(MCT) INDIANAPOLIS — More than two decades have passed since Rick Mears became the last driver to win the Indianapolis 500 four times.
Now, Helio Castroneves and Dario Franchitti hope to join that elite fraternity, which also includes A.J. Foyt and Al Unser, by winning the 97th running of the legendary race Sunday.
"It will be a dream come true" to win a fourth Indy 500, Castroneves said. "We're working very hard to make that happen."
Castroneves has a solid shot. The 38-year-old Brazilian and former "Dancing With the Stars" winner drives for Roger Penske, who has a record 15 Indy 500 victories as a team owner, and Castroneves has been fast all month.
Castroneves, who won the Indy 500 in 2001, 2002 and 2009, will start eighth in the 33-car field this year after qualifying with an average speed of 227.762 mph at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The outlook for Franchitti, a four-time champion of the Izod IndyCar Series who's also is the defending Indy 500 winner, is more muddled.
Scotland's Franchitti drives for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, which uses Honda engines. And so far this month, the Honda-powered cars have been a tick slower than those with Chevrolet engines, including Team Penske and Andretti Autosport.
As a result, Franchitti _ who won his other Indy 500s in 2007 and 2010 _ starts 17th on Sunday after qualifying at 226.069 mph. His teammate Scott Dixon, the Indy 500 winner in 2008, starts alongside him in 16th.
Then again, Franchitti started 16th last year before steadily working his way to the front to savor the winner's traditional bottle of milk in Victory Lane.
Ed Carpenter, who owns his own team, captured the pole position for Sunday's race with an average speed of 228.762 mph in his Chevrolet-powered car.
Carpenter, 32, isn't one of the sport's more familiar names outside of Indianapolis. But he's the stepson of Tony George, who's a member of the Hulman-George family that owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and controls the IndyCar series.
Carpenter also tends to be strong on long, fast tracks. He won last year's season finale at the two-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
Speed is critical at the Indy 500, of course, but so often the outcome of the 200-lap race turns on mistakes, malfunctions and luck.
In 2011, for instance, rookie JR Hildebrand was leading on the final lap when he lost control and crashed into the wall, enabling Dan Wheldon to sweep by for the win.
"We're talking about 500 miles; there's a lot of circumstances that could play in your favor and could go against you," Castroneves said.
Mears, who won his fourth Indy 500 in 1991 (the others came in 1979, '84 and '88), now is a consultant with Team Penske.
At a recent news conference, he jokingly was asked whether, if Castroneves were poised to win Sunday, Mears would "throw a bottle on the track or anything to keep him from joining" the four-time winners' club.
Mears didn't miss a step, replying: "I haven't decided yet."
Meanwhile, four women will race in the Indianapolis 500 for the second time. They are Simona De Silvestro (starting 24th), Ana Beatriz (29th), Pippa Mann (30th) and Katherine Legge (33rd).
The 2011 race also had four women: De Silvestro, Beatriz, Mann and Danica Patrick, who has since moved to NASCAR. Patrick still has the highest finish for a woman in the Indy 500, a third-place finish in her rookie year in 2005.