IndyCar is considering adding a road race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as soon as next year.
Mark Miles, CEO of IndyCar parent company Hulman & Co., said Wednesday that IndyCar is leaning toward running the event in May, the same month as the Indianapolis 500. He said the series favors a date during the early part of the month, but the final day of Indy 500 qualifying and the day before the 500 also are possibilities.
"We have been thinking for many months about how to grow IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway both," Miles said. "The idea surfaced several months ago that maybe we ought to think about the fact that we have a road course here. Maybe we can improve it and have a race here."
Bobby Rahal, co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and the 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner, said he thinks a road race at the Speedway would be a good thing.
"I’m very supportive of it," he said. "I think anything we can do — why not race at this facility? It’s the best in the world, and it just helps add value to the Month of May."
Graham Rahal and Ryan Briscoe tested cars on the road course Wednesday to help IndyCar gather data. Graham Rahal, Bobby’s son, liked the course but said it lacked grip and there weren’t enough places to pass. The course was used for Formula One races in the past.
"It’s actually not a bad track," Graham Rahal said. "Everybody knocks it, but I had some fun."
It was only the second time IndyCars had driven on the road course at IMS. Dan Wheldon tested the new chassis on the road course in 2011. Multiple track configurations were used during testing, and the cars were driven both directions.
"We wanted to evaluate the racetrack as it is," said Derrick Walker, IndyCar’s president of competition. "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."
Miles said an additional race in May wouldn’t detract from the Indianapolis 500. He said it would just give them another reason to go to the Speedway.
"We want to grow the Indy 500," he said. "The last thing we want to do is take away from it. I really struggle to see how that could happen. I don’t see anybody not wanting to be here in May at the end of the month for the Indianapolis 500-mile race and opting for the opening weekend instead of the crescendo."
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence recently signed a bill that will provide a $100 million state loan to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for planned improvements that could include modifications to the road course.
"The track as currently set up has a lot of high-speed corners, and going clockwise gives you a different feel," Briscoe said. "There are a couple of areas that could be addressed to increase passing zones, which would make the racing great."
Speedway President J. Douglas Boles said he’s heard from ticket-holders who want another IndyCar race with a road course.
"Yes, it’s a break from tradition, not running on the oval, but that’s why we’re here to test," he said. "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."