I’m not entirely sure how it played out on TV, but from the ground the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis was a decent success.
Once you got the “this is weird” notion out of the way, that allowed you to set into a mindset that there’s some potential here, and this race joins the annals of Indianapolis Motor Speedway lore.
It also could have been the start of a new tradition.
Was it the cleanest Verizon IndyCar Series race ever? Nope.
But give most of the field credit for avoiding stranded polesitter Sebastian Saavedra, who bogged down either due to a stall or a potential ECU issue; the KV/AFS team needs to look at the date to provide official confirmation. It was only when Carlos Munoz made a quick, jerky reaction from the inside to the outside and hit Saavedra that the wreck occurred.
Then, just like a litany of other road or street course races in the past, the race had an early and late rhythm interrupted by a cacophony of carnage, chaos and cautions mid-race (think Long Beach this year or Baltimore last year, for instance).
But the crescendo was an enticing finish, with varying strategies emerging and Simon Pagenaud – usually a speed demon – needing to throttle back and save fuel to score the win. Pagenaud starred in both dry and wet conditions over the weekend and was a deserving winner for Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports.
As for the weekend itself, the track and staff deserve plaudits for their efforts to configure a racy, smooth track that provided enough passing and enough spectator areas to make the race feel like an event.
The spectator mounds – I stood in ones at Turns 1, 2 and 7 for instance – were definitely populated and probably better places to watch than the grandstands. You could pick your favorite from watching the Mazda Road to Indy races earlier in the day, and at $25 for GA, it was a great value for fans.
Perhaps the thing I liked most about the weekend, like a lot of IndyCar weekends, was the unpredictability.
Five of the six MRTI races had first-time winners. The IndyCar front row featured a guy who’d never qualified better than ninth on a road or street course and a guy in his fourth series start.
The weather shifted from being partly sunny to partly cloudy, to rainy, to torrential downpours, to light rain, to cloudy, and then to rainy again. And that was just on Friday.
Then – with projections hoping to top 40,000 fans, and I think it’s fair to estimate from the ground the number was near the 45,000 range – you couldn’t have really predicted that many fans would attend an IndyCar road course race at IMS.
For those who’ve decried the decline of “tradition” at IMS, that cry ended 20 years ago when NASCAR ran the first Brickyard 400 at the track. Nothing’s been sacred from there, and traditional “tradition” at IMS has slowly eroded ever since.
But what has propped up in the time since 1994 has been a slow series of new traditions.
And those who were at this year’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis can discuss the lore of a crazy start line crash, the Mayor getting hit with debris, the awesome viewing points, and one of the series’ best drivers breaking through to score the victory.
It was a weird weekend, but one that was certainly worth it for the fans, and for IMS.
Now the “proper” rest of the month continues with Indianapolis 500 practice now underway.