“Hey, you’re going the wrong way,” Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing co-owner and 1986 Indianapolis 500 champion Bobby Rahal jokes.
Indeed, his son, Graham, driving the Honda-powered No. 15 blu eCigs car, was traveling clockwise on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. The departure from the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race direction initially caught him off-guard, too.
“It’s a little different going the opposite way around,” said Rahal, who joined fellow IZOD IndyCar Series driver Ryan Briscoe in participating in the test organized by Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR to gather information about the current infield course layouts as IMS considers changes and upgrades.
Speedway officials plan to invest nearly $100 million in the facility as part of a long-term master plan that could include modifications to the road course to allow it to accommodate INDYCAR testing or racing in the future.
MotoGP and GRAND-AM use sections of the infield course for their races at IMS, with MotoGP competing at the track since 2008 on a counter-clockwise (MotoGP) version of the circuit and GRAND-AM since 2012 on a clockwise (Grand Prix) layout. Formula One raced on the IMS road course from 2000-07.
“We wanted to evaluate the racetrack as it is,” said Derrick Walker, INDYCAR president of competition and operations. “There are a number of ideas to improve overtaking and making the racing more interesting perhaps than it was during the Formula One days. I’m not sure the Speedway needs to make monster changes. There could be some alterations that would improve the racing short term and then if the fans come you keep doing more and keep doing more. I think you could develop a really unique racetrack out of the infield.”
Rahal and Briscoe quickly warmed to the concepts as they logged laps clockwise and counter-clockwise, utilizing Turn 1 of the oval and the existing Turn 1 of the road course.
“It’s actually not a bad track,” said Rahal, who competed on the Grand Prix layout in Formula BMW in 2004 and Firestone Indy Lights in 2006. “Everybody knocks it, but I’ve had some fun. You’re sliding around; there’s not a lot of grip. So I could see how a MotoGP rider wouldn’t really enjoy it. The track layout as it is, would it be great for passing? There are really only two spots. But that’s why we’re trying a lot of different configurations to analyze and potentially help.
“I suggested a few things already and IMS and INDYCAR want input. When I showed up I thought we shouldn’t use Turn 1 at Indy. We shouldn’t run on the oval at all. But I think that’s what is going to make the racing so good. If you’re leading on the last lap you’re bound to get passed by anyone within eight cars lengths. The tow someone would get down the frontstraight would be massive.
“How do you put a quick lap in? Do you set up the car to go for the frontstraight or the infield? That could be an intriguing mix race day. Having a straightaway this long, with the top speed of about 190 (mph), it’s quite a mix. I think that would make the racing extremely exciting here.”
Added Briscoe, the 2012 Indianapolis 500 pole sitter who was driving the Chevrolet-powered No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing car: “The track as currently set up has a lot of high-speed corners and going clockwise gives you a different feel. There are a couple of areas that could be addressed to increase passing zones, which would make the racing great.”
A potential IZOD IndyCar Series race on the road course as early as 2014 has been discussed among INDYCAR and IMS officials, which Bob Rahal endorses.
“I feel privileged to be a part of (the test day) and excited about the idea. Just as Daytona has a number of events leading up to the 500, why not Indianapolis with a road course race in early May?” he said. “I was very much a traditionalist until the stock cars came here. They’ve had Grand Prix races, Grand-Am races, bike races and even the mini-marathon, and I understand why it’s become a multi-event facility. I’m all for it.”
Indianapolis Motor Speedway president J. Douglas Boles said he’s heard from ticket-holders, who have lobbied for a third race utilizing the road course followed by “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
“We have a great facility right in the middle of Indianapolis, where many teams are based, so even if you were to use it for testing throughout the season it would be nice to have,” he said.
“We think we have a big fan base in Indianapolis that love to see the Indy cars run. Yes, it’s a break from traditional not running on the oval, but that’s why we’re here to test. We’ve already heard great things from the drivers and that’s part of the next step in deciding how we use the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.”
The only other time an IndyCar was tested on the IMS road course was in the fall of 2011 when two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon tested the current IZOD IndyCar Series Dallara chassis that debuted in 2012. Wheldon ran the 13-turn layout in clockwise direction only during the session, which was used to develop the car, not for track information purposes.
Have a suggestion about how to improve the fan experience at IMS? CLICK HERE to submit as part of Project 100.