This weekend, the IndyCar Series machines will roar down the front straight of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway…and TURN RIGHT???

You read that right, as the series heads to its spiritual home for the first ever Grand Prix of Indianapolis.


The Circuit

2014 GRAND PRIX OF INDIANAPOLIS

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course

Date: 08-10 May 2014
Lap Length: 3.902km
Free Practice Session 1 Thu 10:00-10:45
Free Practice Session 2 Thu 14:00-14:45
Free Practice Session 3 Fri 10:00-10:45
Qualifying Fri 14:00-15:10
Warm-Up Not Scheduled 
Race (82 laps) Sat 15:50-17:45
2013 Winner N/A

* All session times are quoted in Eastern Daylight Time (GMT -04:00 hrs)

Open-wheel cars running clockwise around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is not a new concept. Formula 1 raced here from 2000 to 2007 but sadly is most infamous for the 2005 event, well-documented for the ‘Tyre-Gate’ farce which saw Michelin ill-equipped for the event and subjecting American F1 fans to a six-car race with Bridgestone runners only. It was a near-fatal body blow to the sport’s credibility in one of the world’s most important markets, with the final breath coming two years later as crowds wised up to the fact Formula One was not IndyCar and was not NASCAR – the two most popular motorsport categories in America.

The circuit to be utilised this weekend is largely the same as what was used by Formula One, with a few minor modifications. From Turn 8, which runs around the back of the IMS Museum, the original slower section which saw F1 cars re-join the oval circuit, the IndyCars will use a short part of the stretch between Turns 1 and 2 before a tight right-hand hairpin and two more lefts will bring the cars onto the main straight. For any seasoned viewer of IndyCar racing, it will certainly take some getting used-to.


Indianapolis Talking Points

Last year on a truly unforgettable first-time visit to Indianapolis myself, my host and local Indy resident told me the first time he first went to the Indy 500 in 1972 – forty-two years ago. In anybody’s language, that is a long-time Indycar fan and somebody who it is fair to say is a traditionalist of the sport.

Another long-time fan – albeit a more public figure – in NBC Sports pundit Robin Miller was always opposed to running IndyCar on the IMS road course and continues to struggle to find support for the event but admitted the ‘proof will be in the pudding’ based on crowd figures that turn up this weekend.

The Indy 500 is the certified holder of the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest one-day sporting event, and nobody is expecting a similar crowd this weekend, but as many eyes from Indycar headquarters will be on the grandstands as much as the track itself to see whether the event becomes the second tradition in the “month of May” or the forgotten relic that will be consigned to the history books.

Although not entirely new to IndyCar, two new faces will take part in the proceedings this weekend as Martin Plowman suits up in a second A.J Foyt Enterprises entry alongside Takuma Sato. Plowman has been plying his trade in the American Le Mans Series and the FIA World Endurance Championship for the past two years and has not seen IndyCar race action since three essentially “Guest” outings for Sam Schmidt Motorsports at Mid-Ohio, Sonoma and Baltimore in late 2012. The latter of which saw his best result with an 11th place finish.

Franck Montagny

Franck Montagny will have a one-off outing with the Andretti Autosport team – he’ll hand over his car to Kurt Busch for the Indy 500.

The other fresh face will be Franck Montagny, one of only four drivers in the field (alongside Juan Pablo Montoya, Justin Wilson and Takuma Sato) to hold prior experience on the IMS road course. The former Super Aguri Formula One driver holds only two IndyCar starts to his name, one in the old Champ Car World Series where he competed in the series’ last ever race at Long Beach in 2008, claiming a sensational second place podium finish, and a single outing for Andretti Green Racing at Sonoma the following year. Montagny re-joins the Andretti stable for the event and currently, his only contracted appearance of the year at the moment.

After Barber Motorsports Park, Will Power managed to maintain his lead in the Drivers Championship, even if it was cut to 18 points. It was a tough race for the Aussie Penske pilot, who struggled to get to grips on the wet circuit following the storm which delayed the race by more than two hours. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti had no problems, and brought home the team’s first 1-2 result of the season.

The race this weekend will be interesting in more ways than just one and will make for compelling viewing, regardless of what the traditionalists think.

Images via IndyCar Series Media and Motorsport.com

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Matt Lennon

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