Reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan has been immersed in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course reconfiguration project since its inception seven months ago, and even maintains a Downtown Indianapolis apartment for his frequent visits.
But ahead of the Verizon IndyCar Series Open Test on April 30, he took up residence in the motorcoach lot inside the grand stadium in preparation for the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 8-10 and the 98th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race on May 25.
“The good and bad part about sleeping at the track is that (Indianapolis Motor Speedway President) Doug (Boles) can call me at any time. Obviously, this place has always been very special to me, and I wanted to make sure I woke up May 1 inside the track,” Kanaan said in providing a brief debrief May 1 of the test on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn circuit.
“We knew it was going to be good … it’s like a race car. You know you have a good car but you don’t know if you’re going to win the race. I don’t think I heard from a single driver that did not have fun on this racetrack.”
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Multiple drivers, team personnel and manufacturer representatives have had input in the $5 million project, which is part of the initial phase of a long-term infrastructure improvements and enhancements to the facility opened in 1909.
“I raced here in Grand-Am, and that was fun, but that track was very slippery,” said KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais, who co-drove to victory in the 2012 sports car race on the former road course. “I have to say I had some reservations early on because the corners (of the new racetrack) are very tight, but the grip more than makes up for it. The new asphalt that was laid down is very, very grippy and actually a lot of fun. I don’t think anyone will have much to say about it.
“It’s a challenging racetrack. You have to commit to it and the grip level, so you can challenge yourself in the car. The last section is very enjoyable. The left, right, left and right again, that’s opened up a lot more than it used to be, and they are all third-gear corners. The car digs in and goes side to side as you’re working the tires and pushing yourself. It’s quite fun and I see some passing areas.”
Boles said Carl Fisher, an entrepreneur and promoter of the burgeoning automotive industry who was the driving member of the investment group to build the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, wholeheartedly would approve of a complementary event to the Indianapolis 500.
“I think Carl Fisher would be thrilled with what the Month of May for 2014 looks like,” said Boles, noting the addition of the road course race to the traditional calendar. “Carl Fisher cared about promoting his product and making it better every day, every year.”
Boles toured the grounds during the Open Test, talking with some of the hundreds of spectators who watched the action from new vantage points at the oval Turn 2 and near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum. Like Bourdais and Kanaan, they also were impressed.
“The best part is we all speculated on how the cars were going to run here and we all speculated on how fun it was going to be to see Indy cars running on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and seeing it it’s certainly going to be fun. It’s fast, which is what Indianapolis fans are used to, and the drivers are really pleased with how it races. So (May 8-10) will be a lot of fun for the drivers and fans.
“The fans I spoke with were thrilled because of how close they were to the cars on the racetrack and just the sound of the cars, the braking and the shifting.
“This is our first statement with respect to Project 100, and there will be many things to come between now and the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016, but I can’t think of a better way to start than with a brand new event on a track that is going to be really racy.”