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Alonso to race in the 2017 Indy 500, but what is the Indy 500? – all explained here for the uninitiated

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Hello F1 fans, you’re probably here because you’ve heard the news that Fernando Alonso is missing this year’s Monaco Grand Prix so that he can do the Indy 500. And you’re also here because you’re wondering what all this means, whether it is cool or not, and having established that it is cool, because you want to know exactly how cool.

Let me help. It is very cool.

In this article I will do my best to explain a little bit about the Indy 500, Indycar, and American Open Wheel racing in general, so you can begin to get excited about the Month of May 2017.

Let’s go racing!

What is the Indy 500?

The Indianapolis 500, or Indy 500, is the premier event in american open wheel racing, the flagship event of the Indycar series, and the largest annual sporting event by attendance in the world.

It is run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Which is not an oval.

Yes it is

No it isn’t, it is a 2.5 mile rectangle with rounded corners. There are four very distinct corners, each presenting its own unique challenge.

OK then, how long has the Indy 500 been going? 

This year will be the 101st Indy 500 race, but the first race was held waaaay back in 1911, by comparison the first Monaco Grand Prix is a relative newcomer, the first race being held in 1929.

Will Alonso score F1 world championship points?

No, but it wasn’t always this way. From 1950 to 1960, points from the Indy 500 counted towards the F1 Drivers Championship.

What’s the Triple Crown of Motorsport?

The Triple Crown is the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indy 500, and the Le Mans 24 Hours. Fernando Alonso wants to win them all one day. It’s his own personal bucket list.

What’s the Quadruple Crown of Motorsport?

Well, it doesn’t exist, and if it did, many people would make a strong case for the 24 Hours of Daytona, but let’s be charitable and point to the Coca Cola 600, a NASCAR race which happens on the same day as the Indy 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix.

The same day?

Yep, and the timing means that you can watch the Monaco Grand Prix, followed by the Indy 500, followed by the Coke 600, if you can stand it.

Can you do Monaco and Indy on the same day?

Not any more, but I think when Concorde was still operating it was theoretically possible.

Can you do the 500 and the 600 on the same day?

Yes, and it’s done quite regularly which gives Indycar some good publicity with Nascar fans. (Nascar being way more popular than Indycar in the US, sadly)

How has this whole thing happened?

Simple. McLaren has Honda engines, Japanese ones. Many Indycars also have Honda Engines, American ones developed by Honda Performance Development. Since Fernando wants to do the Triple Crown, he needs to run Indy. And he isn’t getting any younger so he has to do it while he is still at the top of his game. These cars run 220 MPH and don’t have power steering.

220 MPH? I thought F1 was the fastest form of open wheel racing?

Nope. Although F1 cars are faster through twisty corners and can brake later than anyone, Indycars are the ones with the highest overall top speeds. So an F1 car would easily beat an Indycar around Spa, but the Indycar would leave it for dust at Indy.

What team is Alonso driving for?

He is going to be driving for Andretti Autosport, run by Michael Andretti, as a team mate of Marco Andretti. So, Andretti basically.

I’ve kind of heard of Andretti

Yes, you’re thinking of former F1 and Indycar driver Mario Andretti. Marco’s grandfather and Mario’s dad. He won the 1978 F1 world championship.

Did he drive for McLaren in F1?

Nope, but his son Michael, who is the team owner of Andretti Autosport, did. It was a bit of an ill-fated partnership though.

But McLaren has never raced in Indycar?

Yes it has, they even won the Indy 500 in 1974.

Shame they’re not racing this time

Agree, but as a half way house they are going to sponsor the car, so it will look like a McLaren.

But wait, you still haven’t explained how the whole thing happened

Well, F1 has changed ownership and is now american owned. McLaren has also lost Ron Dennis and now has an American Zac Brown in a senior position. Zac was for a long time expected to become some sort of boss of Indycar. A combination of Zac, Honda, American F1 owners, Andretti and Indycar have made this all happen.

Should we be excited?

I am. Put it this way. Indycar hasn’t been having the best of times over the past 20 years, because it has lacked a Bernie Ecclestone character to pilot it. Whilst the Indy 500 has remained strong, the same can’t be said for the rest of the Indycar season, which suffers from low viewing figures and poor attendance at some races.

Should I watch?

Absolutely, but make sure you do more background reading so you understand what’s going on. The racing is very different in style to F1, but it is no less exciting. The cars are not protoypes, they are pretty much stock vehicles, set up by each team, but don’t underestimate the strategy and the bravery which goes into making an Indy 500 winner.

How can I watch? 

If you’re in the UK, you can watch the F1 on Sky, the Indy 500 on BT Sport, and the Coke 600 on Premier Sports. In the US the F1 is on NBCSN, the Indy 500 on ABC, and the Coke 600 on whatever channel is showing Nascar that week.

Enjoy! I know I will.

 

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Please Remember

Dan Wheldon has died in a crash at the Las Vegas IndyCar race. May he rest in peace. God bless his family.

He was doing what he loved. Living the life he had always wished for, a multiple Indy 500 winner. Life can be cruel, we must live it to the full.

Motorsport is dangerous, it is also the passion of all those who go racing every weekend, drivers, crew, officials, marshals, fans.

It is incumbent upon those who officiate motorsport series to work constantly to improve safety.

Dan Wheldon worked hard this year to test and refine the 2012 IndyCar, which will bring to open wheel racing countless safety improvements including wheel-over-wheel guards to prevent cars launching, enhanced safety cell and greater impact protection.

I am crying as I hear what has happened, and can only imagine how it has affected those involved.

We will learn. And we will not forget.

Mokpo vs Vegas – A Tale of Two Races

This weekend is a busy one for open wheel racing. Just a week after the F1 world championship was decided in Japan, the F1 circus moves to Mokpo, South Korea for the second Korean Grand Prix.

Also this weekend, IndyCar is hosting its season finale and championship decider at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

This Vegas event is being lauded as one of the most heavily promoted races in recent US motorsports history. It’s creating a modest amount of buzz for a series that was dead in the water a couple of years back.

We’ve heard a lot about Las Vegas $5m challenge – designed to attract series outsiders (ideally someone from NASCAR) to try for a win against series regulars. That plan didn’t quite pan out but we still have something similar involving Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon for the press to write about.

There are also multiple events in and around Vegas in the build up to the race. Considering the fact that IndyCar is still in its rebuilding phase this is a great job well done by series boss Randy Bernard.

It’s all the more impressive because all the showmanship represents a pretty stark contrast to the unrelentingly depressing Korean round of the F1 championship – a contrast that is worth pondering for a few minutes. IndyCar also have the luxury of the fact the the championship is still undecided – if only F1 still had that!

The Korean round of the series has every ingredient of ‘bad F1’ writ large:

It’s remote – on reclaimed land in a distant and industrial outpost of South Korea that even most Koreans care little for.

It’s vaguely pointless – the circuit is purpose-built in the middle of mudflats, which should by now be a thriving little city of enterprise and excitement – but of course it’s not – it’s just a sort of barren cathedral to the folly of trusting Bernie Ecclestone’s sales pitch.

All in all this pointless ‘event by the numbers’ is uninspiring to fans, journalists and teams alike.

I’d like Bernie to consider introducing a ‘What if every round was like xxxxx’ test when considering new races. Because if every round was like Korea – F1 would be dead.

On the other hand for IndyCar – if every round was like Vegas, they’d be speeding up the comeback trail.

Good luck to them!

Will Sky Launch Speed TV in the UK for F1, IndyCar, NASCAR coverage?

Every year, UK channels televise hundreds of hours of top flight football. Fans can see several games per day on subscription (Sky and ESPN) and terrestrial television. We can watch live and highlights, at home or in the pub.

Divide the number of games available on Sky by the subscription cost, the deal suddenly doesn’t look quite so bad. Watch enough of it, and you’ll get value for money. There’s golf, rugby, tennis and a host of other sports as a bonus.

There are only 20 Formula 1 Grand Prix per year. 10 will be free to air on BBC1. Divide the cost of a Sky Sports subscription by just 10, and it doesn’t look quite so enticing.

That is why the Sky Sports business model which looks so sensible for football looks horrifying for Formula 1.

The good news is that Sky’s part-owner NewsCorp already has the answer.

A channel called Speed TV.

Speed TV is dedicated to motorsport of all kinds. It’s already shown as part of basic cable in the US, and variants are available in Latin America and Australia.

Speed TV could be provided as part of the basic Virgin and Sky packages, it could even go onto Freeview and Freesat. It could then take advertising revenue for the events it covers. It could show not only extensive coverage of every F1 session, but also hours of NASCAR, IndyCar, GP2, GP3, American Le Mans Series, British Touring Cars, World Rally Championships and the list goes on.

I just hope they have the sense to make this happen and start talking to the other motorsport rights owners to pull it all together.

Fingers crossed, because the alternative is too ghastly to imagine!

Baltimore Grand Prix a Qualified Success – Hopefully a Turning Point for IndyCar

This weekend’s Inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix has been a qualified success, with high attendance figures, a lot of media coverage, and good races from both American Le Mans Series and the IZOD IndyCar Series races.

Everyone had predicted chaos in the IndyCar race but in the end it was much calmer than predicted, whilst still containing plenty of strategy and a fair amount of passing. (particularly for Tony Kanaan who started at the back of the grid after a terrifying accident in practice, and ended third).

There’s no doubt that part of the circuit is too bumpy, other parts too tight, and the pit lane too short, but these issues can be rectified. The important thing was that the race looked fantastic on television, and made the City of Baltimore look pretty good too.

Whilst IndyCar already has street races on the schedule, this one is the real deal, it’s not tucked in some corner of town like Toronto or Valencia, or thrown onto an airport like St Petersburg and Edmonton. Only Long Beach and Monaco itself come close to the level of disruption required to put on the show.

So it was inevitable that there were to be teething problems, particularly with the traffic management, but also perhaps more unexpectedly, with the poor returns for the City’s restaurants and bars, who reported a downturn as locals stayed home.

There were also complaints that the circulation and access for spectators was poor and overcrowded. In some sense here the race was a victim of its own success, but the organisers will want to look at this aspect next year.

In Monaco, tickets are only checked on the grandstands themselves. The City is essentially one giant free of charge general admission area. Even the bars right behind the F1 paddock are available to anyone who takes a walk down there. This means that the restaurants and bars do good business between sessions.

Baltimore’s race is so well located that they could consider something similar for their race, opening the whole inner harbor area to the fun.

This would only increase interest more, decrease pressure on the restricted admission area, and hopefully bring an even greater return for the City.

Discounted tickets for locals would help too.

I am looking forward to next year already, let’s just hope they resurface the rest of the track, and I’m hoping the success and high profile of this event on a day that NASCAR was washed out marks a turning point for the IndyCar series.

Baltimore Grand Prix – It’s going to be down to the wire

I have been getting more and more excited about the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix.

I can’t wait! IndyCars and American Le Mans Series around the harbor area of Baltimore for the first time ever.

The amazing event website whet my appetite, as did the fact that I’m actually going to the next round of ALMS at Laguna Seca in 2 weeks time.

The Baltimore event website has links to a special ‘traffic news‘ website, which carries a wonderful CGI video showing the dilapidated surface of the race track area transformed into a pristine tarmac racetrack.

The truth is a little more, um, bumpy.

I’m hearing stories of lumps, bumps, jumps, drain covers, even streetcar tracks, and I’ve seen photographic proof of most of the rumours on Twitter.

I know that crews worked through the night building last minute chicanes and curbs out of fresh tarmac. I know that many aero efficient racecars have enough downforce to lift draincovers (it happened at Monaco not long ago) so god only knows what they will do to these fresh curbs.

With ALMS and IndyCar we’re looking at a LOT of on track action over the weekend.

I wish the organisers well, because I really want to enjoy the weekend. I believe they can get there, but they shouldn’t have to be in this position this late in the day.

And last time I checked, the way to build a last minute chicane is to use walls of tires bolted to the track, not to get out the tarmac truck.

Will Power gains ‘living legend’ status at New Hampshire

This week’s IndyCar race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway had everything:

  • Wince as popular rookie Pippa Mann injures herself by smashing into a concrete wall with no SAFER barrier
  • Gasp with concern as cars wreck against the inside of the track, hitting ragged tire barriers and narrowly missing bare armco
  • Frown as the huge potential capacity of the venue goes unused, empty grandstands making a respectable first-year crowd (30,000) look like 3 men and a dog
  • Worry as the ragged tire barrier flips TK’s car causing him to land head first on soft grass, with all the attendant risk of neck injury through ‘digging in’
  • Stifle a laugh one you find out TK is fine, and notice that he hit a portaloo on impact, then worry a bit more as you ask what a portaloo was doing in harm’s way?
  • Finally, collapse with laughter as Race Control attempt to placate network broadcaster ABC by prematurely allowing a restart on a damp track
It’s a shame we couldn’t have a reply of the final spins and pirouettes slowed down and set to the music of the Blue Danube Waltz, so perfect was the synchronised spinning as one car after another swapped ends and shuddered to a stop.
For Will Power, it was not surprisingly all a bit much. He had been in line for some strong points, and with championship leader and rival Dario Franchitti out of the race (for the first time in a long time) he was looking good to close the championship gap considerably.
But the wet weather restart took him out, and not surprisingly left him furious.
We are beginning to understand that Will can get a bit stroppy when things don’t go his way, and this was no exception, as he went running off to remonstrate with everyone and anyone. And then, wonderfully, pricelessly, he saw himself on the big screen, and launched the gesture that generations to come will understand has given him immortality as a motorsport legend.
Call it a “double rude Vettel”, or an “angry bird”, it was a masterpiece and it has made him an instant legend.
Twitter came alive, fellow drivers promised to pay any fine, declaring him a legend and Will Power became #1 trending topic on US twitter, and rightly so.
Today even F1 start Mark Webber got in on the action, congratulating Power for his stand.
Will, we salute you, but please don’t salute us back.