The Inaugural Grand Prix Of Indianapolis

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As most of you read this, I should be on my way to IMS for the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis. This is my first of three trips from Nashville to Indianapolis over as many weekends. This will also be my one weekend of going alone. Susan was told she could not get off three weekends in a row, so she sacrificed this weekend instead of the next two.

A few years ago, I wrote an article on things that would never happen at IMS. This race was one of them, which shows how much I know. I never thought I would see the day that IndyCars ran on the old Formula One road course on the infield at IMS. When it became more than just an obscure idea, I thought it would be a fall race – so that it would not detract from the Indianapolis 500. So much for my expertise.

When they announced in the fall that there would be an IndyCar road course race and that it would happen this weekend, I had mixed emotions. As most know, I’m a traditionalist that despises change of any sort. But as we closed in on the Month of May, I came around and actually warmed up to the idea to the point that I have actually embraced it. I truly believe that it will enhance the Month of May and will not take away from the “500”.

The other night on Trackside, I heard Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee talking about the Grand Prix saying that they saw the crowd for this weekend to be more of a local crowd, while the “500” two weeks from now will feature both local and far-away guests – as it has for decades. That makes sense. Tickets for the Grand Prix begin at $25. You can’t get inside the grounds for the Indianapolis 500 for under $40. There will probably be many locals that seldom get to go to the “500” either due to costs or Memorial Day commitments that may decide this is a good alternative.

When they held the open test on the road course last week, the drivers raved about how great it was. I have no doubt that the changes they made over the winter made a huge improvement in the previously underwhelming track, but I had a hard time determining how much of the praise was genuine and how much was toeing the company line. I suppose we’ll find out this weekend just how racy the new configuration is. Having the DW12 on the track instead of the old Dallara should be a big help to putting on a good show.

Give credit to IMS officials. They have created a fan-friendly atmosphere for the Grand Prix that may not be as relaxed for the “500”. For example, fans that purchase the Bronze Badge (still the best deal in sports) will be allowed to take a pre-race Grid Walk prior to the Grand Prix. That won’t happen for the “500”, I’ll promise you that.

There are some problems associated with having an additional race in May. I’ve heard some sponsors will not even attempt to bring guests in for the Grand Prix weekend; simply due to the fact that no matter how many times they’re told – guests will not understand that the race this weekend is not the Indianapolis 500. Once they get there, they’ll be disappointed. That’s not a good feeling for a good customer or potential client to go home with. Even worse, they’ll realize that this is considered a secondary weekend and the big weekend that they were not invited for is two weeks from now. There’s nothing like making a prospective client feel that they couldn’t make the cut for the big weekend. Although it’s an unfortunate and unusual circumstance, I completely understand if sponsors choose not to entertain this weekend.

What I don’t understand are the reports I hear of the confusion of the residents of central Indiana. If my soon-to-be ninety year-old mother who lives two hours further away from Indianapolis than I do understands the difference in the two races this month, why are those that live in the shadows of the SE Vista so confused? I don’t think it’s because Doug Boles and his staff have been trying to keep it a secret. Have the local news outlets been hiding it from the public? It baffles me that the local casual race fans can’t grasp the concept that a second race has been added – and it’s not Formula One.

I live in the county music capital of the world. I am a casual fan of country music, at best. But I certainly know what’s going on in the world of country music, just so I can be conversant on the subject with my friends that are. I am also very aware of when there has been a change made to the various music festivals that go on throughout the year – if for no other reason, so I can know when to avoid downtown. It seems to me that there has been either some strange disconnect among the fans of Indianapolis, or that this confusion has been greatly exaggerated. I’m hoping it’s the latter. If it’s the former, I don’t think it has been due to lack of promotion.

Despite those recent reports of confusion, I think ticket sales have exceeded what they originally projected – although I think they were intentionally modest with their expectations. People are curious and want to go. That’s why I’m going. If it’s a big success, I want to say I was there for the first one. If it’s a massive flop, I’d like to say I was there for the only one.

I’ll be curious to see what the buzz is like when I get there. Until the rains came on Sunday, the last race at Barber had a buzz you could feel throughout the entire weekend. It’s a shame the rain put a damper on everyone’s enthusiasm. Considering I left Nashville on central time, I lose an hour – so I will probably not make it for the morning Verizon IndyCar practice. But I’ll be milling about when US F200, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights are all having their respective qualifying sessions. I should be able to get a feel for the crowd in that time, before IndyCar qualifying at 2:00 this afternoon.

Speaking of rain – it is definitely in the forecast. Today appears to be the worst day of the weekend, but there is a good chance of rain tomorrow for the race. It doesn’t matter – that’s why they have rain tires. I never thought I’d see IndyCars making rooster-tails at IMS, but times change. What’s most important is that the rain is out of the area on Sunday. That’s when practice opens on the oval for the Indianapolis 500. I’m sticking around through the entire day of practice on Sunday, before heading back home Sunday night.

I will put up another post shortly after I get there late this morning. As usual, I’ll be posting here throughout the weekend – each of the next three weekends. Please follow me here throughout the weekend for pictures, some news and my semi-valued opinion. You may also follow me on Twitter (@Oilpressureblog) for more instant pictures.

The Month of May begins! Check back later.

George Phillips

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7 Responses to “The Inaugural Grand Prix Of Indianapolis”

  1. madtad1 Says:

    Having gone around the track yesterday (see my tweeted images) I can say they’ve put a lot of effort into making the viewing options great. There are many parts of the track where you can stand next to flaggers and watch the cars race by. They improved a lot of berms to give you places to sit and watch too.

    Yesterday I would estimate there were a couple thousand people walking around or sitting there watching the practices. It seemed like they were scoping out the best views too. I hope the racing is good!

  2. SkipinSC Says:

    George, we HAVE seen Indy Cars throwing rooster tails….Remember 1975 and 1976? Looking forward to qualifying and racing on the computer today, and the race tomorrow, and the first day of 500 practice on Sunday.

  3. redcar Says:

    CCavin says it’s the Grand Prix name that throws everyone off. Seems to me you’d have to try real hard to not realize that this race was not F1 or the 500, but some people are real good at not paying attention. Have fun George, look forward to your opinions this weekend.

  4. Yannick Says:

    George, who would you pick to win the inaugural GP of Indianapolis?

  5. billytheskink Says:

    The confusion of Indycar and Formula 1 among casual and non-fans is pretty common, and even with this race in Indianapolis, it makes some sense. The confusion between this race and the 500 is more baffling, but I suppose I can still see it. Folks in Indy who follow the Speedway, but not the series, are used to seeing a single race in May and their experience with “grand prixs” (sorry, “grands prix”…) covers Formula 1 and MotoGP.

    Could be worse… when one of my area’s local tracks promoted their switch from ASA to NASCAR for late-model stock and modified car racing, a handful of fans showed up at the little 3/8 mile oval expecting to see Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, etc. Funny as I continue to find that, they still left feeling cheated and angry.

    I still contend that this race was a solution in search of a problem, but if it can establish itself as a consistent television draw at the beginning of May, it will be a huge positive for the series. If not, its really just earning a couple extra bucks for the Speedway from the existing fanbase.

  6. dzgroundedeffects Says:

    I’ve found the confusion with the terminology as well when explaining it to passive race fans.

    When I say “Grand Prix of Indianapolis”, well over half think this is F1 again and these are people I’ve brought to the 500 multiple times.

    Most people who I’d call passive race fans (could likely visually distinguish btwn Indy, Nascar and F1 cars) outside of Indy just aren’t that tuned in to the changes in Indycar and IMS on a regular basis.

    Regardless, I’ll be there mainly out of curiosity and to see what I expect to be a great road race. I haven’t seen Indy on a non-oval yet, so I will be unlocking another Indycar achievement.

  7. Chris Lukens Says:

    I can understand exactly why there is confusion whether this weekends race is an IndyCar race or an F1 race. Look at this weekends entry list. Every owner ( except two ) wishes they were in F1. Every driver wishes they were in F1.
    The very term itself, Grand Prix, ( French for big prize ) has been associated with F1 since it’s inception in 1950 and with European road racing in general since the 1920′s. ( Yes, I know there is Grand Prix Tennis, Grand Prix Yachting and Grand Prix Bowling, but those are rather recent phenomenon ).
    The PTB have consistently promoted the idea that we are the American F1, or F1 lite, or an F1 alternative and now it is coming back to bite them. I have a friend that attended the Denver Grand Prix, twice, and to this day he still thinks he saw an F1 race.

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