Indy 500 turns 100 to­day

Par­tic­i­pants want to milk race for all it is worth

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - SPORTS - By Jenna Fryer

INDIANAPOLIS — Tony Kanaan spent the final prac­tice be­fore the Indianapolis 500 talk­ing to the race track.

He wanted to be kind to the old lady, to land in her good graces be­fore the his­toric 100th run­ning of “The Great­est Spec­ta­cle In Rac­ing.”

“I think this track will pick the win­ner. What­ever she picks, it’s go­ing to be a very lucky guy,” Kanaan said Fri­day af­ter land­ing atop the leader­board at Indianapolis Mo­tor Speed­way. “I’m try­ing to mas­sage the track a lit­tle bit, talk to her nicely and then see if she will pick me on Sun­day.”

Kanaan has led a to­tal of 715 miles around the sprawl­ing speed­way, but it took him 12 tries to win the check­ered flag. That 2013 vic­tory was the most im­por­tant of his ca­reer and the Brazil­ian is ea­ger to try for an­other in front of the first ca­pac­ity crowd in the his­tory of a race that was first run in 1911. There could be more than 350,000 peo­ple on hand on what is ex­pected to be a warm, sunny day that will be marked by cel­e­bra­tion.

“I’m so hum­bled to be part of this, I’ve al­ways wanted to be in this race since I was a lit­tle kid,” he said. “I never re­ally came to this place un­til I raced in 2002, so I haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced what it’s like when this place is sold out. I’ve been here for 15 years and I’ve never, never seen any­thing like this. I hope it’s the big jump we need to bring the 500 back to where it be­longs.”

This cen­ten­nial run­ning has turned a spe­cial event into a once-in-a-life­time ex­pe­ri­ence. At least 100,000 fans poured into the speed­way Fri­day for Carb Day, the tra­di­tional final day of prac­tice. Ev­ery­one wants to be part of the show, and ev­ery driver wants to win this race.

Marco An­dretti has been pre­par­ing for Sun­day for an en­tire year.

His fam­ily suf­fers from the no­to­ri­ous “An­dretti curse” that has pro­duced just one vic­tory — Mario An­dretti in 1969 — de­spite nu­mer­ous chances to win. Michael An­dretti re­turned from re­tire­ment in 2006 to race against his son, an Indy 500 rookie, and the curse struck again. Michael An­dretti held a late lead, only to be passed by his son and then Sam Hor­nish Jr. went roar­ing by and passed Marco at the fin­ish line.

An­other An­dretti de­feat.

“I think about it still ev­ery day,” Marco said. “See, this place was re­ally, re­ally tough to us. We’ve been healthy as a fam­ily with all the tries, over 70-some­thing tries, we’re blessed to be healthy. But man, we’ve had a lot of plane rides home talk­ing about how we didn’t win it, and that’s get­ting old.”

This is the one he re­ally wants for his fam­ily.

“This whole buildup, all the buzz sur­round­ing this race, I’ve never been a part of any­thing like it,” he said. “Just to put your mark on the 100th would be huge. I keep say­ing, ‘It’s only right an An­dretti wins the 100th.’ ”

An­dretti is like the 32 other driv­ers in the field in their de­sire to be­come the 100th face on the famed BorgWarner tro­phy.

Among those eye­ing the win­ner’s bot­tle of milk to­day is Gra­ham Ra­hal, who is try­ing to win his first Indy 500 on the 30th an­niver­sary of the race won by his fa­ther, Bobby.

More than any­thing, Ra­hal is striv­ing to help IndyCar and its cor­ner­stone event use the 100th run­ning to strengthen the se­ries and en­sure that the Indy 500 re­mains a fix­ture in Amer­i­can sports.

“I put a lot of pres­sure on my­self to try and help this sport grow. If we could win it, ob­vi­ously it would be a great plat­form to do even more of that,” Ra­hal said. “Who­ever wins this thing needs to be on top of their game and pro­mote like crazy and work hard. I re­ally hope it’s an Amer­i­can, hon­estly. This is go­ing to be a big one. They’ve cap­tured that au­di­ence again that maybe we had lost there for a lit­tle bit. Now we’ve got to keep their at­ten­tion and keep it go­ing.”

Al­though a pair of Amer­i­cans — Josef New­gar­den and 2014 win­ner Ryan Hunter-Reay — will start on the front row to­day, a Cana­dian will lead the field to the green flag. James Hinch­cliffe was the feel-good pole win­ner for the 500, a year af­ter he nearly died in a crash dur­ing a prac­tice ses­sion the day af­ter qual­i­fy­ing. His crash caused a part to break off his car and it skew­ered one of his thighs, caus­ing Hinch­cliffe to nearly bleed to death as IndyCar’s safety team raced him to emer­gency surgery.

He watched the 500 from his hospi­tal bed and re­mem­bers very lit­tle of last May be­cause he was heav­ily med­i­cated while hos­pi­tal­ized.

MICHAEL CON­ROY / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

The big­gest vic­tory of Tony Kanaan’s ca­reer came in 2013 when he won the In­di­anaplois 500.

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