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The 100th Indianapolis 500

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The Indianapolis 500 is always a special race. This one, though, is more special.

It's race that's endured for over 100 years. It's survived two World Wars, it's been disputed over two different nasty chasms in American open-wheel racing, and every decade, the cars that compete there have changed and evolved so drastically, it would be a reflection of the automobile itself. Through all of this, the Indianapolis 500 has endured to see its one hundreth iteration - run longer than the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Monaco Grand Prix, or any other single major race.

The 500 mile race is where ordinary people become extraordinary, and where the extraordinary ascend to racing immortality. Chances are, if you've ever watched an Indianapolis 500 in your lifetime, you have a favorite moment. A performance you'll never forget. A finish you'll tell future generations about for years to come. There's also a good chance that it may be the only Indycar race most people watch. If they choose only one, there's a good chance they've picked a good one.

Now, more than ever, the 33 remarkable human elements that make up this field for the 100th Indianapolis 500 are the stars of the show. And one should look no further than the front row for one of the best stories - not just in the Indycar campaign, but in all of racing this season.

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ROW 1
5 - James Hinchcliffe / 21 - Josef Newgarden / 28 - Ryan Hunter-Reay
One year and a week ago, we came far closer to losing James Hinchcliffe than anyone knew at the time. This Sunday, Hinchcliffe will lead the field to green for the very first time in his six-year Indycar career. In the 100th Indianapolis 500. After a white-knuckle run for pole position saw him secure P1 with a four-lap average of 230.760 miles per hour, The Mayor of Hinchtown is ready to write the unbelievable final chapter of one of racing's greatest comeback stories.

The perceived struggles of Honda's Indycar programme have been muted, with two Honda-powered machines on the front row - Hinchcliffe on the inside, and 2014 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay (who's been the top oval racer since late last season) on the outside. They flank Hendersonville, Tennessee's Josef Newgarden in the middle of the row. Like Hinchcliffe, Newgarden is one of Indycar's most engaging, entertaining, and colourful personalities. And a win for the 26-year-old will all but cement him as the new American superstar in Indycar.

ROW 2
29 - Townsend Bell / 26 - Carlos Muñoz / 12 - Will Power
Will Power has won just about every big race in his stellar American open-wheel career. He has yet to win the Indianapolis 500, though. How galling was it to finish just one-tenth of a second short of that first Indy win in 2015? Power has been Roger Penske's top man for the better part of five years now, and the 2014 Indycar Series champion knows that he can, and he must, win this race to solidify his place among the greats.

Perhaps the best story in this row is on the inside; that of 40-year-old Indy specialist and TV announcer Townsend Bell. Fifteen years after becoming the Indy Lights champion, Bell's whirlwind career in motorsport - from being reckless to the point of unemployability as a CART rookie in 2002, to being one of the safest pair of hands at Indy every year today - could culminate in a stunning victory. He'll likely have to go through his Andretti teammate Muñoz to get it. The Colombian already has two top-5 finishes at Indy, and nearly won it as a rookie in 2013.

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ROW 3
7 - Mikhail Aleshin / 22 - Simon Pagenaud / 3 - Hélio Castroneves
A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears, and Al Unser are the only three men in history to win the Indy 500 four times. Hélio Castroneves has been chomping at the bit to join that elusive club now for several years. Two years ago, Hunter-Reay denied the effervescent Brazilian his fourth Indy victory by just 0.06 seconds. It will not come easy for him to win it this year, though - this third row also features the hottest driver in IndyCar right now, Simon Pagenaud.

A hat trick of wins at Long Beach, Barber, and the Indy road course give Pagenaud an overwhelming championship lead, and last year, he was the fastest driver for most of the race before a late incident relegated him to an unrepresentative tenth. The scarved wheelman from Poitiers might be the odds-on favorite to win this 100th running. They're joined by Aleshin, a teammate to the polesitter who showed similar resilience to bounce back from injuries two years ago, losing his ride last year, and has now shaken off the "mediocre pay-driver" label and emerged as a genuine hard-charger in this field.

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ROW 4
77 - Oriol Sérvia / 98 - Alexander Rossi (R) / 14 - Takuma Sato
Alexander Rossi, the last American to race in Formula 1, arguably could have been fighting for pole position. But even still, as the fastest rookie in the field, the Nevada City, California native is keen to bounce back from a slow start to his first Indycar campaign with a huge win in the 500 - one that would turn Manor Racing's decision to drop him from their 2016 F1 team from slightly questionable to outright ludicrous.

He has seventeenth-year Indycar veteran Oriol Sérvia on his inside, and outside, Takuma Sato - so very nearly the hero in 2012, and still seeking his redemption in what could be his last chance to win it for car owner AJ Foyt. Last year, Sato's race didn't even get to the backstretch on lap one.

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ROW 5
9 - Scott Dixon / 27 - Marco Andretti / 6 - J.R. Hildebrand
Defending series champion and 2008 Indy winner Dixon heads this fifth row as a serious contender to win. Lucky for the sterling Kiwi - last year's winner emerged from this row. Marco Andretti was just 19 when he came just a nose short of winning in his very first Indy 500 start in 2006. Ten years later, Marco is one of the speedway's most consistent performers who's yet to win the race - and the mythical "Andretti curse" still looms over his head, forty-five years after his grandfather Mario's only victory.

Since losing it in the most heartbreaking fashion five years ago, Hildebrand's career has spiraled downward a bit. These days, he's relegated to an Indy specialist - but J.R. Hildebrand has made the most of his limited opportunities, scoring two top-tens in the last two seasons driving for Ed Carpenter Racing.

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ROW 6
42 - Charlie Kimball / 2 - Juan Pablo Montoya / 10 - Tony Kanaan
The reigning, defending, undisputed, two-time champion of the Brickyard, Montoya could add another Indy crown - his third in four entries - this year and ascend further into the ranks of the all-time greats. Just like he did last year, starting from the middle rows. Don't discount Kimball on the inside of this sixth row - he finished third last year, and always seems to surprise.

Tony Kanaan's emotional 2013 victory - his first in twelve tries to that point - will hardly be forgotten. In the twilight of his legendary career, Kanaan is one of Indy's finest competitors, year after year. He had a chance to win it last year until a crash ended his hopes, and in his fifteenth Indy 500, TK isn't done creating magical moments at the speedway.

ROW 7
11 - Sebastien Bourdais / 20 - Ed Carpenter / 19 - Gabby Chaves
It's hard to believe that last year's Indy 500 and Indycar Series Rookie of the Year, Chaves, didn't get a chance to race again until this May. He's made the most of his sudden chance with Dale Coyne Racing. The sophomore lines up next to two hungry veterans, Bourdais and Carpenter.

Bourdais, the man who dominated the final years of Champ Car and defeated many of Indycar's current top stars along the way, is still missing the Indy 500 win that would cement his place among the legends that he so richly deserves. Owner/driver Carpenter has Indy in his blood, and the two-time polesitter has turned the corner from underwhelming field filler to legitimate oval track star late in his career.

ROW 8
8 - Max Chilton (R) / 24 - Sage Karam / 18 - Conor Daly
The middle of row eight features a driver who's waited nine months for a chance at Indycar redemption. Sage Karam, still the youngest driver in this field in his third entry, admitted that the tragic death of Justin Wilson last August was unfathomably hard to get over. Brazen and aggressive as a driver, the wrestler-turned-racer Karam (9th as a rookie in 2014) is now a sentimental favorite.

His Ganassi Racing successor Max Chilton is on the inside of the row, and with the guidance of mentor Dario Franchitti, Chilton is ready to turn the corner in his star-crossed racing career. Daly, a series rookie but a three-time Indy veteran, will hope to take the start after blowing an engine on the parade laps - and go to the front in the most American liveried car on the grid.

ROW 9
63 - Pippa Mann / 15 - Graham Rahal / 61 - Matthew Brabham (R)
For Rahal and rookie Brabham, their races are about extending their families great racing legacies. Graham Rahal's father won this race in 1986, thirty years ago - and since last year, he's reawakened as a genuine top talent in the series after years of struggles. Matt Brabham didn't even race for most of 2015, but the grandson of former World Champion and 500 winner Sir Jack is ready for his chance to add his name to the family legacy.

For Pippa Mann, she races as the sole woman in this field, carrying the hopes of every young girl who one day aspires to race with her. Historically, the 500 hasn't been kind to Pippa, with a best finish of 20th. But now, more than ever, she's motivated to change her fortune.

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ROW 10
88 - Bryan Clauson / 16 - Spencer Pigot (R) / 25 - Stefan Wilson (R)
In this tenth row, sits Clauson, the last of the "throwbacks" - a short-oval specialist whose only Indycar race in his 200-race calendar is the 500. 61 laps is the farthest this USAC champion has ever run in the 500. There's also Pigot, the reigning Indy Lights champion who's a Mazda Road to Indy scholar and a potential star of the future in a second Rahal Letterman Lanigan car.

Then there's Stefan Wilson (pictured above), carrying the number that his late brother drove last season, to his very first Indy 500 start and only his second career Indycar race. Years of struggling just to find opportunities to race anywhere in the world could come to an end if the 26-year-old from Sheffield does well at Indy.

ROW 11
41 - Jack Hawksworth / 4 - Buddy Lazier / 35 - Alex Tagliani
Tagliani made history, for better or worse, as the first Indy 500 qualifier to not post an official qualifying speed after wrecking on his only attempt on Sunday. A far cry from his 2011 pole position for the Canadian veteran.

He's on the back row with the 1996 winner Buddy Lazier - the last relic from the early years of The Split, and twenty years on from when he won the race with a broken back. Trouble is, Lazier has yet to show that his best years are behind him. Hawksworth has struggled since his rookie season, and ovals are his weakest suit - it could be another tough day at the Brickyard for the young man from West Yorkshire.

Thirty-three incredible people will race for the honour of becoming the champion of the 100th Indianapolis 500. It is a distinction that will belong to only one of them, and it will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Who will cross the fabled yard of bricks as the centennial Indy 500 champion?

Be sure to discuss the race in the comments below, and for more Indycar Series discussion, head to our Indycar sub-forum.

Image Credit: Indycar
 
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The Honda engine save more fuel than Chevrolet engine. I think this was the factor.

He really need high downforce to drive on traffic, this is just insane to drive on traffic with low downforce, specialy for a rookie drive.

What lap was his last pit stop? I remember to saw some cars enter to pits on the the green lap, when the pace car retire the track last time. I dont know if he was one of these cars.
 

Brandon Wright

I may not be fast, but I'm wide!
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I, for one, was thrilled with the outcome. Full disclosure, I'm a Rossi fan, but seeing a team who put together a last minute deal to run the season and then threw caution to the wind on a one-in-a-million strategy that paid off felt like the Indy 500's of old. It was thrilling, and nail biting, and exciting from the green flag to the checkers. I've been to around 10 500's and this was the best by far (though Kanaan's win is a very close second). Really glad that the product lived up to the hype and with so many eyes on this race hopefully they gained a few new fans. Seeing the place packed with a sea of humanity was incredible, glad I got to see it full one last time.
 
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