Revitalized Month of May at IMS delivers on almost all counts

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What was a test case for the “reinvigorated” month of May, and the new business strategy employed by the new powers-that-be at 16th and Georgetown, has worked.

The 2014 edition was a vibrant, more buzzing Indianapolis Motor Speedway for more days than normal, or at least more than in recent previous years.

Here’s a quick synopsis:

GRAND PRIX OF INDIANAPOLIS WEEKEND

As I wrote at the time, you needed to take a moment to acclimatize yourself to the weirdness. IndyCars… turning right? In high-downforce road course configuration? At Indy? “Sacrilege!” you say, right?

Well, yes, it was weird the first time I stepped out onto pit road to watch. But once you got through the first couple laps watching, and it began to sink in, you started to get the sense this felt like a proper race weekend.

And on race day itself, that message was brought home. Estimates have ranged from as low as 25,000 to up to 50,000 – the truth lies somewhere in the middle, probably closer to 45,000 – but the bottom line was that the mounds and grounds were filled with race fans anxious at the prospect of something new. When you start to add up the dollars of that first round of spectators, with a number easily 10 times more than the same weekend last year, it all starts to make sense.

INDY 500 QUALIFYING WEEKEND

Opted to watch this one on TV from home. The latest evolution of something that’s changed more times than I can remember since 1996 was created as a made-for-TV type of format, and by that standard, it worked.

Each of the two days generated a ratings number higher than the season-opening St. Petersburg race, and the Sunday strategy to bring Dario Franchitti into the booth to call the Fast Nine shootout was a stroke of genius.

The crowds? Certainly less than GP weekend. And the format of which lines cars were going in, and how many points each day generated were, admittedly, a bit confusing.

I’m not one to say that you ditch the two-day format just yet. If another type of entertainment purpose is brought into the track for this weekend, as it was for the following weekend, it could provide added value beyond just the on-track running for qualifying. At the very least, reducing the confusion for media and fans on the format should be the goal for 2015.

THURSDAY/CARB DAY/SATURDAY

There was a healthy crowd in attendance outside the Pagoda for the new Indy Lights car launch on Thursday night, with fans watching as well beyond Mazda Road to Indy drivers, teams, participants and stakeholders.

Come Friday, Carb Day, the perpetual ritual of drunk Hoosiers waltzing all over the grounds continued true to form. There was the usual mix of great on-track action (practice, Freedom 100, Pit Stop Competition and Stadium Super Trucks) and off-track entertainment for the majority of IMS-goers (Sublime and Sammy Hagar concerts). I’ll admit I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t as high a volume as normal of crushed beer cans on my annual Carb Day walk from the media center to the media parking lot, but that meant IMS was on its game in terms of cleanup.

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Photo: INDYCAR

To Saturday, and while the usual public drivers’ meeting and driver autograph sessions were their usual hits, the biggest change came in the afternoon with the Jason Aldean concert bringing in the greatest number of new, paying fans. Leaving on Saturday around 4:45 or so, the grounds were packed.

Figure if you had at least 60,000 for Carb Day and maybe another 40 to 50,000 there on Saturday, and those are two huge additional numbers in terms of extra ticket sales and revenue from concessions.

We haven’t even got to the new “glamping” – or glamorous camping – that premiered this year. Judging by this piece from USA Today’s Chris Jenkins, that was a hit too.

RACE DAY

Indianapolis 500 race morning is the perfect example of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The morning buildup, with the Monaco Grand Prix on TV in the media center, then all the pageantry from the bands, to the Gordon Pipers, to the old cars, to everything else just takes your breath away.

There’s the chills from being down on the grid mere hours before 33 men and women prepare to saddle up, racing inches apart at 230 mph. You’re walking on 100-plus years of history, from all the millions who’ve come before you on these fabled grounds.

You head up to cover the race, and you feel it’s your obligation to do it proper justice. The race is older than you, it’s bigger than you, and it will go on long after you depart.

With the rest of the month in 2014 serving as an ample buildup, the race itself remained stellar as always.

IN SUMMATION…

The Speedway doesn’t release attendance figures, but you have to think the individuals involved, from IMS President Doug Boles all the way down, are smiling after this one.

And they deserve it, too, after a packed and revitalized few weeks.

MRTI: Sunday Barber Notebook

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Mother Nature intervened heavily on Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park, and the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires both completed their second races of the weekend on a wet track.

Indy Lights saw Andretti Autosport’s Pato O’Ward complete the weekend sweep – he won Race 1 on Saturday – while Pro Mazda had a wet and wild race of survival that saw a pair of leaders go off, giving way to another first-time winner in Pro Mazda at the end of the day.

Reports on both races are below.

Indy Lights: Race 2 Victory Completes Dominant Weekend for O’Ward

Pato O’Ward celebrates his Race 2 victory at Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Andretti Autosport’s Pato O’Ward completed a perfect weekend at Barber Motorsports Park by claiming victory in Indy Lights Race 2 on Sunday.

Officials were forced to move the race up to 10:45 a.m. local time (11:45 ET) due to weather, and Race 2 began under a rain shower.

However, it did not deter O’Ward one bit, who rocketed off into the lead from the pole, and was never headed on his way to winning by over five seconds.

In addition to winning both races, O’Ward led every lap in both races, completing a weekend of utter dominance for the 18-year-old native of Mexico.

Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni came home in second, his best finish since moving up to Indy Lights this year, with Andretti Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta rounding out the podium.

The Belardi Auto Racing duo of Aaron Telitz and Santi Urrutia finished fourth and fifth, with Telitz finally finishing a race after only completing a combined four corners in the first three races of the season.

Urrutia, meanwhile struggled somewhat and faded to fifth after starting third.

Andretti’s Dalton Kellett and Ryan Norman and Juncos’ Alfonso Celis Jr. rounded out the field in sixth, seventh, and eighth.

Results are below.

Pro Mazda: Harrison Scott Survives the Rain to Take First Pro Mazda Win

Harrison Scott and RP Motorsports celebrate victory in Pro Mazda Race 2 at Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

RP Motorsport’s Harrison Scott managed to survive a track that started out damp, began drying out, and then became very wet during a downpour in the final laps to win in Pro Mazda Race 2 from Barber.

Scott, who started second, was able to pass Exclusive Autosport’s Parker Thompson, the polesitter and Race 1 winner, on the inside entering Turn 5 on Lap 2, with Thompson running slightly off track on corner exit and falling back to third, with Team Pelfrey’s Andres Gutierrez going through into second.

Scott, Gutierrez, and Thompson stayed close the rest of the way, and Gutierrez even managed to make a nifty outside pass on Scott in Turn 5 on Lap 9 to take the lead.

However, rain, which hit the track briefly and stopped about 30 minutes before the race started, returned in the second half of the race, and progressively got heavier.

It all came to a head on Lap 21, when the slick conditions sent Gutierrez off course in Turns 7 and 8. He rejoined the track, but fell back to seventh, allowing Scott back into the lead.

Race Control quickly threw a caution as a result of the conditions, and the race finished under yellow, with Scott taking the checkered flag for his first Pro Mazda win.

Behind Scott, Thompson came home in second, with Juncos Racing’s Carlos Cunhas in third. Cunha’s teammate Rinus VeeKay was fourth, with BN Racing’s David Malukas rounding out the Top 5.

Of note: Cape Motorsports’ Oliver Askew was one of a couple drivers who pitted for rain tires under the late yellow, gambling that the race may go back to green – he was running tenth at the time. However, because the race never went back to green, Askew was relegated to 12th at the end.

Results are below.

Note: Check back later for driver quotes.

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