey and go back to school during last years month, to the all American Motor Racing hero. Save on May 10 avoiding J.Andretti was described by some as the best they’ve seen in 20 years here. The reason the phones in Gasoline Alley are not in phone booths is because they’re scared Rahal might walk into one and come out as Superman. Will be remembered as the breakout year, but won’t have the pace of the front 4 or 5.
06 Robert DOORNBOS – Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing – Starts P23
Tough time here after two wrecks. Needs to get through the race, and be patient, and a top 10 and a whole lot of learning is his.
Winner: 3 Castroneves
2nd: 9 Dixon
3rd: 5 Moraes
First Out: 41 Foyt IV
Rookie of the year: 2 Matos
Row where accident will start on first lap if there is one: Row 9