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EMBURY: Will 2017 Indy 500 Mimic Last Year’s?

Four races into the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series, the focus shifts to two big events this month – the IndyCar Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, followed by the Indianapolis 500 two weeks later.

With the Diamond Desert West Valley Grand Prix of Phoenix now complete, questions have arisen, including this will scenarios influencing last year reveal themselves in 2017?

As was evidenced last year, Chevrolet prevailed at Phoenix and Honda struggled to keep up. However, when the teams made their way to Indy, the tide changed. Honda won the pole position with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe and fellow manufacturer affiliate Andretti Autosport led a majority of the laps on race day, with Alexander Rossi taking the trophy. Let’s look at what could allow for a similar story.

Andretti Autosport has strength in numbers with six cars in their stable. One of them is driven by Ryan Hunter-Reay, who until suffering a pit road collision seemed primed to win the 1ooth Indianapolis 500. The team however, does have some hurdles to jump. They enter May just removed from frustrating results at Phoenix by all four full-time pilots. Also they are without Carlos Munoz, who joined A.J. Foyt Racing during silly season. Finally, there is the presence of current Formula One driver Fernando Alonso that could present a roadblock to their goal of victory. The Spaniard garners attention, but will his inclusion take away from the effectiveness of its regulars?

There are also questions raised from some of the other Honda teams. Chip Ganassi Racing returns to HPD’s camp for the first time since the 2013 Indy 500. CGR’s pairing with the engine option since IndyCar began using the Dallara DW12 chassis a year previous has been hot and cold. In 2012, CGR surged from mid-pack to grab a one-tw0 sweep for Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon. The following year, Ganassi could not replicate the result as they fared no better than 14th.

Unknowns also surface around 2016 pole winners Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, who enter this May at a slight disadvantage. After being held out of a portion of the IndyCar oval test last month at Texas Motor Speedway due to an engine rule violation, SPM has less experience with the new aero package as opposed to some others who will be in Gasoline Alley.

Now things are not all rosy for the Chevrolet party either. Team Penske has momentum following back-to-back IndyCar wins, but early season triumphs were not backed up last year. The Captain’s quartet failed to make an impact on race day as contact and misfortune pushed them out of contention. Without GM’s top dog, Honda took center stage.

The question is who will step up to uphold the Bow Tie’s legacy if Penske cannot?  Although four Chevy runners placed in the first ten in 2016, two of those squads are absent this year. As mentioned, Ganassi Racing has crossed over to rival territory, and KV Racing ceased operations. The missing in action reports, leave Ed Carpenter Racing as GM’s second in command. While J.R. Hildebrand enters this month off an excellent effort at Phoenix, team boss Carpenter was stuck among the back markers all weekend.

So in summary, Embury’s Outlook sees how an Indianapolis 500 close to a year ago could occur. However, five major threats from Chevrolet will keep the big three sharks from HPD honest from day one of practice.

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By Matt Embury

An auto racing writer for over five years, Matt Embury's interest in auto racing was influenced from his father's side of the family. His first recollection of live racing attendance was in the early 1990s watching winged sprint car action at Butler Motor Speedway in Michigan with his uncle and dad.

A major follower of both the Verizon IndyCar Series and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Matt has attended six previous Indianapolis 500s and rates Tony Kanaan's long awaited victory in the 2013 edition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing as his favorite memory.

Outside of following auto racing, Matt is an avid fan of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish athletics program and can often be seen at home games throughout the season or running the audio controls on several ND-related radio programs. A native of Springboro, Ohio, Matt now resides in Mishawaka, Indiana.