INDIANAPOLIS —IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard is an optimist when it comes to putting 33 cars in this year’s Indianapolis 500.
A.J. Foyt is a believer, too.
The trick, of course, will be making it happen. On Sunday, Bernard offered to help find sponsors, engines and any other assistance to assure the traditional starting field is full for the May 27 race.
“We haven’t had a race since 1947 that didn’t have that many cars (33) and we have to do everything we can to make sure we get 33,” Bernard said.
Of course it wouldn’t look good to break with tradition now, a season in which IndyCar officials have put a brand new car on the track and brought back turbocharged engines.
But it’s not the first time this debate has been waged around the historic 2.5-mile Brickyard oval. There were similar questions in 2003, the last time the series changed cars, and it was a consistent question in the early days of the IndyCar-CART split back in the 1990s.
“Have you ever seen, in your life, the Indianapolis 500 start 31 cars and not 33?” Foyt said. “What makes you think that’s going to happen now? I’m quite sure the field will be full.”
The difference this time is that there’s a smaller margin of error.
With only 33 car-driver combinations and the Chevrolets and Honda engines almost all divvied up, filling spots with new cars will be a challenge.
Spare parts are hard to come by, too.
The key to making everything work could be Dragon Racing.
Through two days of rookie orientation and the first two days of full practice, neither of the two cars owned by Jay Penske has logged a lap. The team had used the struggling Lotus engines through the first four races this season. Now Penske has filed a $4.6 million lawsuit against Lotus, claiming the company had damaged Dragon’s reputation by spreading “especially outrageous” falsehoods, failing to deliver two chassis and hurting its ability to be competitive.
Penske has spent most of this week working on a resolution so his drivers, France’s Sebastien Bourdais and English rookie Katherine Legge, can start practicing.
Series officials met with Penske after the league adopted a new rule requiring IndyCar’s permission to change engines. The pending suit might also force Penske to get either a court injunction or a release from Lotus to make a change.
Late-week crashes could also pose a problem with Ana Beatriz, Bryan Clauson and Sebastian Saavedra not listing any backup cars on the entry list.
Does it really matter if the race starts with less than a full field?
“Not to me it doesn’t,” Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe said. “But if you have a bad week, that takes the stress off Bump Day. I think everybody wants a good Bump Day, and I think you’d always love to see 33 cars.”
Others are more sentimental.
“I love the tradition of Indianapolis and I’m disappointed we don’t have more cars here though I know there are a lot of extenuating circumstances,” said Mike Hull, the managing director for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. “The fact that we’re even discussing this is disappointing to me.”