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Thomas Mallett2012-09-20 15:52:17

Automotive Meccas: Indianapolis

 
 
Slideshow
The field at the 2012 indy 500

There are three great races in the world, at least as far as I am concerned. The first is the Monaco Grand Prix (I think that takes precedence over Monza and Spa), the second in the Le Mans 24 Hours, and the final one has to be American: The Indy 500 at the Brickyard – it’s been running since 1911 and it’s still going strong.

There are, of course, other circuits in America that come with a big heritage like Watkins Glen and Laguna Seca, but none have the headline event that Indianapolis is famous for.

People travel from all over America, and the rest of the world to come and watch it live and the rest of us tune in until late in the night to watch a sport that most do not fully understand – just for the show.

And, it’s not even just the spectators who travel and stay up late…it’s the drivers too (ok, maybe not the staying up late bit – not until Sunday night anyway). Every year there are drivers in Indycar, unlike Formula 1, who compete in one-off events, and the Indy 500 is one of those events.

Some NASCAR drivers even attempted to drive in the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte on the same day between 1994 and 2004. 1100 miles of high speed motorsport. Tony Stewart is the only driver to complete both events after he left the Indy 500 by helicopter, then flew from Concord international airport to Charlotte. Why would you put yourself through that? The answer: because it’s worth it – the Indy 500 is that important.

I’ve eulogized for a while now about the Indy 500 but I haven’t really explained what it is so I’ll do that now.

The circuit, located in Speedway (yes, seriously) Indiana is a 2.5 mile oval circuit with seating for over ¼ million spectators. To put that into perspective the capacity is over five times as big as Chelsea football stadium in the UK. Then, in 1998 Bernie (Ecclestone) decided to get in on the act.

The infield circuit was completed in 2000 and the US Grand Prix was held at the circuit from 2001, it being the first major event to be held on US soil after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Then, in Michael Schumacher’s dominant FerrariFerrariFerrariItaly, 1947 > present233 models
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years the German driver seemingly tried to stage a dead heat with his team-mate Rubens Barrichello.

In 2005 there was controversy at the US GP, through no fault of the circuit or its owners, when the tyres of the Michelin shod cars struggled to cope with the continuous G-Forces on the high speed banked section of the circuit leaving Michael Schumacher to cruise home to victory. Bernie didn’t renew the contract after 2008.

Despite Indy’s qualified failure with Formula 1 through the last decade the appeal of the circuit has not diminished. In all honesty, it is more suited to oval racing anyway.

I will always remember Dan Wheldon’s last Indy 500 victory (he won it twice) in 2011 before his untimely death. It was the razzamatazz that surrounded the win, and the race for that matter, that will live on. With sponsors throwing money at the teams and the drivers and they in turn promoting the sponsor’s products like their lives depended on it.  Add this to the girls, the fireworks and the bling-ridden golf carts that the drivers use to traverse the paddock and you have one hell of a festival for the 257,000 strong crowd to revel in.

It is often said that America does everything a little bit bigger and better (not sure about the last one ahem) than we do it over in Europe. And if that is true then Indianapolis gives a pretty good argument for it. Monaco, Le Mans and Indy are all from the same stable of greats.

 

Other articles from this series:

Automotive Meccas: Monaco
Automotive Meccas: The Nürburgring (Nordschleife)
Automotive Meccas: Monza

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