Initial upgrades to Indianapolis Motor Speedway approved

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Preliminary plans from Hulman & Co. to invest state funds into upgrades for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway have been approved by the Indiana Motorsports Commission. The ambitious plans focus on three areas: track modifications, fan experience and technology.

In regards to the track, upgrades identified include the installation of an apron for use in the Speedway’s NASCAR events such as the Brickyard 400 (something that Hulman CEO Mark Miles foreshadowed last week in Las Vegas). According to the Speedway, the apron will cost less than $1 million.

Also identified were the refurbishing of catch fencing and the recently-completed repaving and reconfiguration of IMS’ road course in advance of the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis in May of 2014.

Noticeable was the lack of a lighting system around the 2.5-mile oval, which was initially seen as a possibility for the track due to the hot Indiana summers that Brickyard 400 fans must endure annually.

However, the Speedway said in a release that “economic studies showed this $20-million investment did not provide the best return for taxpayers.”

For fan experience, the Speedway has listed many improvements such as more comfortable seating, a bigger number of elevators for better grandstand access and suite renovations. Also on the agenda are a new scoring pylon and video screens, modernized restrooms, and more concession choices.

Technology-wise, the Speedway plans to have wireless access throughout the facility and “state-of-the-art data, video and audio availability” to go with that.

“We started with ideas for improvements that totaled hundreds of millions of dollars, and we’ve reduced our list to a list of potential projects with total spending of about $140 million,” Hulman president and chief administrative officer Jeff Belskus in a statement. “Now we have some difficult decisions ahead to pare the list further before we ask the commission for its approval.”

Additional improvements to IMS beyond the funds managed by the Commission will be included in a master plan that’s set to be released this coming spring.

Earlier this year, legislation was passed by the Indiana state government that created a motorsports investment district around IMS that will help fund the upgrades by collecting sales and income taxes on the property.

The same legislation also created a fund for motorsport-based businesses in Indiana to apply for loans that can help improve their own facilities.

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens later tweeted about the possibility of racing the Indy 500 and said his goal was “always to get back to the top level of motorsport” whether it’s IndyCar or IMSA.

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.