The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is taking a different tack to bring fans to the track this May — a road race.
On Thursday, the speedway’s board of directors voted to add a second IndyCar race in May at the historic Brickyard. It’s the first time IndyCar drivers will compete on something other than Indy’s 2.5-mile oval, and it’s the first time they’ll prepare for two races in one season at the speedway. The road race is scheduled for the weekend of May 10-11, two weeks ahead of the series’ marquee event, the Indianapolis 500. Finals details have not yet been worked out.
Organizers are hoping the addition will help improve attendance and rejuvenate interest in a series that has struggled to regain its fan base since the contentious split with the now-defunct CART series that took place nearly two decades ago.
”The great thing about having Mark Miles here is that he’s made all of us think differently and think about new ways to revive not only the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but to help the IndyCar Series grow,” speedway president Doug Boles said after the vote. ”This is an organization that wants to move forward, wants to celebrate the Indianapolis 500 and wants to celebrate the month of May.”
Speculation increased when it appeared the MotoGP series might bypass Indy, a loss that would have meant Indy’s road course was only going to be used by the sports cars during NASCAR’s race weekend in late July. MotoGP has since announced it will be back at Indy next season, but the contract expires after the 2014 race.
And after IndyCar drivers gave the course good reviews following a test three weeks ago, the idea gained traction.
Miles, the CEO of IndyCar’s parent company, Hulman & Co., supported the move all along but remained cautious about what direction the vote would go. It turned out, the board couldn’t pass it up.
”This event will bring even more energy and action to the month of May for fans and create another showcase for the diversity and excitement of the speedway and the IndyCar Series,” Miles said in a statement. ”The new road race will further enhance the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the premier motorsports destination in the world and direct an even brighter spotlight on the Indianapolis 500.”
Not everyone will be pleased, though.
Some outspoken traditionalists have already expressed opposition, just as they did when NASCAR and Formula One first came to the track. Speedway officials believe most fans will support a second May race and are hopeful critics will eventually change their minds, too.
”I look at the Indianapolis 500 and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and I can define almost every moment in my life with an event that happened around here,” said Boles, who has attended every 500 since 1977. ”I would challenge you to find someone that is more of a traditionalist than I am, and I believe this opportunity right now will actually improve the month of May and helps us grow the Indianapolis 500.”
There is plenty of work to do.
Qualifying is set for May 17-18, with the race scheduled to be run May 25, the traditional Sunday of Memorial Day weekend — dates that will not change unless there is rain.
But organizers may have to revise the opening weekend schedule. Indy 500 Practice is set to begin May 10-11, which now becomes a race weekend. If that doesn’t change track workers may find themselves scrambling to make the conversion from oval course to road course and back for the first two practice days.
Fortunately, they’ve had a chance to fine-tune those conversion skills.
”We tested our ability the last two years with the Kroger Super Weekend and have gotten to the point where we can do it in about an hour,” Boles said, referring to the NASCAR weekend races. ”To do a full conversion, we really can do that in about four hours. So there’s no real issue in how we would convert the track.”
The board also approved a measure Thursday that would renovate the road course, creating more passing zones and better views for fans.
More details about those changes and the schedule are expected to be announced during a news conference Tuesday in Indianapolis.