The Racing Capital
of the World
January 10, 2013 | By John Oreovicz
Tony Stewart already told us he won’t compete in the 2013 Indianapolis 500, and you can bet your next mortgage payment that Danica Patrick won’t be, either.
So who might be, instead? After all, if the full-season field for the IZOD IndyCar Series averages 25 cars, that still leaves eight additional spots to fill in the traditional 33-car field at Indy. Not to mention at least a couple additional car/driver combinations to make Bump Day exciting…
The folks at IMS asked me to use my imagination to dream up a list of people I’d like to see in a car at Indianapolis this May. So I whittled it down to a top 10; some are legitimate suggestions, some are ridiculous whims, and others make you start thinking “What if…?”
Regardless, don’t take this list too seriously or crank up the rumor mill…
1. MICHAEL SCHUMACHER – It’s far-fetched to think that he would even consider it, but why not shoot for the top? Recently retired from Formula One for a second time, seven-time World Champion Schumacher is statistically the most successful driver in the history of F1 – and he’s the only five-time winner at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Yes, with all the hype and tradition associated with the four-time winners of the Indianapolis 500 – A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears – Schumacher’s five triumphs in the United States Grand Prix (2000, ’03, ’04, ’05 and ’06) tend to be forgotten. He’s said over the years that he doesn’t have any desire to try oval racing, but then again, he showed up at Texas Motor Speedway on his motorcycle while on vacation a few years ago and tried to sign up for a Richard Petty Stock Car Experience class on the spot. He would join an illustrious list of F1 champions competing at Indy that includes Mario Andretti, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi, Nigel Mansell and Jacques Villeneuve.
2. PAUL TRACY – Tracy and his ardent fan base have given up hopes of a season-long farewell IndyCar tour for the popular Canadian racer. But he hasn’t retired from racing, and he would make a great hire for any owner this May. After coming so close to winning the 2002 “500,” Tracy is still seeking redemption from the Brickyard and would put his all into one last shot at drinking the milk. Indy car racing misses his presence.
3. JOHANNA LONG – Despite running for a small team with a limited budget, 20-year old Johanna Long sometimes out-performed a rather more famous female competitor in the NASCAR Nationwide Series last year. Since that driver - Danica Patrick – says she wants to focus on stock cars exclusively this year as she gets up to speed in the Sprint Cup Series, why not nominate rival Long to branch out and try Indy cars?
4. BRUNO JUNQUEIRA – Here’s a guy who really deserves a break after a snake-bitten career at Indy. He earned pole position for the “500” in 2002 but was sidelined by a gearbox failure. He was looking strong in the 2005 race, but A.J. Foyt IV swept him into an accident that broke the Brazilian’s back and ended his season. Twice he has jumped into slow cars, gotten them up to speed and into the 33-car field, only to have the ride sold out from underneath him before Race Day. A total professional, a quick, clean racer and a genuinely nice guy.
5. ALEX ZANARDI – This charismatic Italian took Indy car racing by storm from mid-1996 through the end of 1998, dominating the CART-sanctioned championship before returning to Formula One. Unfortunately, the CART-IRL disagreement played out during the most successful phase of Zanardi’s American career, and he never raced in the Indianapolis 500. Zanardi rejoined the CART series in 2001 but lost his legs that autumn in an accident at EuroSpeedway Lausitz in Germany. His remarkable recovery has been well documented, from returning to EuroSpeedway to drive 14 laps at speed in an Indy car with hand controls, to his race winning success in European Touring Cars, to his gold medal-winning performance in hand cycling in the 2012 London Paralympic Games. Developing hand controls for a DW12 would be a huge technical challenge for Dallara and an engine manufacturer, but what an inspirational story it would be if Zanardi competed at Indy! At the very least, he should someday be invited to drive the Pace Car.
6. ALEX GURNEY – Dan Gurney never won the Indianapolis 500, but he finished second and third, and Eagle cars made by his All American Racers firm scored Indy victories in 1968, ’73 and ’75. Coming up through the formula car ranks, his son Alex looked destined for a career in Indy cars, but a decent opportunity never materialized. Alex built a successful career as a sports car racer, culminating in GRAND-AM Rolex Series championships, but at age 38, he’s still young enough to be competitive in Indy cars. It would be nice to see his father’s achievements at Indianapolis again celebrated.
7. MARIO ANDRETTI – Are you kidding me? Nope. He’s 73 years old, but you get the feeling he’d rather be lining up in a DW12 every week instead of giving pace car rides and occasionally driving the IndyCar two-seater on the parade lap. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Mario is still race fit, and his competitive fire burns as bright as ever. Come to think of it, Michael Andretti wouldn’t be a bad choice, either…
8. CONOR DALY – He’s one of America’s top up-and-coming road racers, and although he’s still trying to gain establish his career in Europe, the experience of competing in the Indianapolis 500 would still benefit the son of former F1 and Indy car racer Derek Daly. He’s an Indy Lights race winner who looked good in his initial IndyCar test for A.J. Foyt Racing.
9. AJ ALLMENDINGER – Allmendinger was just coming to his own in Indy cars in 2006, winning five races in the Champ Car sanctioned series for Forsythe Racing, when he decided upon a career change into stock cars. Six years later, he’s again at a career crossroads, his reputation somewhat tarnished by a drug test failure and subsequent suspension from NASCAR competition. Allmendinger sought treatment, accepted responsibility for his mistake and was given a second chance in the Cup series with a few late season starts. Although his stated preference is to remain in stock cars, with nothing full time lined up for 2013, why not return to his open-wheel roots for an outing in the “500” if his calendar is free in May?
10. ARIE LUYENDYK JR. – He was billed as a professional race car driver on “The Bachelor,” so wouldn’t it be great to see this heartthrob bring some of his crossover fan base to Indy car racing? Along with former “Dancing With the Stars” champion Helio Castroneves, Arie Jr. would give Indy car racing a pair of household names among reality show cognoscenti…