Running an IndyCar road course race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – particularly in the month of May – seems as counter-intuitive to “tradition” as humanly possible. But judging by the reactions of those who participated in Wednesday’s test, it was a day to open minds and give serious consideration to the possibility.
Graham Rahal, who drove the No. 15 blu eCigs Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, said drafting could be a big part if the series opts to use the clockwise course configuration used by Formula One and GRAND-Am, where the oval Turn 1 is taken as a right-hander leading onto the front straight. There’s also the configuration used by MotoGP, a counter-clockwise version.
“When I showed up, I thought we shouldn’t use Turn 1 at Indy,” he said. “We shouldn’t run on the oval at all. But I think that’s what is going to make the racing so good. If you’re leading on the last lap, you’re bound to get passed by anyone within eight carlengths. The tow someone would get down the frontstraight would be massive.”
Rahal added that the setup balance between a car optimized for the straight or the tricky infield section would be a great challenge.
Ryan Briscoe was also on hand, in the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Chevrolet. Briscoe, unlike Rahal, had not had a prior opportunity to drive on the road course before. But the Australian seemed to enjoy the opportunity.
“It was definitely strange to be coming off the wrong way on the frontstretch. It’s a pretty good track, actually,” he said. “It’s got a lot of high-speed corners. Turn 13 (oval Turn 1) is really fast. A lot of high load in the steering wheel and very different to what we do here on the 2.5-mile oval. It’s a really different feeling going the other way.”
INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations Derrick Walker said this was an opportunity for the series to test the track as it is and make the necessary alterations based on driver feedback.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles spent most of the day talking with fans on hand gauging their input. Without saying “Yes, it’s happening,” Boles gave every indication this is moving ahead.
“I think everybody at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the whole organization is excited about the prospects. Otherwise we wouldn’t be having this test,” Boles said. “We have a great facility right here in the middle of Indianapolis, and many of the teams are based here. Even if we were using it for testing throughout the season, it would be nice to have, but we certainly think we have a big fan base here in Indianapolis and people love to see these cars run. Yes, it’s a break from tradition, not running in the oval direction, but that’s why we’re here.”