Indy Road Course Will Be A Happy Place This Week
Despite the importance and despite the history, Formula 1 teams, drivers and foreign fans never fell in love with Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Oh, they all knew about the speedway and what went on there over the decades. And despite their reputations for being aloof and arrogant, they went out of their way to pay homage to the significance and aura of the 100-year-old home of the greatest automobile race in the world.
But when the F1 cars fired in the early 2000s, the kind words cooled.
The problem was the track itself. The curvy portions of the circuit, which were cut out of the giant oval’s grassy infield, were not generally considered to be World Championship caliber.
In fact, the folks who spent the rest of their seasons racing amid the glamour of Monaco and the grandiosity of Monza and the groomed slickness of Kuala Lumpur, considered the Indy layout rinky-dink. The two, quick corners at the south end of the infield were rechristened by the F1 crowd as “Mickey” and “Mouse”.
But all of that was OK because America never fell in love with F1 either. In fact, when most of its teams withdrew from the 2005 race at Indy after a highly publicized hissy fit about tires, the reaction among many American fans was: So, what’s Formula 1 again?
This week, four-wheeled road racing returns to the infield at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the guarantee
here is that bitching will be all but non-existant. Au contraire mon frere.
Road racing types in this country have been jacked about the idea of holding a Rolex GRAND-AM Sports Car Series race at Indy since that idea was first floated.
And that especially includes those who will be driving the Daytona Protoypes and GT cars in Friday’s Brickyard Grand Prix.
Scott Pruett, who will, as usual, be driving the No. 01 BMW Riley for Chip Ganassi’s team this week, spoke for the majority of those in his sport during a media teleconference on Tuesday. No matter the question, Pruett seemed to manage dragging his excitement level at racing at Indy into the answer.
“You know,” the four-time DP champion who also raced in the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400, said, “for me as a kid, I remember when I was racing go-karts, going to race on the same weekend as the Indianapolis 500, we all saw where everybody was typically huddled around somebody’s car radio and the whole pit area would be listening to the race.
“So to me, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, even though I grew up on the West Coast, I grew up with what the excitement of Indianapolis is and was.
“To go back and race now, just for me, it’s fun and it’s exciting and to be back as part of this historic first-time event and looks to be an incredible show as we move into the future.”
Friday’s field will contain an interesting assortment of drivers. There will be the GRAND-AM regulars, like
Pruett and teammate Memo Rojas, but there will also be a contingent of immigrants from other major series. From Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray of Sprint Cup, to IZOD IndyCar Series drivers like Paul Tracy and Sebastien Bourdais.
Tracy, known to sport a thick crust on occasion, was tender and flakey when asked about being part of Friday’s
“To be involved in GRAND-AM and the first North American-based sports car series to run on the road course track that was purpose-built for Formula 1,” Tracy said, “it’s a real feather in the cap not only for GRAND-AM and all of endurance racing but for all the drivers who have a chance to go there.’’
Even the old-line, Midwestern purists who freaked when first NASCAR, and then F1 came to The Speedway, seem happy that sports car lovers will now get their chance to savor the magic of IMS.
“I mean,” said Sprint Cup champion and Indiana guy Tony Stewart, “I was one of those guys that when I watched the first Cup test at Indy, I got pretty upset about it. I was like, this is the home of the Indy 500 and that’s all that should be here.
“I think most of us in society don’t like change, but after a while, after the first year, I started watching a lot more, and started wrapping my arms around it and then Formula 1 came and Moto GT. It was really neat to see so many different disciplines at the highest levels coming here to race.
“So it’s neat to see GRAND-AM come in here now, and I’ve got a lot of buddies that race in the Nationwide Series and a lot of those guys probably would not have the opportunity to ever race at Indianapolis. So I’m glad to see those guys, and it’s a great facility. I think the more that realistically we can run there, the better.”
The circuit itself, the thing that the F1 drivers found so abhorrent, is considered a thing of beauty by Pruett. He called it “a good fit” for the GRAND-AM cars.
“Whether they are going to call it (Turn) 12 or 13, 12 is if you come onto the bank and 13 we know as the opposite direction would be the oval one, and then that lofty straightaway, because we are approaching speeds of 190 miles an hour, and there’s going to be a lot of passing.
“It’s a great passing zone in Turn 1. There’s a little bit of a back straight as we make that left-hander, 9, 10 area. I think there’s going to be a lot of passing and the area to actually do some drafting as you go through Turn 1 is just going to add a lot of excitement for the whole race.”
Bourdais, an F1 veteran who will be driving for Starworks Motorsports, said, “I enjoyed the test in the Daytona Prototype (July 6-7), and found the road course technically demanding,”
So, it will be a happy bunch of drivers and teams that will be racing on the IMS road course on Friday. Honored, even. For them, Mickey and Mouse will be replaced by Pride and Joy. Gone will be the condescension that seeped from every pour of Ron Dennis’s being 10 years ago.
Social interactions are just so much more enjoyable when all parties are willingly engaged. That goes for everything from business meetings to you-know-what.
The guess here is that almost all will leave IMS Sunday evening with content smiles on their faces.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgOne Comment