until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Seven dark horses for Indy 500 victory

by Jack Benyon
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Assuming the weather doesn’t get in the way, on Sunday the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will crown a 500 winner.

This event loves a narrative, drama, friction and pomp, so we’ve scoured the starting grid to find some relative underdog names to root for.

Here are our picks, let us know in the comments if you have another suggestion.

Kyle Larson

It feels harsh to call someone starting fifth in the Indy 500 a dark horse, but as much as it would be an incredible story to see NASCAR star Larson win the Indy 500 on his debut both at the event and an IndyCar, it’s a big ask.

Qualifying - where he absolutely excelled, of course -  is one thing but the race is a different beast. So many drivers have crashed late in a stint in recent 500s, and Larson has had less running than any of those because of the amount of curtailed practices by rain this year.

Three of the four drivers ahead of him have won this race and the other is on pole, and Larson hasn’t been one of the names other drivers have immediately offered up as having a great car in race trim, either.

But, Larson has approached the 500 in his own relaxed but laser-focused way, and if he can avoid any of the rookie pitfalls, he has a good team behind him at McLaren and anything can happen in this race.

You can dare to dream, the Double is on for now.

Marcus Ericsson

Despite being the 2022 race winner and the runner-up in 2023, Ericsson is on this list by virtue of starting from the 32nd spot for new employer Andretti.

No driver in the 107 previous Indy 500s so far has won from that spot!

However, the Indy 500 loves a comeback fairytale storyline and there is some logic to thinking Ericsson could provide one.

Even after his practice crash last week that ruined his primary car and a lot of the key parts that have been worked on by his crew for a whole year, he still believes his back-up car is a top 10 contener.

Andretti came on strong in the second half of last year’s race with Kyle Kirkwood, and it appears to have taken another step up - with rivals praising the Andretti cars in race simulation running.

Ericsson obviously has an incredible amount of work to do to even get to the top 10 he feels his car is capable of.

But it does feel like it’s been a while since a wild strategy gamble won the Indy 500. Starting so far back gives Ericsson the chance to take risks, and unlike a lot of drivers who start that far back and take big risks with strategy, Ericsson should have the pace to hold onto any positions he could leapfrog into via pit tactics.

Scott Dixon

Calling Scott Dixon an underdog at the 500 seems incredibly harsh, but he’s starting 21st and no one has won from there since 1924!

The fact that Dixon has only one Indy 500 win and that so many have slipped away from him only adds to the dark horse status.

Starting on pole as he has for two of the last three seasons hasn’t worked out so well for him, so perhaps the motivation of trying to move forward amid lower expectations will unlock something in Dixon and his Ganassi crew.

They may be hurting having not even been the top Honda in qualifying, but the race car is much better, and one of Dixon’s many talents his competitors can’t match is his fuel saving. Maybe that will come in handy…

Felix Rosenqvist

Felix Rosenqvist

The Swede still reckons he had the best car in last year’s race (when he was with McLaren) before crashing out.

Rosenqvist has made a fair amount of mistakes on his way to being the driver with the most DNFs in IndyCar last year, but his switch to Meyer Shank Racing has been like pulling on a perfectly-fitted glove as he has finished in the top 10 at every race this year, despite some major issues.

Meyer Shank has been fast in the 500 since it won in 2021 with Helio Castroneves, and in recent years it has always made its way forwards but qualified too far back.

Rosenqvist has delivered its second best Indy 500 qualifying. Perhaps he can banish the demons of last year’s ‘what if’ and make a statement. The last time MSR was in the top 10 in qualifying at the 500, it was that 2021 win.

Agustin Canapino

Agustin Canapino Juncos Hollinger Indy 500 2024

This lovely dude turned fierce competitor might be a wild selection for an Indy 500 win in his second year, but hear me out.

His Juncos Hollinger team-mate last year Callum Ilott - then in his second 500 too - went from 27th to 12th in the race. And Canapino is starting higher in 22nd.

Also, he should be starting in the top 12 if it wasn’t for the fuel issue that hampered seven separate Chevrolet cars before they got on top of it for Sunday qualifying. Canapino’s choked car was almost as painful to listen to as his radio message afterwards where he screamed in a sort of harrowing, primal way. He knew it was a big chance missed.

Anyway, what ifs will destroy us all. But no one will be as motivated or feel as hard done by as Canapino starting this race.

The ex-tin-top star has always impressed on ovals and he went well until a late crash here last year - Ilott also crashed in his first year - so there’s hope for the millions of Argentinians who will be cheering him on.

Colton Herta

Colton Herta Andretti Indianapolis 500 practice 2024

Colton Herta starts 13th, but he’s constantly being mentioned by other drivers as someone who has the best-looking race car, along with Alexander Rossi who starts fourth and won in 2016 so can’t be called an underdog this year.

Herta appears relaxed, is making jokes and genuinely seems to be enjoying his sixth Indy 500 - yes, sixth, he’s only 23! - and he’s gone through about every low the Speedway has to offer already.

Generally this year Herta’s appeared more consistent and back towards being the championship contender we all expect and want to see.

He’s a prodigious talent and that patience he has displayed this year could be vital in the Indy 500.

Scott McLaughlin

Scott McLaughlin Indianapolis 500 pole 2024

OK, I know you’re shouting at your screen right now, we’ve had 21 winners from pole (third is next best with 13) and polesitting Penske driver McLaughlin has every right to be considered a favourite for this race.

But even though pole is the spot to be in historically, it hasn’t produced a winner since Pagenaud in 2019. McLaughlin has enlisted Pagenaud to help him as a driver advisor at the Speedway this year and credited him for experimenting with new lines in his bid to score pole.

Penske has looked strong throughout the build-up but it’s McLaughlin’s team-mates Josef Newgarden and Will Power who are previous winners here. McLaughlin’s Indy 500 results are: 20th, crash, 14th.

However, when he arrived in IndyCar he had no oval experience and has turned himself into one of the most complete drivers in the series. He couldn’t even left-foot brake when he came over to IndyCar and yet had the best average finish on road courses in his second season, which shows how quickly he learns and his application.

It certainly won’t be a surprise if he proves the underdog or dark horse tag wrong.

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