The Frontstretch crew is back to once again try our hands at predicting the results and stories of the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500. Rome wasn’t built in a day and our predictions last year formed the first foundation for success in our open-wheel coverage… even if none of us wound up picking the winner.
This time around, we’ve chosen to elaborate a bit while focusing on three specific storylines: Indy’s potential race winner, Rookie of the Year and an underdog or dark horse to watch out for.
Read on to see who’s on our radar screen heading toward Sunday’s (May 28) green flag (12:45 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock).
Alex Gintz, Editor – IndyCar
Winner: No attack, no chance. Takuma Sato will win his third and final Indianapolis 500 this weekend. Yes, Taku made our predictions list last year and wound up 25th. This year, the circumstances are wildly different.
Sato contested the 500 for Dale Coyne Racing w/Rick Ware Racing last season. You can only be so far off the pace in a spec field, but even in the NTT IndyCar Series, Rick Ware Racing hasn’t found the results a driver the caliber of Sato ought to command. This year, the two-time winner enters the 500 with the powerhouse that is Chip Ganassi Racing, in what may very well be his unannounced farewell tour.
In pursuit of his third Indy 500 win, Sato has: race-winning equipment, next to nothing to lose, a demonstrably lacking sense of self-preservation, and the experience of winning this thing twice already under his belt.
The glory is going back to Japan.
ROY: Benjamin Pedersen. Ahead of the start of this season, I wondered how Pedersen would perform on ovals in IndyCar machinery after two years in Indy NXT. His credentials since include three third-place finishes at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway and a sixth-place result at Iowa. Pedersen forced his way into Fast 12 qualifying last week; this week, he’ll force his way to a top-10 finish and Rookie of the Year honors for AJ Foyt.
Underdog/dark horse: If there were ever a perfect storm for a shock appearance at the front of the field for Graham Rahal, this is it. Removed from 500 circulation by his teammate Jack Harvey in qualifying, Rahal got his second chance this year when Stefan Wilson suffered a back injury during practice. Honda’s Rahal already found himself a political miracle in landing himself in a Chevrolet for the race; now, he’ll find a sporting miracle by turning this lucky break into a solid finish.
Jack Swansey, Editor
Winner: As far as winners go, Alex Palou is the easy choice, so I’m going out on a limb. I predict that, for the second year in a row, the Indy 500 is going Swedish. Arrow McLaren’s Felix Rosenqvist is going to win his first 500, McLaren’s first since 1976, and break his IndyCar winless streak which dates back to July 2020.
Yes, Rosenqvist set the fastest time in the first day of qualifying last weekend and backed that up with a Fast Six run to a still-impressive third ahead of his bigger-name teammates, Pato O’Ward, Alexander Rossi and Tony Kanaan. Yes, he’s got the momentum, finishing top five both in last year’s 500 and this year’s GMR Grand Prix.
No, Rosenqvist is going to win this Indy 500 because he has to. With everyone and their mother predicting Palou moving to McLaren for 2024, Rosenqvist is in the unenviable position of being a solid set of hands at a team that demands all superstars. But Zak Brown is willing to consider another expansion.
One year ago, it was a Swede who launched himself from journeyman to front-runner with a win in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. This year, to save his McLaren seat and IndyCar career, it’s going to be the other.
ROY: Tell me the truth, on May 1, did you think AJ Foyt’s two cars would have this much speed? Indy 500 rookie Benjamin Pedersen has found himself on a rocket ship, and he’s going to take that puppy straight to the moon… or at least a nice, clean top-15 finish and Rookie of the Year honors.
Underdog/dark horse: It feels ridiculous to call him an underdog considering… well, everything about him, but the only time Josef Newgarden’s name has been mentioned all month is when, on the first day of qualifying, he jumped into the fast lane to make one last run that improved his starting spot by just one place. But the No. 2 crew has emphasized race-ability over all-out pace this month, and if there’s one thing you can expect from Newgarden it’s ruthless, uncompromising perfection.
For what it’s worth, he also stole the only other low-drag speedway race of 2023 right out from under the dominant O’Ward. Keep an eye on him.
Stephen Stumpf, Editor, On-Site Reporter
Winner: Alex Palou will score his first IndyCar oval win and first Indianapolis 500 victory in one go. He was one spot short of victory in 2021, as he lost out in a frantic battle with Helio Castroneves as the pair swapped the lead multiple times in the final 10 laps. He led 47 laps in last year’s feature, charging back to finish ninth after mid-race difficulties. Chip Ganassi Racing has been the team to beat at Indy in recent years, and with Palou starting on pole after a record speed in qualifying, he will be the driver that everyone’s chasing on Sunday.
ROY: Benjamin Pedersen. AJ Foyt Racing has clearly found something, as Pedersen qualified 11th while teammate Santino Ferrucci qualified fourth. That speed will carry over to race day with Pedersen easily besting his freshman challengers.
Underdog/dark horse: Ed Carpenter will start the race from 13th, and while Carpenter only shows up for sporadic oval appearances, he has scored three top-six finishes in his last five Indy attempts, including a second-place result in 2018. He’ll be back with another solid performance here.
Mike Knapp, Staff Writer, On-Site Reporter
Winner: Alex Palou is the driver to beat. He’s had a great month and now has the experience to win after a few close calls. He has been dominant throughout the month of May and right here, right now, is the best driver in IndyCar. Palou’s also one of the most confident heading into this event. If he keeps it clean and has good pit stops, it’s his race to lose.
ROY: Agustin Canapino. One thing I like about Canapino is that he is a very experienced driver, knows his limits, and is very methodical, which is what it takes to run well as a first-timer at IMS. He finished 12th in the first oval race of his career at Texas Motor Speedway, then was sixth-fastest in the final Carb Day practice Friday. Canapino has run really well in traffic and I wouldn’t be surprised by a top-10 finish when it’s all said and done.
Underdog/dark horse: Ryan Hunter-Reay. The 2014 winner joined Dreyer & Reinbold Racing on a one-off effort this month and he has been solid. After qualifying, Hunter-Reay’s 18th-best run puts him on the outside of Row 6 next to Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden; Andretti Autosport pilots Romain Grosjean and Colton Herta line up in the row behind him. The car has run well in traffic, and in Hunter-Reay’s 15th Indy 500 start, the former winner has more than enough experience when it comes to navigating the race.
Michael Finley, Staff Writer
Winner: I’ll take the obvious pick here and go with polesitter Alex Palou. He’s had a fantastic month of May that began with his win in the GMR Grand Prix, and he could well cap it off with a win in the 500. The Spaniard has grown immensely as a driver in the two years since losing out to Castroneves in 2021, and it’s got to be a confidence boost to have McLaren boss Zak Brown and Chip Ganassi both tugging off his arms for next year.
I also don’t think we’ll have too many big sweeps of drivers coming from the back to the front or vice versa with this handling package. That means Palou’s starting in the prime spot when it comes to track position: the pole. It’s just too hard to pass in dirty air deep in the pack, leaving clean air and Palou’s raw speed to rule the day out front.
ROY: The popular choice will be Benjamin Pedersen but mine would be RC Enerson. He had to qualify in, made it, and his one-shot team has decent long run pace as per Carb Day practice results.
Underdog/dark horse: Never count out Helio Castroneves. The four-time winner’s been very quiet this month, but he usually ends up at least on the edges of the picture when all is said and done.
Tom Blackburn, Contributor – IndyCar
Winner: In 2020, the NTT IndyCar Series added the aero screen to the universal aero kit. The added weight has caused challenges ever since for the drivers in the Indy 500, but one guy who’s been seemingly unaffected was Scott Dixon. In the 600 laps run at IMS with an aero screen, he’s led over a third of them (213). The second most is 82 by his teammate and 2023 Indy polesitter Alex Palou.
Dixon is the third most experienced driver in the field and has ran up front at too many of these races in the last few years not to be a contender. He will have a tough challenger in Palou, but the biggest foe between Dixon and a second Borg-Warner trophy is fate. Too many mistakes on pit road by crew and driver have combined with bad timing to keep him out of victory lane. Sunday, all that changes and Dixon gets his second Indy 500 win.
ROY: Between the four rookie drivers, the surprising performance has been by Benjamin Pedersen in the AJ Foyt Racing ride. With some expected challenges in overtaking, the choice for me comes from who is starting further up. That makes Pedersen the man with no other rookie starting inside the top 25.
Underdog/dark horse: It’s odd to write a Team Penske driver in this category, but that’s the case for Josef Newgarden. A Penske driver hasn’t won here since 2019, and they’ve led a total of 19 laps over the last three races (Simon Pagenaud led 116 in 2019 during the last Penske triumph). But Newgarden had a car that ran well in traffic in Carb Day practice and won on the last oval IndyCar visited. Expect him up front at some point.
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