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Indy drivers eating up 500 experience

The green flag signaling the start of the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 wasn’t dropping for another six days. But drivers Pippa Mann and Buddy Lazier were confronting difficult decisions.

The juicy, calorie-laden cheeseburger or the more weight-friendly salad and rice?

“Diet starts becoming a big issue,” said Lazier, who like Mann indulged in the cheeseburger but also added that salad and rice during Monday’s media tour through Dayton. “You have to eat the right things.”

On Sunday, they hope to wash it all down with a cold bottle of milk.

Mann starts 30th and Lazier, who won the 1996 Indy 500 driving for Dayton’s Ron Hemelgarn, starts 32nd when the field of 33 rolls down the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday. It’s the second Indy start for Mann and just her fourth IndyCar start overall. Lazier is the elder statesman making his 17th Indy 500 start. That’s the most of any driver in this year’s field.

Starting up front is certainly preferred, especially with the frenzied rush to grab track position as cars roar into that first turn. But dealing with the danger beats the alternative of being off the starting grid.

“(Starting 32nd) sucks because the leaders are already going into turn two before we get to the green,” Lazier said. “I’ve done this where you complete the 500 miles faster than the one who won the race, but you still didn’t win. For the most part the good cars will find their way to the front regardless of where they start.”

Mann makes her first Indy series start since she was injured in the 2011 season finale that claimed Dan Wheldon’s life.

The first British woman to qualify for the Indy 500 in 2011 pilots the No. 63 Cyclops Gear Honda for Dale Coyne Racing this year.

“I don’t have a rookie ‘R’ next to my name but I very much view myself as a rookie. There’s only one other rookie out there that’s got less starts than me,” said Mann, who started 31st and finished 20th in 2011. “I’m just hoping to have a good car come race day and be able to slowly work my way forward. I’m not trying to plan any silly superhero moves into turn one.”

Lazier was one of the last drivers to arrive at Indy after putting together his deal late. His first day on the track was the last full day of practice. He makes his first appearance since 2008 driving the Advance Auto Parts/Tivoli Lodge (Vail, Colo.) No. 91 Chevrolet for Lazier Partners Racing. Though it’s his 17th start, the driver who also has a pair of runner-up finishes in 1998 and 2000 still gets a little anxious before the start.

“I always thought rookies don’t get as nervous. Or they don’t get as nervous as they should be,” Lazier said. “Sometimes it’s better not to know what you’re about to do. … It’s a nerve-wracking thing, but it’s also so cool.”

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