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Brian Vickers potential adds to SPM’s month of May intrigue

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In recent days and weeks, speculation has been rife over who will fill one of two likely final entries for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil: the third Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.

Last month, and this came as a shock to many, but RACER.com discovered that NASCAR race winner and current part-timer Brian Vickers had entered the frame of discussion for the seat.

Vickers followed up on the possibility during a media availability at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend, where he is filling in for Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

“I would love to have something to announce [but] unfortunately there is nothing to announce at this point,” Vickers said.

“It is still on the table. It’s not done, but it’s not off the table yet either.”

The connection makes more sense when you realize Vickers and Jay Frye have worked together before at Red Bull’s NASCAR operation; Frye is now INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations.

Other candidates revealed publicly include Stefan Wilson, Gabby Chaves and Oriol Servia, as noted in this Motorsport.com piece.

If it’s those four who are in the frame for one seat, inevitably three of them would be left high, dry and disappointed.

And while storyline-wise all four of them make sense, only one and maybe two are feasible from a realistic helping the team for this month of May standpoint.

Vickers would draw the most attention from a 10,000 feet above, national standpoint. Everyone loves a comeback story and Vickers’ return to racing after persistent blood clots has been one of the more remarkable in recent memory.

With Kurt Busch having ruled out a run a couple weeks ago, if NASCAR wanted a driving link to this year’s 500, they’d have one in Vickers.

Realistically though, Vickers, 32, is the riskiest option. He’s never driven an IndyCar and would need to adapt quickly to his new environment, and the style of driving.

That said, he’s certainly capable of it, given what he’s done in sports cars and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans before. He’s done well in NASCAR despite adverse circumstances facing him; he’s been picked for fill-in roles for several years over others. That speaks to his adaptability in short time frames.

Wilson would tick the emotional boxes for several reasons. The 26-year-old Englishman has been working feverishly on a program working to introduce solar to the Speedway for several months, and is keen to get back behind the wheel after an extended hiatus of his own.

Naturally, there’s also the desire of him wanting to be on the grid to fulfill the family legacy at the first ‘500 since his older brother Justin lost his life at Pocono. He’d be a heartwarming story, and he also has the talent and relevant open-wheel experience to jump in. He has raced at the Speedway before in Indy Lights, and has one career IndyCar start (2013 at Baltimore).

Chaves, 22, would measure up nicely from a perseverance standpoint. The Colombian-American did everything right last year despite running with a single-car team and a smaller budget. That Bryan Herta did nearly everything to keep him even as he was trying to ensure his team stayed in the sport, now partnered with Andretti Autosport, spoke volumes of what he thinks of Chaves.

And Gabby’s got the most recent team experience of these four, too. He tested nicely for Schmidt Peterson at both Phoenix and Sebring to help get the car more in the window for the opening rounds of the season. Mikhail Aleshin finishing fifth at St. Petersburg probably doesn’t happen without Chaves’ data and feedback from the Sebring test. He’s also kept his face out there at both events, ensuring he’s staying in the frame without being in a car. Few realize how truly talented he is.

Lastly, there’s Servia, 41, who doesn’t have the huge story line angle but would be the best of the bunch from a pure feedback and development standpoint – especially with new aerodynamic components coming into play this year the Speedway.

Servia would be the rock to aid Hinchcliffe and Aleshin back to stability and comfort after both drivers return for their first big oval races since devastating, near-fatal accidents – Hinchcliffe in practice last year at Indianapolis, and Aleshin, in night practice in 2014 at Fontana.

It’s no disrespect to the other three, but there’s a reason Servia has made a career in this series for the better part of 15 years with 13 different teams, for 198 career races. He is as plug-and-play as you get, and when your last three starts have been for three different teams (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Andretti Autosport, Team Penske), the latter two with barely more than 24 hours notice, you know you can install him to do the job.

SPM is going to be a story line at this year’s Indianapolis 500 to begin with, given both drivers’ big oval race returns.

The team’s storyline may only go greater depending on who gets the nod in the team’s third car.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.