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.

Daniel Ricciardo to decide soon about moving from Red Bull to another F1 team

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LE CASTELLET, France (AP) Daniel Ricciardo says over the next six weeks he wants to decide between staying at Red Bull or joining another Formula One team for next year.

Ricciardo said on Thursday at the French Grand Prix, “It would be nice to go on the summer break knowing what I am doing.”

F1 is working its way toward its three-week break in August with speculation mounting that Mercedes, Ferrari, and McLaren are interested in luring Ricciardo away from Red Bull for 2019.

“I will be honest, everyone is talking about Mercedes and Ferrari as potential places for me to go, and I am aware that there will be interest from other teams,” he said.

The Australian driver has won seven races in his four-plus seasons with Red Bull. He is fourth in the standings behind leader Sebastian Vettel heading into the race at the Paul Ricard Circuit near Marseille.

Ricciardo’s stock has risen in recent months after his victories in Shanghai and Monaco. His Monaco win was particularly impressive because Ricciardo had to deploy some masterful defensive driving to protect his lead after losing an estimated 25 percent of his engine power.

Ricciardo said he had not directly spoken to rivals Ferrari and Mercedes, but he hedged when asked if his manager had.

“People talk, have coffees, I will leave that one open-ended,” he said with a laugh.

Ricciardo called the decision on whether to go or stay with Red Bull the biggest choice of his career following his decision to leave his native Australia and continue his racing career in Europe over a decade ago.

“For sure the priority is to get a car to win the world title because I really believe I can,” he said. “I am slightly careful because it is easy to think the grass is greener and maybe it is, but I also have it pretty good where I am.

“People do like a change but just to make change for the sake of making a change is not enough for me. I need to find some substance behind it to jump ship.”

Red Bull announced recently it would be ending its 12-year partnership with engine-maker Renault and switching to Honda motors for next year.

Ricciardo was hesitant to endorse or criticize the change, saying he was going to “try to keep putting the pieces together if it is a good move.”

But with the question of the engine manufacturer out of the way, Ricciardo said Red Bull would likely be looking to resolve its drivers’ lineup for next year.

“I haven’t been pushed yet, but I would say that there will be some movement in the next week,” he said. “Whether that is something that gets put down on paper (or not), for sure the discussions will start to ramp up in the next few days.”