After all of the practice and preparation, the ninety-ninth running of the Indianapolis 500 looms ever closer with each passing hour. The centerpiece of a landmark weekend in auto racing. The greatest spectacle in motorsport: Indy 500. The history of this 500 mile sweepstakes extends back over a century, tempting many of the world's greatest drivers to tackle its demanding challenges. A landmark race like the Monaco Grand Prix or the 24 Hours of Le Mans, steeped in its own unique traditions, the Indy 500 presents its own unique challenges, which demands that the winner execute eight hundred perfect left hand turns, driving on the ragged edge of control with thirty-two other equally motivated drivers, at speeds in constant excess of over 200 miles per hour. It is that challenge that creates a unique risk and an element of danger that has sent many of the greatest drivers in the world over the edge, face-to-face with their own fate, even still today. And the past two weeks have proven this simple truth. Local favorite Ed Carpenter, young star Josef Newgarden, and three-time Indy 500 winner Hélio Castroneves each found themselves upside-down after crashes in practice. But then on Monday, the fates struck James Hinchcliffe. At over 200 miles per hour, he crashed nearly head-on into turn three. It was one of the most violent crashes in the speedway's history, a track that has claimed the lives of many drivers who have stepped over the edge. But thanks to the enhanced safety of the modern IndyCar chassis and the prompt response of the safety crew, Hinchcliffe is already making an astonishing recovery, and will be more than ready for next year's Indy 500. Such is the danger and the risk that has created legends and heroes out of those who have ultimately triumphed in victory at the end of the 500 mile race, rewarded with a cold bottle of milk in victory lane, their face adorning the Borg-Warner Trophy that is presented to the winner each year, and the lifelong recognition as a winner of the Indy 500. Every driver is motivated by a desire to win, and that desire is forged through thirty-three unique journeys to this point. Hélio Castroneves narrowly lost out on his record-tying fourth Indy victory after a fierce duel with Ryan Hunter-Reay in the closing laps. In his fifteenth Indy start, Castroneves seeks to finally join that elite fraternity of four-time Indy 500 winners - A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr., and Rick Mears. Will Power is the most complete driver in IndyCar today. He's the reigning IndyCar Series champion. Earlier this month, he won the second running of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. But time after time in his stellar career, the 500 mile race has been unforgiving and often cruel. Could this be his day? Or could it go to his teammate Simon Pagenaud, who has been consistent and brilliant in IndyCar racing over the last three seasons - and now makes his first start for Roger Penske. Juan Pablo Montoya is the current IndyCar series leader. As a brazen, confident rookie fifteen years ago, he dominated Indy, leading 167 laps to win on his first attempt. Last year, Montoya proved that he hadn't lost a step, finishing fifth after a long layoff from single-seaters. On the fifteenth anniversary of his landmark triumph, Montoya starts fifteenth. For many years, fans have hoped that a young American heir like Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal could win the Indy 500 as their grandfathers and fathers have done before them. But it has often ended in bitter disappointment for both. This year seems different. Andretti has once again qualified well, and every time he's finished, he's finished well. And a rejuvenated Rahal, still only 26 years old, has been on fire lately, finishing second in his last two IndyCar races - he's hoping to improve on a best finish of third, four years ago. Tony Kanaan's emotional 2013 victory was the culmination of twelve years of frustration and near-misses, and the popular Brazilian would love to experience the joy of a second Indy victory. So too would his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon, who sits on the pole for the second time at Indy. The only other time he won the pole, Dixon went on to win the race - the first unified 500 mile race in twelve years. And then there is the defending champion Hunter-Reay, who climbed from the inside of the seventh row to win the second-closest Indy 500 in history and solidify his own racing legacy. Once again, he'll drive for Andretti Autosport in pursuit of another Indy triumph. There are still plenty of dark horses. Colombian Carlos Muñoz has been fast at Indy every year, nearly winning two years ago - and he was fast this month too. Two-time Indy polesitter Ed Carpenter is a long-time journeyman who has suddenly emerged as a real threat to win as the owner/driver of one of the sport's fastest-rising teams, which employs Josef Newgarden, who won his first IndyCar race just a month ago, and J.R. Hildebrand, still seeking redemption from his 2011 heartbreak - just as Takuma Sato, nearly the hero in 2012, seeks to do as the lead driver for A.J. Foyt. Sage Karam is the youngest driver in the field, and he could become the Indy 500's youngest winner at age 20. A local second-generation talent with a colorful personality, Conor Daly could see his tireless efforts to break into IndyCar rewarded with a stunning victory. Two women are in the field this year, and Simona de Silvestro is back after a year away chasing the Formula 1 dream - and with her best starting position at Indy and the backing of last year's winning team owner Michael Andretti, De Silvestro has a real chance to create history as the first woman to win the Indy 500 in its ninety-nine runnings. For them and for the rest of the thirty-three drivers in the field, victory will be earned by taking risks, braving the dangers of the Brickyard, as those great champions before them had done in their pursuit of racing immortality - knowing that only one can be crowned champion. The 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 is Sunday, 24 May. For more IndyCar Series discussion, visit our sub-forum!