All the attention so far during the month of May has been on two-time F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso. The McLaren/Andretti bid to win101st Indianapolis 500 with Alonso (part 2 of Alonso’s ‘triple crown’ effort) has created enough hype to overshadow pretty much all other news coming out of Gasoline Alley.
Alonso is undoubtedly the most famous dark horse for victory in 2017 but what about some of the other potential surprise winners of this year’s Indy 500?
Oriol Servia – Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Every championship and every era has an Oriol Servia – the talented, very quick, nice guy who just never seemed to be in the right place at the right time. When Servia lines up for his 10th attempt at the Indy 500, there are plenty of reasons to consider the ‘other Spaniard’ a dark horse for victory.
Servia will be running the preferred aero/engine package for the 2017 Indy 500 – a solid foundation on which to build his form throughout May. Pairing up with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for the third time places Servia in both a familiar and strong team. Plus RLL’s pedigree at the Indy 500 is in many respects second only to the likes of Penske, Ganassi and Andretti.
Stronger than you would think at the 500
RLL has recorded ten top 10 finishes in their 13 visits to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That includes four top 5 finishes and their breakout Indy 500 win with Buddy Rice in 2004. Former Indy Lights champion Servia himself has a pretty good record at Indy as well.
Perceptions of the former ChampCar driver as perennially quick but always in the wrong team ignore two top 10 finishes in his last six attempts. One of which was for a Newman-Haas team on the brink of extinction. Others with IndyCar minnows and teams of the past Walker Racing and Pather Racing.
If RLL can put their dismal start to 2017 behind them, keep an eye out for Servia on May 28.
Carlos Munoz – AJ Foyt Racing
Running a full-time schedule as de facto team leader would ordinarily discount a driver for consideration as a dark horse. In the case of Carlos Munoz and his bid to win the 2017 Indy 500 I am making an exception.
Munoz is one of those drivers that seem to have a natural affinity with the Brickyard. Two top 5 finishes in Indy Lights preceded a 2nd place finish on his Indy 500 debut in 2012 and another, painful 2nd place finish in 2017. So how can a driver of this caliber be a dark horse? Well, for a couple of good reasons.
The Colombian’s switch to AJ Foyt Racing should have been the start of a period of growing success. Instead Munoz and teammate Conor Daly are having a season to forget. Running the benchmark Chevy package has coincided with a partial swing in performance towards Honda. Allied to the inherent edge Honda has always had at Indy, that could represent a big deficit.
One top 10 in 9 attempts does not bode well…
Significant engineering changes plus adapting to a new engine/aero combination has got the better of AJ Foyt Racing so far this season. And unlike Munoz’s former team – Andretti Autosport – Foyt Racing has only recorded one top 10 finish in the past 9 attempts at Indy.
The form book suggests Munoz is in for a torrid month of May. Indianapolis however has a habit of kick-starting seasons. Munoz knows how to be fast around Indianapolis and Foyt can produce cars quick enough to win – think Takuma Sato in 2012. Plus the likes of Penske and Ganassi have demonstrated that a Chevrolet package need not preclude a competitive performance at Indy.
Graham Rahal – Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
After carrying the hopes of Honda almost singlehandedly for the past two seasons, Rahal must have thought 2017 was going to be his season. Yet the turning tide of performance that has seen Honda take the fight to Chevrolet has left Rahal high and dry.
Honda teams – excluding Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing – have taken the fight convincingly to Chevrolet. Rahal’s form has been in sharp contrast to his title-challenging runs in 2015 and 2016. Like Munoz, current form suggests Rahal is going to struggle at Indianapolis but the speedway has never been a great respecter of the form book.
Rahal hits the reset button on 2017
Indy is a great chance for Rahal to hit the reset button. Graham has struggled on street, road and short oval courses in 2017 until the recent Indy GP. Super speedways are the only track format left on the IndyCar calendar and the chances of a talented team and driver sucking on every type of track is slim. It is also easy to forget that Rahal has recorded 3 top 5 finishes in the 500 in the past 6 attempts, including a runner up placing in 2015 and 4th last season.
Rahal is definitely a confidence driver. Assuming he can carry the momentum of his 6th place finish at the Indy Grand Prix of Indianapolis in to practice for the 500, it could set him up nicely for a shot at the big one.