Motorsport: It's Indy-time

By Eric Thompson

Scott Dixon is back for another crack at one of the three big titles

Scott Dixon during practice for 2013 Indy 500. Photo / IndyCar
Scott Dixon during practice for 2013 Indy 500. Photo / IndyCar

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines. The drivers on the grid of one of the best-known motor racing events in the world will hear those famous words around 4am on Monday, our time.

The Indianapolis 500 is one of three titles that make up the Triple Crown of motorsport, with the Le Mans 24 Hours and F1 World Championship (though some historians prefer the Monaco Grand Prix). Graham Hill, father of world champion Damon Hill, was the only driver to have all three trophies on his mantelpiece - Indianapolis in 1966, Le Mans in 1972 and the F1 World Championship in 1962 and 68. (If you prefer the other method, Hill wins again - he triumphed in Monte Carlo five times between 1963 and 1969.)

This is the 97th running of the world's biggest one-day sporting event, which attracts up to 400,000 fans and is beamed live to about 200 countries.

The 33 cars competing were settled this week. Ed Carpenter is on pole, and alongside him are rookie Carlos Munoz and Marco Andretti.

New Zealand's 2008 Indy 500 winner, Scott Dixon, is in unfamiliar territory back in 16th with his Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate and three-time winner Dario Franchitti next to him.

Dixon could take heart that Franchitti won last year from the same position. This is Dixon's 11th Indy 500 and he has not finished outside the top 10 since 2005.

The Target boys' Honda-powered cars have struggled to match the Chevy-powered cars all season. The first 10 cars on the gird all have Chevy engines.


Indy 500 terms

Qualifying
What is often forgotten at the Indy 500 is that the car is qualified, not the driver. If the car makes the final 33 on the grid it does not necessarily mean the bloke who qualified it gets to race it.

Pole Day
The day the 24 fastest cars are locked and loaded for the race. The fastest nine go again to ascertain the first three rows of the grid.

Bump Day
The last day of qualifying when the final nine grid spots are confirmed. As soon as 33 cars have qualified the bump starts. If a driver goes faster than one of the bottom nine,
the 33rd driver is ''bumped'' out and the faster driver slots into the field, knocking everyone down one spot.

Carburetion Day
The last day the cars are allowed on the track before race day. Practice is only between 11am and 1pm. Afterwards the teams take part in the Pit Stop competition to see who has the fastest pit crew.

Gasoline Alley
Nickname for the garage area where the cars are kept during race fort night. It originated in 1920 and denoted where the fuel was kept, but grew to include the garage area.

Snake Pit
The infield at Turn One was generally known for alcohol-fuelled rowdiness, streaking, motorbikes and party atmosphere. In 1981, seating was erected and space was taken for extra buildings. The crowd moved to Turn Four but Snake Pit II was a far more subdued affair and eventually it was snuffed out.

Yard of Bricks
A yard-wide line of bricks from the original track inserted into the start-finish line, which the winner traditionally kneels beside and kisses after the race.

Drinking the milk
1933 winner Louis Meyer was photographed in his garage downing a glass of milk to quench his thirst. He repeated the exercise after winning his third 500 title in 1936,
as his mum had told him buttermilk was a good pick-me-up. Now drivers have a choice of whole milk, 2 per cent or skim milk.

How old is the race?
The first Indy 500 was held in 1911 but this is only the 97th running. War ruled out the 1917-18 and 1942-45 events.

Why 500 miles?
In 1911, race organiser Carl Fisher decided to scrap a whole lot of shorter races and have one big one. He wanted the race to last seven hours so 500 miles, over 200 laps, was agreed. Inaugural winner Ray Harroun won in 6hrs 42min 8sec. The fastest race was in 1991: Arie Luyendyk took 2hrs 41min.

Why 33 cars?
The American Automobile Association determined the safe distance between each car spaced around any track should be 121m, thus determining the number of cars permitted to start on the 4km speedway.


Indy by the numbers

1 First pole for Ed Carpenter in the Indianapolis 500

2 Carlos Munoz becomes second rookie to qualify on front row after Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000

4 women have qualified: Simona De Silvestro, Ana Beatriz, Pippa Mann and Katherine Legge

10 Drivers have won at least three times: AJ Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser (4); Helio Castroneves, Dario Franchitti, Johnny Rutherford, Louis Meyer, Mauri Rose, Wilbur Shaw, Bobby Unser.

17 Starts for Buddy Lazier, the most among this year's 33 drivers

20 Winners from the pole

22 Age of youngest winner, Troy Ruttman, 22 years, 80 days, in 1952

28 Lowest starting position to win from (Ray Harroun, Louis Meyer)

33 Cars allowed to race

35 Most consecutive career starts (AJ Foyt)

47 Age of oldest winner, Al Unser, 47 years, 360 days, in 1987

144 Combined previous starts among the 33 drivers

563 Field-high practice laps turned by Scott Dixon

2001 Last time a rookie won (Helio Castroneves)

13,390 Practice laps completed since opening day, May 11

363.994 Average speed (km/h)

369.840 Fastest lap (km/h) in practice by Will Power, May 18, the fastest practice lap since 2003

- NZ Herald

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