INDIANAPOLIS -- The start of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season is six weeks away and the historic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 is more than 100 days away.
But on a grey, chilly and rainy Tuesday, the excitement and anticipation for both of those hallmark events was as hot as a mid-summer day at the annual preseason Verizon IndyCar Series Media Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Media from across the country came to 16th and Georgetown to learn and report on the latest news from both the Verizon IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and they came away with plenty.
Dixon gets throwback paint scheme
Defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon and Target Chip Ganassi Racing reached back in time to debut a new paint scheme on Dixon’s No. 9 Chevrolet for 2016.
While still carrying the familiar Target logos and a bright red paint scheme, one notable change was the inclusion of something Ganassi’s Indy cars haven’t carried for quite some time, namely, several lightning bolts on the side of the car to further enhance the look and feel of speed.
“It’s very exciting to have the lightning bolt paint scheme back on the car,” Dixon said. “I think it first showed up in 1995 on (Jimmy) Vasser and Bryan Herta’s car, actually, and then it went through 2001 with Memo (Gidley), I think, being the last one.
“I went to see my very first Indy car race in 1997 in Vancouver. It brings back a lot of great memories, but also of a lot of legendary drivers like Alex Zanardi, Vasser and (Juan Pablo) Montoya. When I came in (to the Ganassi team) in 2002, the paint scheme had changed at that point.
“But to me, it’s good to see it. It’s an amazing ride and in this year, with the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500, bringing back this iconic paint scheme, we’re obviously hoping for good things.”
Dixon smiled when asked if , with the new lightning paint scheme on his livery, whether he and teammate Tony Kanaan may pick up new nicknames, namely, Thunder (Kanaan) and Lightning (Dixon).
“Yeah, I guess so,” Dixon said with a laugh. “We’re excited for the season. And yeah, TK is going to be strong this year.”
Castroneves is fenced in
Helio Castroneves made climbing a fence after winning a race his trademark celebration. The Team Penske driver has become the Indy 500’s version of Spider-Man by climbing the IMS fence three times – and is hoping to move into a most unique class in the 100th running of the 500.
If he wins this May, Castroneves would join legendary drivers A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser as the only drivers to win the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" four times each in their respective careers.
It’s no secret that Castroneves is the talkative type. But he was at a loss for words during a special presentation when he was given a picture frame containing a portion of the fencing near the flag stand that he had climbed after his three previous "500" wins.
“I’m speechless,” Castroneves said. “This is such a special gift. This is where it all started for me, Indianapolis. This is cool, it’s incredible. I’m speechless. I so appreciate this. It’s priceless."
The IMS fencing is being replaced by an even stronger and more durable fencing. Rather than throw the old material away, and given how historic that particular section had been to Castroneves, IMS president Doug Boles presented Castroneves perhaps one of the best awards he’s ever received.
“We wanted to make sure you have a piece of that fence,” Boles said.
The frame included fencing as well as photos of Castroneves’ biggest career wins.
Project 100 update
Boles gave a comprehensive update of the track’s Project 100 initiative. Tied in with the momentous 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 in May, Boles highlighted changes that will ready by race day May 29.
The project actually began in 2013, but the current work is the highlight and centerpiece of the initiative.
“Starting at the checkered flag and MotoGP, really, from that point on until sometime in April, about $50 million of the $92 million being invested in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway over that three-year period is under construction right now,” Miles told reporters.
Among the highlights of Project 100 are:
* New roof structure over paddock penthouses A and B.
* Penthouse E will receive stadium-style seating.
* By the time the project has been completed, overall seating at IMS will be increased by approximately 1,000.
* Several sections are being repurposed with wider and more comfortable seats.
* Several sections of track fencing, particularly on the frontstretch, have been replaced with a new mesh. “Same gauge, (but) it’s a better fence,” Boles said. “As you look at it, you can actually see through it better.”
* Three new rows of seats have been added throughout Paddocks A and B.
* With the new traffic roundabout at the corner of 16th and Georgetown, the Speedway has enlarged the area around Gate 1 and in front of the Administration building.
* Seven elevators have been added to the frontstretch seating area.
* For the first time, a dedicated section for disabled fans is under construction.
* With several rows of seats eliminated due to construction needs, as well as installation of new seats, a number of fans have been displaced from previously held seats. Boles said IMS has done everything possible to relocate those fans to seats of equal or greater value or sightlines.
* A major reconstruction project involves the top rows and roof of much of the frontstretch seating. More than 95 steel columns, weighing 1,200 tons of steel, are part of the construction, and is being supplied by a local Indianapolis steel company.
* One more major project is still on the horizon: 18 of the 27 suites in the Hulman Suites will be repurposed into the Hulman Suite Club, leaving just nine individual suites in the area.
“While it will be different, it’s not going to feel like a brand-new stadium, it’s going to feel like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when they come here,” Boles said. “That’s been one of the balancing acts and one of the things that is most important things to this project, adding amenities but not changing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that felt uncomfortable for folks.”