Grand Experiment Begins In Indianapolis

Verizon IndyCar Series drivers hit Indianapolis Motor Speedway's road course for practice Thursday. (IndyCar Photo)
Verizon IndyCar Series drivers hit Indianapolis Motor Speedway's road course for practice Thursday. (IndyCar Photo)
Verizon IndyCar Series drivers hit Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course for practice Thursday. (IndyCar Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS – The new era at Indianapolis Motor Speedway began Thursday under beautiful blue skies and 86-degree conditions – perfect weather for fans to take an afternoon off especially when there was no admission being charged.

While there were parts of the 14-turn, 2.349-mile road course that had a decent amount of spectators, the crowd as a whole probably fell far below the expectations of the IMS staff.

This is a grand experiment for the Month of May – a major break from tradition for the first-ever Grand Prix of Indianapolis to be held at the IMS road course just two weeks before the biggest event in racing, the 98th Indianapolis 500.

The intent was to kick-start the Month of May – to generate more interest and attention in the Verizon IndyCar Series by showcasing the skill of these talent drivers on a road course one week, the search for speed the following week culminating with the run for the Indianapolis 500 pole the following week. And then, the crescendo to the month is the biggest race in the world – the Indianapolis 500 on May 25.

This grand experiment was the idea of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which was hired by the Hulman George Family in 2012 in an effort to increase revenue for the family-owned companies. BCG believed an additional IndyCar race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway would generate tremendous additional revenue for the company.

BCG recommended the IndyCar Series conclude its season with a championship-deciding race at IMS. But when Mark Miles became the CEO of Hulman & Company, he thought it would be better to kick off the month of May with the road course race rather than with the opening day of practice.

Initially, the hard-core traditionalists were skeptical of this idea and feared it could potentially dilute attention to the Indianapolis 500. But over time, other fans thought it was a great opportunity to showcase the skill and versatility of the drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series by putting on a road race before turning the field loose on the high-speed oval the following day.

So Thursday was the first day in this grand experiment and while those that came out to the track appeared to have a good time there just weren’t a lot that showed up. Of course, that may change by Saturday’s race where the weather could allow a sizeable walkup crowd for this initial road course event.

Selling tickets and increasing television ratings are the primary concerns of Miles and other officials at both IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway the skill of the talented drivers was on full display during Thursday’s two practice sessions.

When it comes to talent, there are few drivers in the series that can match three-time Indy Car Series champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner Scott Dixon. He showed his talent on Thursday as the fastest driver in the combined practice sessions with a fast lap of 1:10.4654 (124.606 miles per hour) in a Dallara/Chevrolet. The defending IndyCar champion ran a total of 31 laps and believes the newly modified road course is designed to showcase IndyCar at its best.

“It’s obviously nice to have a home race,” Dixon quipped. “Seeing the changes I think through the process of changing the corners of the track a little bit, the reseal, for us it’s been a real pleasure to be back at this place starting the month a little bit earlier. They did a fantastic job on the track: one, with the grip level, and two, the way it’s going to race with the long straights and big braking zones.

“The car has been decent. It’s always hard to know what strategies people are on. At the end it was tough for us to get a lap with so much traffic. Hopefully we can have a good go at the pole tomorrow, but weather conditions could be interesting, too. We’ll see.”

Rain is in the forecast for Friday’s Firestone Fast Six Knockout Qualifying that could scramble the field a bit. But drivers such as Dixon and Team Penske’s Will Power have driven in the rain and raced in the rain so they are prepared for any conditions.