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Thursday, Feb. 22
The Indiana Daily Student

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Excitement may return for 100th-anniversary Indianapolis 500

Indianapolis 500, Bump Day

The Indianapolis 500 has long been billed by observers as “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

That title has come into question in recent times with declining attendance at the race as well as at events leading up to the race during the month of May.

However, the happenings thus far in the 100th anniversary of the inaugural running of the Indianapolis 500 suggest the race is on its way back to its traditional status as the world’s biggest motorsports event.

For one, the fans appear to be coming back for the historic event, which will begin Sunday at noon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Jeff Belskus, CEO of the speedway, informed The Indianapolis Star on Tuesday that ticket sales for Sunday’s race are in considerably higher demand, adding the track was earning nearly a double-digit percent increase from last year’s running and that it was the first time in three years the Indianapolis 500 has experienced an increase in ticket sales.

Belskus sighted the economy as well as the celebration of the race’s now 100-year-old history —  Ray Harroun won the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911 — as the biggest reason for the upswing for race-day tickets.

The 500’s qualifications weekend provided fans with plenty of attention as well.

For the first time in six years, the coveted pole position will not feature a driver of either Team Penske or Target Chip Ganassi Racing — the two powerhouse organizations in the Izod IndyCar Series and winners of seven of the last 10 runnings of the Indianapolis 500.

The spoiler? Alex Tagliani, who sold his self-assembled team to owner Sam Schmidt before the 2011 IndyCar Series season began so he could focus solely on driving. Teammate Townsend Bell also qualified in a one-off effort for Schmidt’s team; he’ll roll off from the fourth starting position.

Tagliani, who claimed the pole with a four-lap qualifying average of 227.472 miles per hour, expressed gratitude that Schmidt had taken the reins of what appears to be a capable, competitive racing team at Indianapolis.

“We have a leader in Sam who has shown trust in us very quickly, and that’s why the chemistry just continues,” Tagliani said after winning the pole. “Just now we want to win for our leader because there’s a lot more pride when there’s someone on top that controls us and gives us a direction.”

Tagliani’s pole-winning run outpaced five former Indianapolis 500 winners, including defending champ Dario Franchitti and 2008 winner Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, three-time winner Helio Castroneves of Team Penske and one-offs Buddy Rice and Dan Wheldon, who won the race in 2004 and 2005, respectively.

Dixon and Franchitti fell victim to an unusual gaffe in Ganassi’s qualifying effort Saturday. Both drivers were provided with a small amount of fuel for their final runs at the pole, and Dixon ran out after qualifying second while Franchitti couldn’t even finish his run, slotting ninth as a result.

“It’s kind of frustrating in some ways that we only got given one attempt today, and I think Dario last year was like, ‘we only need to do one attempt,’” Dixon said Saturday. “I’m sure if it was, you asked him right now, he probably would have liked another attempt. Yeah, it happened, and that was it.”

Rice, who won a rain-shortened event, will make his first Indianapolis 500 start since 2008.

“There’s been a lot of opportunities and a lot of different things going on, but it just never happened,” Rice said after qualifying. “But I’m grateful to be back. I’m glad I’m here for the centennial, and I’ve been given another shot at winning another one.”

Two of the record-tying four female starters also caused a stir heading into
race week.

Second-year driver Simona de Silvestro garnered a strong ovation Saturday as she secured her spot in the starting field with a courageous four-lap run after her accident two days earlier in which burned her hands. De Silvestro will start 23rd.

Danica Patrick, who almost didn’t get the chance to qualify because of rain during Sunday’s Bump Day qualifications, could be heading into her final Indianapolis 500 as a full-timer in open-wheel racing. ESPN.com’s Terry Blount reported the first woman to lead the race was working on a deal to move to NASCAR for a full season in 2012.

Despite the reported and widely speculated full-time switch in racing disciplines, Patrick said to win the Indianapolis 500, especially on such a historic occasion, was the biggest goal of her racing career.

“This is a special event in and of itself,” Patrick said Friday, May 20. “Indy is my favorite race in the world, every everything.

“I just love this event. So I don’t know where the future is going to take me, but I know those things.”

Staff picks to win the Indy 500

Drew Allen: Scott Dixon. I’ve been tempted all week to go with a driver of a smaller outfit, like polesitter Alex Tagliani or one-offs Townsend Bell, Dan Wheldon or Buddy Rice, all of whom were strong in qualifying. However, the race is a whole different animal. Combine speed with 500 miles and as many as eight pit stops, and you have a Ganassi car in Victory Lane again.

Micah McVicker: Alex Tagliani. My logic: He’s had one of the fastest cars in all practice sessions. He overcame the strong winds to earn the pole. Lastly, he said all the right things in his Saturday morning media session about wanting to end the Ganassi/Penske domination of Indy 500 victories.

Michael Norman: Scott Dixon. The 2008 Indianapolis 500 champion is no stranger to success at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Since 2006, Dixon has placed in the top-6 of the 500-mile race each year, including a second-place finish in 2007.

Dixon seems very confident in his car and team’s ability this year, which leaves the rest of the work to him. In a race where anything can happen, look for the driver of the No. 9 Target car to have a milk mustache Sunday evening.

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