The Indianapolis Motor Speedway: synonymous with high speeds, high octane action and high drama motorsports. Whether it be the F1 or MotoGP, you could have been sure to see some rather strange yet fantastic races. However, unlike MotoGP and F1, there is one event that has remained for years and years and as far as car racing is concerned, it is probably still one of the three races everyone wants to win. The Indy 500 really is where dreams can become reality and where hope can turn into despair and heartache.
The first running of this supreme event was in 1911 and it was 32 year old Ray Harroun that won the Indy 500 that day; little did he know that he would become the first of many drivers to win, but one of a few to join the exclusive club of winners of what is now the biggest single-day sporting event in the entire world.
So what makes this race so special? Yes, it’s history is steeped in glorious, hard working roots and the speed of the cars is something truly spectacular but there is something else about the Indy 500 that just acts as a magnet for people to go. The fans are one reason. That sounds silly because fans don’t go for other fans, they go to watch the scintillating on-track action. But for anyone who wants to feel the need for speed or wants to experience something that no other motorsport venue in the world can give, the Indy 500 and the thousands of people trackside combine together to make something that gets the hairs on the back of ones neck on end.
Seeing a wall of upwards of 300,000 people around the entirety of the circuit is something that every race driver dreams of, it is something that anyone in motorsport can dream of. There is little comparison in the likes of F1 or MotoGP, to see such a dense amount of people banking up the sides of the circuit. I suppose F1’s equivalent may well be the final few corners in Mexico City and for MotoGP, we probably look at Misano – but we will come onto that event later on in the Bucket List series.
Back to the 300,000 people – and more in recent years. What makes them go. Not all of them are absolutely obsessed with IndyCar and some of them will probably not follow any form of motorsport with a big interest. However, the Americans know how to make an event; they know what the people want and how to get the people wanting more of what they originally yearned for. For example, in 2016, general admission to this event on race day was a mere $40, so in real, British money, that is a score and a half (£30 for those not from the East End of London). £30 to watch one of the greatest motorsport events in the world – not bad I must say.
There are some amazing traditions for fans to enjoy though, things that your father would’ve read to you as a child. “Ladies and Gentleman, start your engines” and the drinking milk in victory lane, all adds to this annual event, making it special and unique. The celebrities involved in starting the Indy 500 too, it adds value, endorsement, spectacle and atmosphere all to the show. And it is exactly that – a show. Nothing scripted, nothing pre-planned, nothing fake. All authentic from on-track, hard-core racing to off-track, fun-filled celebrity engagement. The Indy 500 has it all.
And then of course, comes the racing. A rolling start as the cars build up to the terrifying speeds of over 225mph, faster than any F1 car. Sweeping through the opening two corners side by side, millimetres from contact and a blink of an eye away from the hard concrete wall that lines the entire lap. In 2018, we saw Alexander Rossi pull of some truly mesmerising moves after two caution periods, ducking and diving from inside to outside, squeezing between a 200mph race car and stationary concrete wall in a bid to replicate his sensational rookie achievement of Indy 500 champion in 2016. This is the kind of racing that F1 drivers can only dream of.
And that is another selling point of the Indy 500. Some drivers can treat it as a one off event. Brazilian triple Indy 500 champion, Helio Castroneves, came to the Indy 500 in 2018 to become just the fourth driver in history to win the event four times and whilst he crashed, he crashed out of a solid top six position. In 2017, double F1 champion and fan-favourite Fernando Alonso was making massive gains before his car’s engine blew on the front straight. A standing ovation from 320,000 people that day showed just how appreciative they were of the Spaniard; he almost did the unthinkable.
Whether you like cars, motorbikes or any form of motorsport in between, the Indy 500 is just an absolute must-do. The chance to be so close for so little, the chance to see the fastest drivers in the world in the fastest cars in the world, on the most fierce, dangerous circuit in the world is something that ANY adrenalin junkie will want to embrace time and time again. It is an annual pilgrimage for some but a once in a life time opportunity for others. You have to experience it, enjoy it and entertain it but most of all, you have to breath it. There is something nothing like the Indianapolis 500.
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