The Brickyard of the Triple Crown: INDY 500 Oval
The story of the Indy 500 oval track, the traditions and the daredevil winners
The Indy 500 is one of the most prestigious races in the motorsport world. The four-cornered track is in a small town called Speedway, Indiana and hence the name of the track is Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Starting from the milk bottle to the brick strips at the two ends of the circuit, the Indy 500 has a lot of history and traditions embedded in it. It is held over the Memorial Day weekend and has a lot of larger-than-life feature performances which lead to the mammoth race of 200 laps. That’s right, the Indy 500 has the term 500 because the distance covered over the 200 lap race amounts to 500 miles in total. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway also happens to be the largest motorsport facility in the world.
A Brief Recap of the Indy 500
The Indy 500 race started in 1911 when Carl Fisher thought of selling tickets for the informal race held between car manufacturers in the town of Speedway. The town had been named Speedway because the roads were upgraded for the cars to be used instead of horses. The track initially was just gravel and mud. It was upgraded to bricks in 1911 and was further upgraded to asphalt in 1961. A three-foot wide stip of brick still remains on the start and finish lines of the track to pay homage to the track’s origins, which the triumphant teams kiss after winning the challenging race. And the tradition was started with Dale Jarret kissing the bricks after winning the 1996 Indy 500.
In other motorsports, we see drivers popping champagne bottles to celebrate their victories. But, the Indy 500 is different. When a driver wins the Indy 500, he or she is given a bottle of milk to celebrate and they even give their milk preferences before the race — this year, Juan Pablo Montoya asked for chocolate milk if he won! This tradition started in 1936 when Louis Meyer won the race and asked for a bottle of buttermilk.
The trophy of the Indy 500 is one of the most bizarre looking trophies in the motorsport world. It consists of the 3D faces of every driver that has won the race embedded onto the cup. Furthermore, it also has a nude man on the top waving the checkered flag.
The least famous crown
The Indy 500 circuit is part of the ‘triple crown’ of the motorsport world which also includes winning the Monaco GP and the 24 hours of Le Mans. Only Graham Hill has been able to achieve it since 1966. Since then, every driver has dreamt at least once of achieving that title. This race is not only physically demanding but 200 laps means that it saps the life out of the mind as well. Drivers pull over 4Gs in the corners and have to drive inches away from the walls out of corners to get the best racing line! The average speed of the cars in race spec is around 257kmph (160mph) and rises to 370kmph (230mph) in qualifying spec or while drafting. Perhaps these stats can put the 'boring' or 'dull' argument of the Indy 500 to rest!
The Indy 500 is not like any race week that we observe in other disciplines of motorsport. This is more of a festive event. First, they start with extensive practice sessions where the drivers and the engineers get a feel of the track and do the necessary settings to their four-wheeled monsters. This is followed by a two-day qualifying round. The fastest average speed over four laps decides the position of a driver on the starting grid.
The qualifying round is followed by another practice session where the drivers and engineers get yet another chance to tweak with the car’s settings, unlike Formula 1 and other motorsports that apply Parc Ferme rules after qualifying. Then finally, comes the race. The race begins with the pack forming up in sets of threes, holding a certain speed and then gunning it as they cross the start line, also known as a rolling start. Unlike the almost 20-strong pit crews in F1, in Indy there are only six people allowed to change the tyres and refuel the cars.
Fun Fact: The race generally starts with the iconic “Gentlemen, start your engines.” But that changes to “Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines,” when there is a female driver on track. This first happened in 1977 when Janet Guthrie raced the Indy 500!
Indy 500 vs F1
Most Formula 1 fans have looked towards the Indy 500 track and failed to understand the difficulty of it. Criticisms are that Formula 1 tracks are more about tricky corners and cornering speeds but in the case of Indy, there are only four ‘corners’. But this doesn’t stop Formula 1 drivers from coming and testing their skills on this legendary race track! Famous names like Emerson Fittipaldi, Graham Hill and Fernando Alonso have come and showed their skills to the American crowd! The cars are open-wheeled single seaters, and they do resemble Formula 1 cars but with far simpler aero and a full-on windshield instead of the halo. There are four engine manufacturers in Formula 1 which are Mercedes, Ferrari, Honda and Renault. Whereas, Indy has two, Chevrolet and Honda. Their engine specifications are different as well. Formula 1 has been running a hybrid technology engine since 2014. A general Formula 1 engine is a 1.6 litre V6 which is mated to a complex electric powertrain and the hybrid system produces around 1000bhp. Indy 500 on the other hand, has standardised a 2.2 litre twin-turbocharged V6 which generates an output between 550-700bhp depending on the amount of boost used. In 2023, Indy will change to a bigger 2.4 litre KERS engine hybrid system which will generate around 900bhp.
The Indy 500 is truly one of the biggest spectacles of the motorsport world. Our Indian motorsport fans can or rather, should give a fair chance to this legendary racetrack to see why it captures the hearts of millions of Americans for that one time in a year! From the quirky events between sessions to paying respects to the soldiers serving in the army, the Indianapolis 500 is like nothing else in the world of motorsport!