Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

September 5, 2013

IndyCar conducts test on road course at IMS

An IndyCar road race at Indy likely in the cards.

Kokomo Tribune

---- — The Indiana-polis Motor Speedway is steeped in tradition. There was a time when only one race was held at the famed brickyard, that being the Indy 500. Then, one day in September of 1991 A. J. Foyt filmed a commercial for Craftsman tools at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While filming in the garage area, Foyt, and Speedway president Tony George decided to take Foyt’s NASCAR Winston Cup car for a few laps around the track. Foyt was the first driver to do so, and later on, George himself took a few laps. The event was not planned, and had no implications, but caused some interest and speculation for the future.

That Craftsman commercial led to an “unofficial” compatibility test to see if stock cars would be competitive at the circuit. After an extensive improvement project, on April 14, 1993 Tony George, and the president of NASCAR, Bill France Jr. jointly announced the Inaugural Brickyard 400 would be held Saturday August 6, 1994. There were those open-wheel racing purists that said this would detract from the Indy 500. Looking back to that day, it didn’t impact the tradition so many people lovingly speak of when they talk about Indy — it added to it.

Fast forward to 2000. The first Formula One U.S. Grand Prix was held on the newly-created infield road course. Again, the traditionalists (who eventually accepted NASCAR) lamented that tradition was being messed with. And, once again, they were wrong. An estimated 400,000 fans watched that race in the rain, setting a Formula One attendance record.

Finally, on September 14, 2008, IMS added yet another race to the schedule, this time, a motorcycle race called the Indianapolis MotoGP. This marked the first motorcycle racing event at the facility since its first month of operation, in August 1909. And the purists said nothing because it had been done by the founders before the first Indy 500. Yet, some still grumbled.

So history again was made on Wednesday, September 4, 2013 when IndyCar conducted a test on the road course. This marked only the second time an IndyCar had been on the road course. The first time occurred in 2011 when Dan Wheldon was testing the current Dallara DW12 chassis. The purpose of that test was to make sure the DW12 would perform on the existing road courses IndyCar raced on at the time. Wednesday’s test was a compatibility test specific to the IMS road course. That is to say, they’re thinking about a (gasp) second IndyCar race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Nothing official, of course (nod nod, wink wink) but we all know what happens when IMS conducts a compatibility test. I’s not a matter of if but, rather, when. And as you might imagine, the traditionalists are once again upset.

“As we look to the future of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the goal is to make changes to the road course that provide the most flexibility for its potential use and create a layout that is entertaining for our fans and enjoyable for our drivers — whether it is for IndyCar testing or racing, sports cars, MotoGP or other uses,” said J. Douglas Boles, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president.

The test was productive with lots of suggestions and data collected. Drivers Graham Rahal and Ryan Briscoe were the participants. The test was conducted in two sessions, the morning session with the cars going clockwise (backwards by Indy 500 standards) and counter-clockwise in the afternoon session.

1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, team owner and father of Graham Rahal was on hand and available for comment. When asked about a possible IndyCar road course race at Indy, he said “We’re really excited about the idea. I’m hopeful that it all comes to pass.”

According to Rahal, the test was merely to test different configurations in a fact-finding mission. He said it ultimately comes down to which configuration and direction they want to run. As far as the length of the race, Rahal thought it should be around 200 miles.

When asked what he would say to the purists who believe IMS is for one race a year, that being the Indy 500, Rahal said “Well, I thought that way before the stock cars came here. I was very much a traditionalist at the time. Supporting a facility this size with just once race a year is pretty tough. Why not use this place as much as you can? If we have a chance to come here and race on the road course, I’m all for it.”

The road course improvements are part of a master plan for the future of IMS. Another big change proposed at the speedway is the addition of lights for the potential of adding a night race.

“Part of what makes this so special is the age and the stuff that has been around, but we have to figure out what that balance is, keeping the feel and integrity. It’s 104 years old and you want to feel like you are walking into a stadium like that, but you want the modern amenities,” said Boles.

In February, the Indiana Senate Appropriations Committee voted 11-0 to approve creating a motorsports investment district to collect existing state sales, income and corporate taxes generated from the track and its surrounding property. This would support a $100 million proposal to add lighting and other improvements at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.