The Indianapolis 500 holds a special place in the motorsport world. The race is unlike any other and often provides an intriguing contest.

This weekend's edition is set to be no different and there is no shortage of things to keep an eye on during the 107th running of the famous race.

Some drivers are seeking redemption after disappointment last year, others are experiencing the Indy 500 with a different team - and then there is Graham Rahal, who is set to race after all, despite getting bumped out of qualifying.

Here is Autosport's guide of the key themes and storylines to keep an eye on this weekend.

1. New aero package, no double points

Power says he's really noticed a difference to the car after raft of aero options added for drivers

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

Although the Dallara chassis remains the same in IndyCar – at 11 years and counting – the series has opened up a raft of aerodynamic options for 2023 to allow the single-spec cars to run better in traffic and improve overtaking chances. To help eradicate their inherent ‘push’ handling characteristic when running behind another car, a new underwing inner bargeboard, the use of road course strakes, and an infill wicker are all available.

“At the Indy 500, drivers in the pack can run up to 10% more downforce than last year,” says Tino Belli, IndyCar’s director of aerodynamic development. Additionally, a new rear-wing pillar specification will allow three degrees more adjustability range for the rear flap, and Belli adds: “With the increased rear-wing range, teams can still try and trim out the rear wing for end-of-race speed if they have worked their way up into the lead group.”

There are also mandatory stability wickers, and new optional flap wickers available to attach to the top surface trailing edge of the underwing. That all adds up to an expected 250lb of extra downforce.

Arrow McLaren racing director Gavin Ward explains: “It’s going to be a downforce-against-drag trade-off. For instance, the more you load up the rear end of the floor, the more you move the centre of pressure rearwards. And the different rear-wing pillar allows you to go more nose-down on the wing element.”

Penske’s reigning series champion Will Power says he’s felt a big difference in practice: “You feel a lot more stuck, the car feels more comfortable, a lot less edgy and more forgiving.”

Another big change is the ditching for the 500 of double points, which was introduced in 2014 to add more meaning to the round. But IndyCar now admits that the rule “has proven to overly penalise full-time championship teams that have performed poorly in the 500”. Power concurs: “It was unnecessary and just spreads everyone out in the championship.”

2. Three stars seeking redemption

Dixon wants to bounce back from last year's pitlane speeding disappointment

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

Chip Ganassi Racing won last year’s Indy 500, but Marcus Ericsson relied on stealth over outright speed as two of his quicker team-mates fell by the wayside.

Scott Dixon started on pole for the fifth time in his career but finished 21st, despite leading 95 laps, due to a penalty for speeding in the pitlane that occurred in his final scheduled stop of the day. Dixon admitted he was “heartbroken” by his error: “The car had really good speed, the team did an amazing job on strategy. I just messed up.”

Dixon traded the lead early on with team-mate Alex Palou, to save fuel over the opening stint to gain an advantage, but the Spaniard also suffered a pitlane disaster ahead of his second stop of the day when he was forced to take emergency service under caution. The resulting penalty sent him to 32nd place after the restart, yet he battled his way back to finish ninth.

“If something goes wrong, you’re done for another year,” Palou shrugs. “But I just love driving here, it’s a mental game as much as a driving and racing game.”

But perhaps the man who hasn’t slept easiest of anyone since is Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward, who had a great chance to grab the lead on the final lap last year but backed out of it at Turn 1.

“He [Ericsson] was gonna put me in the wall if I would have gone for it,” he reckoned afterwards. “We had no wicker, less downforce and still not enough speed to get by him, even with a massive run. It’s frustrating, it’s bittersweet… It definitely stings.”

Of his approach to this year, O’Ward says: “There’s only one more place we need to gain, and I know how to put us in a position to do it. We just need to try and do that again and take advantage of the opportunities presented to us.”

3. Double-edged strategy battle

Herta guided Wheldon to a win in 2011 but says Indy 500 strategy can be a fickle business

Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

IndyCar race-winning driver-turned-star-strategist Bryan Herta has twice won the Indianapolis 500 as a team owner, with Dan Wheldon in 2011 and Alexander Rossi in 2016.

The race often comes down to a split decision – if there’s a lot of green running, is your car fast enough to triumph on a six-stop strategy? Or, if there are many yellows, can you get away with five and beat them with a long run at the end?

“The call kind of, to a certain extent, makes itself,” says Herta, who plots the strategy for Kyle Kirkwood at Andretti Autosport. “We did opposite things in our two wins – with Dan it was a flat-out run while others were saving fuel. With Rossi, we were on the other side of it, saving fuel when other people were flat-out trying to run us down.

“You choose what plays to your strengths. With Dan, the Ganassi cars were going a lap or two longer on fuel economy than we were, so that one seemed obvious that we shouldn’t try and get in a common battle with them.

“With Rossi, we had a couple of bad pitstops early. And even though we had a fast car, we were so deep in the field that it was clear we weren’t going to be able to race all the way to the front going flat-out. So that forced us to ask ourselves, ‘Can we make one less stop?’

“As the race unfolds, you spend a lot of time planning. But I think it’s being willing to adjust and really watch what’s happening, understand how the race is unfolding, what your car and your driver is good at that day. I just try and give them a way to play to their strengths, and then hope that it unfolds in the right way for us.”

4. Kanaan’s last dance, Sato at Ganassi

After plenty of success, this year's 500 is set to be Kanaan's last crack at the great race

Photo by: Geoffrey M. Miller / Motorsport Images

This weekend Tony Kanaan brings down the curtain on his IndyCar career, which started way back in the CART days in 1998, with a one-off start for Arrow McLaren.

The 2013 Indy 500 winner, 2005 polesitter and 2004 series champion can still cut the mustard at this level and proved it by finishing third in last year’s 500 with Chip Ganassi Racing, his ninth top-five finish. In total he’s won 17 times at this level, and last year’s race was supposed to be his last, but the 48-year-old Brazilian couldn’t resist one final offer…

He says: “Zak [Brown, McLaren Racing boss] called and I looked at the results: the two teams that dominated was the one that I was in and the one that was calling me. So you can’t refuse that! You think you miss it, then you drive the car again and realise you really miss it. It’s going to be emotional.”

Effectively taking his place in Ganassi’s 500 line-up is Takuma Sato, the 2017 and 2020 Indy 500 winner. The 46-year-old Japanese is only racing on the ovals this year, but he has an incredible feel for these tracks, coupled with vast experience and his “no attack, no chance” racing ethos.

Following his near-miss in 2012, when a last-lap clash with Ganassi’s Dario Franchitti put him in the Turn 1 wall, he’s been a fan favourite at the speedway. Now he’ll have Franchitti by his side, as the team’s driver advisor.

“I never pictured myself with Chip Ganassi Racing going to the Indy 500 – ever,” says Sato. “But it is happening. This is one of the most exciting moments in my career. This organisation is just at another level.”

5. Can Herta conquer the oval as well as the road course?

Herta has endured contrasting fortunes at Indianapolis so far

Photo by: Geoffrey M. Miller / Motorsport Images

Each IndyCar driver has their own special relationship with Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Andretti Autosport star Colton Herta certainly has a love/hate connection to the venue.

Herta scored a brilliant win in horrendous weather conditions at the Indy GP on the road course last year, but this was followed days later by a brutal shunt on the oval in final practice that flipped his car.

“This race, it’s so important,” he says. “So much history at the Speedway. I’ve only won the Grand Prix. I’d love to win at the end of May.”

His Indy 500 resumé includes two mechanical failures, an eighth and a 16th-place finish – along with a front-row start in 2021. Does he feel like the Speedway owes him a break?

“I sure hope it feels that way,” he replies. “It’s tough to say that it owes you something, but [the oval] is a place that kind of has eluded us the past few years as far as strong results. I think we’ve only had one top-10 here.

“We definitely aren’t as bad as the results show, but minor tweaks here and there… This place is so difficult, five, six stops, whatever. It’s such a long race compared to what we normally have. There’s so much more that can go wrong in the track evolution. It’s so much bigger than everything else.”

His Andretti Autosport team-mate Romain Grosjean will also hope for better fortune than on his debut last year, when he crashed hard at Turn 2. He comes into Indy after a late-race wreck at Texas Motor Speedway, where he registered a 56g impact, but was buoyed by his competitiveness there.

“Texas was an eye-opener for me in terms of what we need from our car to feel good,” he says. “We’re getting to a good spot for Indy, and I know much more what I want.”

6. Rahal’s resurrection

Rahal thought he would miss out this year until he was offered the chance to substitute for Wilson

Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

After being bumped from the Indy 500 starting grid by a team-mate in his family-run squad last Sunday, a bitterly disappointed Graham Rahal thought his week would be “filled with golf and kids”. But, less than 24 hours later, he got a phone call that led to him being parachuted into the #24 Cusick Motorsports/Dreyer and Reinbold entry that Stefan Wilson had qualified in 25th place.

Wilson suffered a fractured vertebra in a practice crash on Monday, ironically involving another of Rahal’s (former) team-mates, Katherine Legge. With Rahal the obvious choice, the big stumbling block was that he’s a Honda-engined driver, and D&R’s car is supplied by Chevrolet.

Amazingly, Honda countenanced the move, with HPD president David Salters saying: “We want the Indy 500 to be as good as it can possibly be, and we think the race is better with Graham in one of the 33 machines.”

Rahal, who will start from the rear of the field in a backup car, says: “This situation is super unique. Going to jump in, be a little bit of a quick learning experience, but it's nothing that we haven't done before.

“My job is to go out there and make everybody here proud, and that includes Stef. I'm sure emotionally this is a very, very, very tough time for him.”

It puts Rahal, a former team-mate of Wilson’s late brother Justin, in the intriguing position of racing against his regular-season team run by his father Bobby, and means he’ll line up next to Jack Harvey – the man who knocked him off the grid in the first place.

“I wish my team at RLL the best for sure,” Rahal adds. “I certainly want to see them succeed. But I also wouldn't be doing this if I didn't want to go win with Don [Cusick] and Dennis [Reinbold]. That's my job. So that's what we're going to try to go do.

“Jack hasn't gotten rid of me yet!”

7. McLaren’s mega triple crown homage

Rosenqvist's special livery is celebrating Prost's 1984 Monaco GP win

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

When it comes to the coolest colour schemes in this year’s starting grid, McLaren takes the cake by celebrating its 60th anniversary with three retro liveries, which it’s thrown back to its triple crown victories in the Indy 500, Monaco Grand Prix and Le Mans 24 Hours.

Alexander Rossi’s #7 is draped in McLaren’s traditional papaya and blue to celebrate its 1976 Indy win, when Johnny Rutherford took his second 500 victory in a rain-shortened race aboard a McLaren M16. Felix Rosenqvist’s #6 car is a hat tip to the McLaren MP4/2, with which Alain Prost won the 1984 Monaco GP. Pato O’Ward’s #5 is back in black, in homage to the 1995 Le Mans win, when the Gordon Murray-designed F1 GTR triumphed in the hands of Yannick Dalmas, JJ Lehto and Masanori Sekiya.

“It’s awesome, the best-looking car I’ve ever driven,” says Rosenqvist, who finished fourth in the 500 last year. “It’s just peak McLaren, and I feel like the team has some really good momentum here.”

O'Ward's livery recalls McLaren's 1995 Le Mans glory

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

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