Honda Racing / IZOD IndyCar Series / RacingLine
Honda's Indy 500 Starters
Following the death of his father when he was 12 years old, Tony Kanaan was supporting his mother and sister by racing go-karts professionally in Brazil. He eventually ended up with Andretti Green Racing and became one of the top drivers in open-wheel racing. "I think I would describe myself as 'determined,' "Kanaan said. "That carries over from my youth. I don't give up on anything."
Chosen to replace injured Dario Franchitti, NASCAR Winston Cup driver Robby Gordon is an eight-time veteran of the Indianapolis 500. He is perhaps best-known for his duel with Kenny Brack in the 1999 Indy 500. "My wideopen is just a little more wide-open than everybody else," Gordon said. "So when I come back conservative, that's like everybody else's wide-open."
The Swede burst onto the American racing scene by winning the IRL championship in 1998 and the Indy 500 in 1999. From there, he moved to CART before returning to the IRL with Team Rahal for the 2003 season. "I won from eighth in 1999, so starting up front is good," he said. "If you can't get the pole, it doesn't really matter, as long as you're close to the front."
A 24-year-old British road racer, Dan Wheldon was the surprise of the opening week of practice and qualifying at Indy, taking to the historic speedway like a seasoned veteran. He topped the speed charts in three practice sessions leading up to qualifying. "My dad called after every practice session to see what my average speed was," said Wheldon, who topped out over 232 mph in practice. "Then he'd tell my mom, just to wind her up."
A 25-year-old veteran of karting and smaller open-wheel racing series, Roger Yasukawa won a Formula Atlantic race at The Milwaukee Mile in just his second race. After that, he joined Super Aguri Fernandez Racing for the 2003 IRL season. "It comes down to the driver being able to feel the car and the conditions," Yasukawa said. "A driver has to have enough experience to know how to react."
One of the legends of motorsports with a career spanning three decades, Michael Andretti will retire from driving after the Indy 500. The wind during pole qualifying almost proved too much for Andretti, who nearly made contact with the Turn Two wall during his qualifying run. "I could feel it this morning in the motor home," he said. "I was like, 'Man, I don't even want to get out of bed. It's going to be a long day, a long four laps.'"
After inventing a remote-control device for miniblinds and becoming a successful entrepreneur in his 20s, Greg Ray began focusing on his love - motorsports. He eventually found himself at Indy, where he started on the front row four consecutive times. "This place is very special to me," Ray said. "There's something about Indy that's magical."
He'd never driven at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, missed the first three days of practice, and he couldn't have picked worse conditions for qualifying. With a howling wind making driving difficult, Shinji Nakano put the Beck Motorsports No. 54 Honda-powered Dallara on the outside of the fifth row. "I've never run this track before, so I don't know the normal track conditions," he said.