By Steve Keating
(Reuters) - In May or August, 300,000 spectators or none, the Indianapolis 500 continues to promote itself as "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" - not even a global pandemic proving capable of applying brakes to the shameless boast.
As sporting extravaganzas go, the Indy 500 has rarely disappointed and Sunday's race offers no reason to reign in the hype with an Andretti sitting on pole.
Further back in the 33-car field are twice Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso, bidding to complete motorsport's elusive Triple Crown and Helio Castroneves trying, for perhaps the final time, to enter the Brickyard's exclusive club of four-time winners.
The Andrettis may be motor racing royalty but when it comes to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) and the Indy 500, their results are less than regal.
The Andrettis have ruled over open wheel racing in the United States with a string of victories that have connected generations -- father (Mario), to son (Michael), to grandson (Marco).
But for all their success at circuits around the world, Mario's Indy 500 victory in 1969 stands alone - the clan's cruel luck at the Brickyard giving rise to the "Andretti Curse".
"This place means so much to us as a family," said Marco, after becoming the first Andretti to start the Indy 500 from pole since Mario 33-years ago. "We've just been through so many ups and downs at this place."
Joining Andretti on the front row are two former-winners New Zealander Scott Dixon, a five-time IndyCar drivers champion, and Japan's Takuma Sato.
Starting on the ninth row sits Alonso who will launch his bid to become the second driver after the late Graham Hill to complete the Triple Crown of Motorsport, which also includes wins at the Monaco Grand Prix and Le Mans 24 Hours.
It may be the last chance in some time for Alonso to realize his dream as he is due to return to Formula One with Renault next season after two years away from Grand Prix racing.
It could also be the last real chance for Castroneves to join AJ Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser Sr as the only four-time winners.
The 44-year-old Brazilian no longer drives full-time on the IndyCar circuit but former-team boss Roger Penske continues to provide him with a competitive car and a chance to secure a history victory.
Forced from its traditional May 24th date by the novel coronavirus, the only elements missing from Sunday's showcase appear to be fans and a woman in the starting field.
There will be no other sporting event staged during the COVID-19 pandemic where the absence of spectators will be more jarring.
Billed as world's largest single day sporting event an estimated 300,000 motor racing fans would fill the sprawling grandstands surrounding the 2.5 mile oval where thousands more pour into the infield for a day of high-octane excitement.
There will also be a noticeable void on the grid as, for the first time since 1999, there is no female driver in the field.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Christian Radnedge)