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The Indy 500 showcases the growing power of IndyCar

INDIANOPOLIS – The speed was insane – 234 miles per hour for Scott Dixon in a record pole race – and Jimmy Johnson and Romain Grosjean are part of the fastest field in Indianapolis 500 history.

About 20 riders, and maybe more, are legitimate contenders for victory on Sunday in front of a crowd that is expected to exceed 300,000 people. Roger Pensky may finally fully open the gates at the Indianapolis racetrack, for the first time since he acquired the landmark a few weeks before the pandemic.

After years of trying to prove itself as one of the best series in motorsport, IndyCar has its moment, and “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” can live up to its name.

“I think IndyCar is the most competitive open wheel series in the world,” said Will Power, an Australian who won the Indy 500 race in 2018. – It is more competitive than Formula 1, it just is, and you will not take my word for it.

“Just look at the math: in practice, six tenths (seconds) cover 23 machines. Six tenths cover how many cars in Formula 1? One or two cars? This is not a joke. “

When Power refers to the fierce competition across the network, he is not talking about a recent phenomenon. The series, born during a fierce war between the controlling parties of American open-wheel racing, led to the creation in 1996 of IndyCar – then called the Indy Racing League – and its ugly bunch of young racers.

Buzz Culkins and Scott Sharp shared the first championship after the inaugural season with three races, and Tony Stewart won the 1997 title before beginning his migration to NASCAR. IRL worked and worked, but CART was still king – CART was once much bigger than NASCAR or any other North American motorsport series – and Penske, Chip Ganassi and all the other great guns shunned Tony George and his amazing little series.

However, George owned the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500, and when he created the IRL because of the frustration of CART, it ruined open-wheel racing in America. Big teams boycotted Indianapolis – CART fought each other with the Indy 500 in 1996 in Michigan, Jimmy Wasser won and asked, “Who needs milk?” in the victory zone – and did not begin a slow return for almost five years.

Penske did not return to India until 2001, and last week he told the Associated Press that it is the biggest regret of his racing career.

George won because he owned a speedway located on 16th Street and Georgetown Road in Indianapolis. In 2008, CART, renamed Champ Car, finally teamed up with IRL to create IndyCar. But the damage was done: the series was covered by NASCAR in prestige, and IndyCar has since made its way to relevance.

Under the leadership of Penske, who in late 2019 agreed to purchase both the series and the speedway in the George family, the series is making the biggest leaps.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that there was only growth and a growth trajectory,” said two-time IndyCar champion and Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden. “I really feel that the last two or three years are gaining momentum, and we have some of the best keepers of the series and speedway at Roger and Penske Entertainment.”

IndyCar is rooted in the Indy 500 with four different winners in the first five races. When Dixon on Sunday reached a four-lap qualifying average speed of 234.046 mph (376.661 km / h), he broke Scott Brighton’s 1996 record as the fastest race to win a pole in track history. It also made Dixon the sixth pole winner in six races.

Pale with 33 riders is the fastest in the history of racing with an average speed of 231.023 miles per hour, and in the starting lineup are eight former winners with 13 victories in the combination.

Johnson, a seven-time NASCAR champion, and former Formula 1 driver Grosjean are among the six newcomers in the field, the most since 2019. The group includes 20-year-old David Malukas, who was not even born at the age of 47. Tony Canaan made his first start on the Indy 500.

Defender of the race winner Helio Castroneves is the most experienced rider with 21 previous starts and he will be aiming for a record fifth victory in the Indy 500.

“The competition has always been insane, it just speaks for itself,” said Dixon, a six-time IndyCar champion. “If they can get it in front of people, then it’s a home run. But they have to spend the money. “

Scott McLaughlin, who left the V8 Supercars in Australia to move to North Carolina and become an IndyCar driver, called the series “the cleanest in the world”. He said the society is unlike anything he has seen since childhood in karting, and the individuals in the paddock are some of the biggest and best in the sport.

“I’m from a series that was full of punches in the back, and I just like how clean it is,” McLaughlin said. “You can explode on the racetrack, but I feel that after that you can all drink beer. We all have a ball because it’s so clean, no BS, no horseradish, and when you have drama, you say it to each other in person ”.

If the Indy 500 is twice as exciting as stockpiling, IndyCar could take another big step in relevance.

“We have to be just IndyCar because being IndyCar is enough,” Newgarden said. “When you look at what our product is, who we are, it sells itself. These are racers who get together just to ride. ”

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