Old rivalries offer new shine to Indy

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:52 AM ET

INDIANAPOLIS -- The big bonus of being a Champ Car series stop surviving the merger with the Indy Racing League is the winner of the Indianapolis 500 now comes to your event.

In fact, the entire Indy 500 now comes to your race.

Almost every car in the full 33 car field, at least 27 of them, will be on the airport track in Edmonton July 24-26 for what is now Canada's only IndyCar race.

What makes it extra interesting is that the Edmonton race will be the first new series stop the IRL series drivers will see before they finish the season at Surfer's Paradise in Australia.

YEARS AND YEARS

But it's also true that the Indy 500 itself has so much more to sell this year than it has had for years and years as the CART/Champ Car and IRL waged war and the Indy 500, which announced 400,000-plus attendance figures when I last covered the event, having had "only" 250,000 attending in recent years.

There's so much more to the 92nd edition of the race at the Brickyard this week than there has been for years and years.

Because of the Champ Car merger, the Andrettis, Foyts and Rahals are all back on the same track together for the first time since 1992 when Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt and Bobby Rahal raced the Memorial Day Weekend tradition.

This year Marco Andretti, A.J. Foyt IV, who will turn 24 on race day, and Champ Car grad Graham Rahal, who has already won a race in the series, will be on the track together.

A Champ Car rookie last year, Rahal, at 19 years and 142 days, will be the fifth youngest driver in the entire history of the race.

Foyt IV, who made it in on the back row, is the youngest, having raced on his 19th birthday and Marco Andretti was 19 years and 76 days old for his rookie race.

The race, thanks to the merger with Champ Car, will feature, at 11, the largest rookie class in more than a decade, including several Champ Car drivers who had never even driven on an oval before the series started this year and have only done so twice, but never one 500 miles long.

Rahal won a race already, but it was on a road course in St. Petersburg, Fla.

There's a fear here that there are so many who have never raced here or in more than two races in their lives where all the turns are left, is that there's potential for accidents galore.

And in this race, where the late L.A. Times columnist Jim Murray once led a column "gentlemen, start your coffins" that only sells tickets and attracts viewers.

Edmonton 2006 winner Justin Wilson may be an Indy 500 rookie, but is not new to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway having raced to eighth at a Formula One event here, on the road course, when they made it a U.S. Grand Prix in 2003.

Enrique Bernoldi was 13th in another Formula One race here in 2001.

But that doesn't count for much.

The Champ Car names you recognize will be in the middle of the grid - Rahal and Bruno Junqueira on the fifth row, Wilson on the sixth, Ryan Hunter-Reay on the seventh, Will Power on the eighth and Oral Servia on the ninth. Mario Dominguez spun into the wall here in "bump day" qualifying Sunday and didn't make the field.

It's a reunion on Gasoline Alley with Roger Penske, Newman/Haas/Lanigan, Andretti Green and all the teams back at the track together again.

Not only will Indy have a full field of 33 cars again, there's been more interest on the way to the race this year with Patrick and Rahal winning early races and a different winner in each event leading to Indianapolis.

And series points leader, two-time Indy winner and Dancing With The Stars champion Helio Castroneves, who has finished in the top five in all four races, isn't one of them.

FOUR-HOUR AD

With Scott Dixon, Dan Weldon and Ryan Briscoe on the front row, Castroneves, Patrick and Tony Kanaan on the second, Rexall Edmonton Indy fans will get educated about them all here this week, which isn't a bad thing, either.

Look at it this way. Sunday's Indy 500 amounts to a four-hour free commercial for the organizers of Canada's only race in the new combined series.


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