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Indy 500 Primer

Here's what you need to know when watching the 'Greatest Spectacle in Racing'

Published: May 23, 2014, 10:00 PM
Updated: November 26, 2014, 3:24 AM

2014 Indy 500 Practice - Walter Kuhn.

The Indianapolis 500, billed as "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing," is set to kick off at noon this Sunday, May 25, weather permitting.

While the first race was run in 1911, the competition was curtailed during the WWII years, making this the 98th running of what has become the world's largest sporting event, with annual attendance estimated in excess of 300,000 people.

Three Canadians are in the race, including James Hinchcliffe, starting second, former pole winner Alex Tagliani and 1995 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve. Hinchcliffe is a series regular, while Tagliani and Villeneuve are in one-off rides for this race.

Whether or not you're a regular race fan, the 500 is worth watching for the colour and the drama. Here are some things to know to help you get the most from the telecast, which is carried from 11 AM on City TV in Canada and ABC in the U.S.

> The 4.0-km (2.5-mile) Indianapolis Motor Speedway track is often referred to as an oval but in fact it's rectangle with four slightly banked (9.2-degree) corners and straightaways between them.

> Originally paved with 3.2-million bricks, it's now all asphalt except for a yard of bricks across the track at the start-finish line – but it's still affectionately called the Brickyard.

> The 200-lap race typically lasts more than three hours and cars typically stop six times to take on fuel and change tires.

> Pit stops may take as little as eight seconds with the car stopped and it usually takes longer to refuel than to change tires. There is a strictly-enforced speed limit within the pits, however, so adding the time slowing down and speeding up again, the total time lost for a pit stop typically is enough to fall a lap behind the leaders under green-flag conditions.

> A yellow flag is displayed for any condition deemed to make continued racing at full speed unsafe, such as a crashed car on or adjacent to the track. Under yellow flag conditions, the leader falls in line behind a pace car, running at much lower than race speed, and all the other cars are allowed to bunch up in line behind. No passing is allowed once the yellow flag is displayed.

> Pit stop timing strategy, especially with respect to yellow caution flag conditions, has frequently been the deciding factor in winning or losing the race. It's like a chess game played at 350 km/h (220 mph).

> All cars run on Sunoco E85 Ethanol fuel and specially-designed, slick Firestone racing tires. While Indy cars can race in the rain on road and street circuits, they cannot race at the Speedway if the track is wet.

> All the cars in the race are of the same specification, built by Dallara. Individual teams are strictly limited in the changes they can make to the cars, although they are highly adjustable in the areas of suspensions and aerodynamic wing settings.

> Specifications for both front and rear wings and rear bodywork are different for Speedway races so the cars look slightly different in this race than they do at road-course or street races, such as the Honda Toronto Indy. For example, in the 500, there are no endplates on the rear wings and the bodywork behind the rear tires is higher, with small fins.

> Engine specifications are also strictly controlled. Two engines are approved for competition – one from Chevrolet and one from Honda, both 2.2-litre V-6s with twin turbochargers, with peak outputs of about 675 horsepower. Each manufacturer's engines power about half the cars in the race.

> The number of cars in the 500 is limited by long-standing tradition to 33 starters, which line up in 11 rows of three for a rolling start. The cars line up single file for restarts after a yellow flag period.

> Under typical race conditions, drivers are subjected to acceleration forces up to 4Gs in corners and may lose as much as 3 kg due to dehydration during the race.

Traditionally, rather than champagne, the winning driver celebrates with a bottle of milk in the winner's circle.

The starting field for the 2014 Indianapolis 500, in qualifying order, is as follows:

2014 Indianapolis 500 Lineup

Starting Position / Driver/ Engine

1 Ed Carpenter / Chevy

2 James Hinchcliffe / Honda

3 Will Power / Chevy

4 Helio Castroneves / Chevy

5 Simon Pagenaud / Honda

6 Marco Andretti / Honda

7 Carlos Munoz / Honda

8 Josef Newgarden / Honda

9 JR Hildebrand / Chevy

10 Juan Pablo Montoya / Chevy

11 Scott Dixon / Chevy

12 Kurt Busch / Honda

13 Jack Hawksworth / Honda

14 Justin Wilson / Honda

15 Mikhail Aleshin / Honda

16 Tony Kanaan / Chevy

17 Sebastien Bourdais / Chevy

18 Oriol Servia / Honda

19 Ryan Hunter-Reay / Honda

20 Graham Rahal / Honda

21 Carlos Huertas / Honda

22 Pippa Mann / Honda

23 Takuma Sato / Honda

24 Alex Tagliani / Honda

25 Townsend Bell / Chevy

26 Charlie Kimball / Chevy

27 Jacques Villeneuve / Honda

28 James Davison / Chevy

29 Martin Plowman / Honda

30 Ryan Briscoe / Chevy

31 Sage Karam / Chevy

32 Sebastian Saavedra, /Chevy

33 Buddy Lazier / Chevy