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Last updated: Fri. May. 10, 2013 - 05:15 am EDT

COLUMN

Indy 500 returns with old and new faces

Castroneves and Franchitti seek to join elite drivers

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Indy 500 opening weekend

Saturday

OPENING DAY/CELEBRATION OF AUTOMOBILES - $10 admission, 12 and under free

10 a.m.-6 p.m., Public Gates Open, Social Media Garage Open

10 a.m.-4 p.m., Celebration of Automobiles

11 a.m., Corvette Pin Distribution, Pagoda Plaza

Noon-6 p.m., Practice/Rookie Orientation Program

1:30 p.m., Q&A with Mario Andretti, Pagoda Plaza Stage

Sunday

PRACTICE - $10 admission, 12 and under free

10 a.m.-6 p.m., Public Gates Open

11 a.m., Firestone Pin Distribution, Pagoda Plaza

11 a.m.-5 p.m., Kids Zone Open

Noon-6 p.m., Practice/Rookie Orientation Program

4 p.m., Give Me Jesus Tour Concert, Pagoda Plaza Stage

For more sports commentary, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1

DISCUSS
Comments
 

The road to the Indianapolis 500 opens this weekend and casual fans can't just drop by and say “Unser, Andretti and Foyt” and sound authoritative.

Well, Andretti and Foyt do factor in, but it takes some peripheral vision to see them.

The Indy 500, set for May 26, doesn't carry the weight it once did, but it's still the biggest single-day sporting event in Indiana. It's still the Indy 500, so everyone who lives in Indiana and claims to love sports should know at least a little about what's going on.

So, here's a little primer:

Who's Takuma Sato?

Takuma Sato leads the IZOD IndyCar points standings after four races, after winning the Grand Prix of Long Beach and barely losing last week's Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300.

Who is this guy? Sato is a 36-year-old driver from Tokyo who has run in 53 IndyCar races. In 2001, he was the champion of the British Formula Three, the Masters of Formula 3 and the Macau Grand Prix. He raced in Formula One from 2002 to 2008 with little notoriety. He switched to IndyCar in 2009.

He made a run at winning the Indy 500 last year, pulling alongside Dario Franchitti heading into Turn 1 of the final lap. Franchitti forced Sato down low and Sato lost control of his car, hitting the wall.

Sato has been a contender all season now. He drives for A.J. Foyt Enterprises and uses the No.14 made famous by the legendary Foyt. He gives Foyt his best chance to get back in Victory Lane since Kenny Brack was driving for Foyt in the 1990s.

Andretti remains relevant

Andretti Autosport, the team run by Michael Andretti, has a frontrunner again in James Hinchcliffe, the man now in the "GoDaddy" car once sported by the ubiquitous Danica Patrick.

Hinchcliffe 26, has won two races this season, including last weeks' Indy 300 in Sao Paulo. He brings a ton of personality to the sport, as evidenced by his embrace of social media and status as “Mayor of Hinchtown.”

Marco Andretti, son of Michael and grandson of Mario, is a legitimate contender to win the race that has eluded his family since 1969.

Andretti ranks second to Sato in the points standings, having finished with two thirds and two sevenths in the four races so far.

Last year's IndyCar champ, Ryan Hunter-Reay, is also with Andretti Autosport.

History within reach for veterans

Franchitti, off to a slow start with laps led only at Long Beach, won his third Indy 500 last year to join Helio Castroneves as drivers who can enter an elite level this year.

The only drivers with four Indy 500 wins are Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears.

Castroneves is 37 and Franchitti is 39, so both are nearing the end of their careers. Castroneves finished second and third in the first two races this season, and still drives for Team Penske, a perennial force during the month of May. Franchitti is with another force, Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

Who needs Danica?

Simona De Silvestro has finished with three Top 10s in four races this season driving for KV Racing Technology. She's only 24 and before this season her best finish was 19th. So De Silvestro appears to be coming into her own and this Indy 500 could be her real breakthrough moment.

The Indy 500 returns to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with practice this weekend. Familiar faces such as Castroneves and Franchitti will duel with the likes of Sato and Hinchcliffe.

It's a sign of our ever-shrinking sports world that the favorite might end up being the 36-year-old “new" driver from Japan.

rhayes@news-sentinel.com


This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.


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