Indy 500: Vertical Wings, Battle Of Legends, And A 1st For Women

By: CNN, Posted by Chelsey Moran
By: CNN, Posted by Chelsey Moran

(CNN) -- It's a year of legends battling it out, new safety measures hitting the track, and women achieving a first at the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.

The 96th annual Indy will also honor last year's winner, Dan Wheldon, who died in another race last October.

Thirty-three drivers take part in the race, 200 laps of pure adrenaline and no brakes for a total distance of 500 miles.

Much of the focus is on Helio Castroneves, who could become the fourth four-time winner on Sunday.

"Castroneves has become a master of the Speedway, scoring Indy 500 wins in his first two attempts in 2001 and 2002," writes Sports Illustrated's Bruce Martin. "His third Indy 500 win in 2009 came one month after he was acquitted of federal income tax evasion charges."

Castroneves is racing with Ryan Briscoe and Will Power.

But two drivers on another team -- Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti -- are pushing for their second and third wins, respectively, Martin writes.

The race isn't just about the drivers -- it's also about the vehicles. And for the first time since 2005, there are multiple engine manufacturers competing, Martin notes.

But this year the attention on power is taking a backseat to safety.

Since the death of two-time Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon in a 15-car crash at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in October, this is the year of safety measures.

Wheldon died when his vehicle became airborne and hit a fence pole. A new design being used this year is supposed to prevent cars from becoming airborne.

Italian firm Dallara has created the new DW12 chassis, named for Wheldon, who helped test the car before his accident.

Wider cockpits, wheel guards, a smaller engine, vertical wings on the side panels and energy absorption foam have all been added to keep drivers safer on the track, and in the event of an accident.

"We'll all be driving with heavy hearts," driver Marco Andretti told CNN. "... I think we just have to think of what a happy person he was and how much he loved the sport and Indy in particular."

There's also another first: an all-female racing team at the Indy.

Katherine Legge is the ninth woman to qualify for the race, but the first to bring an all-female team with her.

She is also sporting a Girl Scouts logo on her helmet and representing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) as an ambassador.

"My parents said 'You can be anything that you put your mind to,'" Legge told CNN. She said she hopes girls get the message "to follow whatever they want to be. And they have to pursue that with 110 percent knowledge that they can get there if they really, really want to."

As for the race, the Indy rookie said she's feeling as "ready as I'll ever be."

Even with the excitement of the race, something else just might be the talk of the event Sunday: the heat.

Temperatures are expected to hit the low to mid-90s. There are 78 "misting stations" set up on the grounds to help spectators cool off.

The Brickyard -- the historic nickname for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- is the world's largest seated facility, with 250,000 permanent seats. The oval itself, which covers 253 acres, can fit Churchill Downs, Yankee Stadium, the Rose Bowl, the Roman Colosseum and Vatican City, according the event's official website.

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