INDY 500 PREVIEW: Five Brits line up on the grid

A healthy five British racing drivers will take the start of the Indianapolis 500 later on today. None of them made the Fast Nine qualifying this year but this is the first time since 2013 there have been this many drivers from this side of the Atlantic starting the race, topping the four who started in recent years.

20th – Max Chilton

#59 Carlin Dallara-Chevrolet

Chilton is more at home this year in IndyCar than at any time in his third year in the series. The former Formula 1 driver has fond memories of Indianapolis too, having led and finished fourth last year here last year. 2018 has been a challenge though, what with new team Carlin finding its feet. A best finish of 16th is scant return but it is early days for team and driver, who are reunited following their Indy Lights campaign in 2015, as well as pairings in GP2 and British Formula 3 over the years.

Following his Indy 500 debut in 2016, when he finished 15th, Chilton led 50 laps last year en route to fourth, which ranks as his strongest performance in IndyCar to date. It will be a tall order to claim a top ten finish this year, what with it being Carlin’s first race, but the hope on this side of the Atlantic is for such a feat to be achieved, with Chilton saying he and the team are feeling good going into the race today.

23rd – Stefan Wilson

#25 Andretti Autosport Dallara-Honda

After missing out last year, having given up his place in the Andretti line-up to some bloke called Fernando Alonso, you could argue that Wilson deserves his chance this year. Hence it is good to see such a solid qualifying performance from the 28 year-old brother of the late Justin. 2018 marks his second appearance in an IndyCar race since his brother’s death – both at Indy – after a number of near-misses. He finished down in 28th back in 2016 with KVSH Racing, following electrical issues that forced his retirement after 119 laps.

Stefan has come a long way since starting out in Formula Palmer Audi for his brother’s team in 2006/7. Four wins in that category saw promotion to British Formula 3, in what was a mixed campaign for Fluid Motorsport. This led to Stefan following in Justin’s footsteps by moving to the US, leading to 3rd in the 2011 Indy Lights series with Andretti. Since then, Stefan has only started the two IndyCar races and a range of other one-off appearances, while various IndyCar programmes have sadly not come to fruition.

There will be many – both at home and in the US – who will be willing Wilson on in the race and one hopes it will lead to more regular appearances in the series. An eighth row start alongside Gabby Chaves and Sage Karam will see how he measures up against two young chargers in the series. With the backing of Andretti Autosport behind him, a top 15 finish could be within his grasp.

28th – Jay Howard

#7 SPM/AFS Racing Dallara-Honda

37 year-old Howard left to race in the United States much sooner than most European racers do, making the move after two years of Formula Ford in 2003. Titles in US Formula Ford and Indy Pro series led to a variety of bit-part programmes over the years for the Basildon-born man. Howard has had a bumpy time in the Indy 500, starting in 2008 where he passed his rookie test, only to be replaced by John Andretti. He failed to qualify in 2010 but was running as high as 7th the following year, only to finish down the order in 30th. Last year he started 20th but finished last following a crash at turn one.

Howard spends a fair amount of his time driver coaching as opposed to racing these days, as well as karting and running a team in the Formula 4 US Championship. That said, he knows Indianapolis well. So long as he improves on his 2017 showing, it will be worthwhile.

29th – Ed Jones

#10 Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara-Honda

The Emirati passport-holding Brit started his IndyCar career last year with Dale Coyne, following his title-winning season in Indy Lights the year before. He took IndyCar by storm this time last year by finishing third in the great race, with a broken front wing perhaps thwarting his hopes of challenging for outright victory in the final stages. His performances last year were enough to persuade Ganassi’s crack outfit to employ the 23 year old this year in, what was, one of the surprise moves of the off-season.

That Jones is racing in the USA probably owes a lot to Trevor Carlin, who brought him over from his Euro F3 team for his team’s first season in Indy Lights in 2015. 3rd and 1st place overall finishes saw Jones get that promotion to the main event in 2017. It followed a non-descript European racing career that peaked with the 2013 European F3 Open title.

It will be a tough job for Jones to get to the business end of the field but with Ganassi Racing behind him, you never know. Expect Jones to lean on strategy, which could mean he is a safety car period away from challenging for a podium.

31st – Jack Harvey

#60 Meyer Shank Racing with Schmidt Peterson Dallara-Honda

Still only 25, Harvey is one of those racers who has the talent but has struggled for the money needed to keep a top-line career going. The 2018 Indianapolis 500 marks his second start in the race, his sixth overall in IndyCar, despite showing pedigree via two runners-up finishes in the Indy Lights series in 2014 and 1015.

Harvey’s career is littered with what-ifs. He started in Formula BMW, narrowly losing the 2010 title to Robin Frijns as well as beating F1 racers Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat. When he won the British Formula 3 Championship in 2012 it looked as though Harvey was on the way up. Two wins in GP3 the following year though saw the Newark-born driver make the switch Stateside, where wins have come in Lights but races have been few and far between in IndyCar.

Harvey has a difficult job to make a decent placing stick, seeing as he is starting so far back. However a good run may lead to the regular drives his talent richly deserves.

Not qualified – Pippa Mann

#63 Dale Coyne Racing Dallara-Honda

Poor Pippa. She worked hard to get this far and put together a program for the Indy 500, but she could not get over the final hurdle and qualify for the race itself. In the end she was bumped from the field, having been too slow on her third attempt, causing her to miss her first Indy 500 in five years.

Coverage of the race can be found on BT Sport, which will be broadcasting the build-up and the race live. On Twitter, follow @indycaruk for the in-race action. We will, of course, be tracking the fortunes of the British racers in particular on Twitter @britpackdrivers.

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