One of the most famous events on the international motor racing calendar takes place this weekend when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway plays host to the 103rd Indy 500 (Race: 12:45pm ET Sunday, live on NBC).
The race has an illustrious history and has again begun to achieve more of a worldwide audience in recent years on the back of a strong sequence of results for international drivers. Just four of the last 20 and two of the last 12 winners have been Americans.
Will Power was first past the chequered flag for Penske at last year’s race, becoming the first Australian and the 12th different nationality to win the 500. Given that this year’s starting grid features 18 foreign drivers (from 11 different countries) to 15 Americans, there is a solid chance that it will again be a non-American driver who tops the podium on Sunday.
The appearance of two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso was to add to the international feel this time around, but without the support and experience of the Andretti team who underpinned his impressive debut in the event in 2017, his Carlin-assisted McLaren team were never able to get up to speed, and he failed to qualify.
Last year’s winner Power is one of seven previous winners in this year’s field, and his hopes of becoming the first since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002 to secure back-to-back triumphs was certainly helped by qualifying in sixth.
There are plenty of other challengers, not least from within the Penske stable, home to three of the five most-fancied drivers in the form of Power, pole-sitting Frenchman Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden. They will also run Castroneves, back for the 500, stuck on three wins since his last triumph in 2009 and keen to secure the victory that would see him tie A. J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears for the most wins ever in the event.
Ed Carpenter Racing also showed very strongly in qualifying, with all three of their entries making the top-nine shootout and then qualifying second, third and fourth. Ed Carpenter himself came second to Power last year, while Ed Jones finished third on his first attempt at the race a couple of years back. Spencer Pigot has enjoyed less previous success but has looked good so far. Of the three, Carpenter is the one most likely to challenge for victory.
Andretti have won the 500 in three of the last five years, and their team for this year’s event includes Alexander Rossi, the last American winner of the race in 2016 who won at his first attempt. He started way down in 32nd last year but was able to make his way up to fourth by the end of the race. From a much more accessible ninth on the grid this time around, he is worthy of his status as one of the US online sports betting sites’ favorites.
Rossi was the only Andretti driver to make the first three rows, but Marco Andretti and Conor Daly took two of the three spots on the fourth row, while former winner Ryan Hunter-Reay has a bit more to do from 22nd.
The two relative surprises on the first three rows were Colton Herta and Sebastian Bourdais, two drivers with similar pace but a vast disparity in terms of experience. Herta became the youngest winner in IndyCar history with his triumph at the Circuit of the Americas as an 18-year-old in March. He has qualified an impressive fifth for the 500. Bourdais, 40, a four-time Champ Car champion, will be hoping to stay towards the front and take his first-ever top 10 finish at Indianapolis.
The three remaining previous winners in the field are, in qualifying order, Takuma Sato (14th), Tony Kanaan (16th) and Scott Dixon (18th). Dixon and Kanaan have been the more consistent performers at the 500 over the years and Kanaan could be a decent outside bet.
Aside from Herta, former Sauber F1 driver Marcus Ericsson was the best rookie qualifier in 13th. His Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team ran well in last year’s race in the hands of another rookie, Robert Wickens, leading a couple of laps and eventually coming home ninth. If Ericsson can keep his nose clean, a top-10 finish could be within reach.
Our Betting Preview’s 2019 Indy 500 Predictions & Picks Verdict
There are plenty of compelling candidates for victory, but after qualifying second (for his fifth front row start in the last seven years) and running very well in last year’s race, Carpenter looks a good bet to finally win the Indy 500 at the 16th attempt. So our Indy 500 prediction and pick is: