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Q&A: Watkins Glen president Michael Printup on IndyCar return

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It was simply spectacular for the Verizon IndyCar Series to be back at Watkins Glen International this weekend, and after only a three-month buildup from an eleventh-hour deal to get the track on as a replacement round for the cancelled Boston race.

We caught up with track president Michael Printup just before the race, the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen presented by Hitachi, for some thoughts on how the actual realization of the weekend matched up to the buildup.

MotorSportsTalk: So, it’s real, and we’re actually here for IndyCar at Watkins Glen. How awesome is it to be standing here at this moment?

Michael Printup: “You know I saw Scott Dixon last night, it was late, and he had a bigger smile than me and I said, ‘You can’t do that! because I’m happier!” and he’s like ‘No, we’re happy!’ and I’m like ‘Congratulations.’ We knew [the fastest average speed lap] was going to be broken. What’s even more exciting and George [Bruggenthies, Road America track president] is down over around the corner here, I was talking to him a little bit ago, and I said ‘You know we broke your record?’ I said “I’m not rubbing it in! Now I didn’t do anything, but obviously Scott broke the North American record and let alone breaking the Watkins Glen record. It gives me chills, it gives me chills to the time. I’m very humbled and pleased with what’s happening this weekend.”

MST: One of the event notes that occurred was Hitachi being named presenting sponsor on Friday. How did that come together?

MP: “INDYCAR has been awesome in that. We’re both sharing the responsibility of promoting this and to get Hitachi to come on along with their other sponsors with Verizon and everyone else that’s involved with them, just an awesome experience.”

MST: Is the crowd what you hoped?

MP: “I’ve been watching, there have been traffic issues at the gate since 8am this morning – which is a good thing. We don’t get data right away, but I’ll get it tonight. We kind of knew the walk-up would be nice today. I’m happy, but of course every promoter wants more. With 90 days, I’m not disappointed at all, Jay [Frye’s] not, Mark [Miles] is not. We solidified our future. Give us a year to get this tucked in our belt and we’ll make it bigger and better next year.

MST: That’s just it… this isn’t a one-shot deal but with a two-year extension and Gov. Andrew Cuomo involved, there’s a future road map here… 

MP: “That’s big. He’s a big sports car fan and IndyCar fan. He’d have been here this weekend but he had a business trip to Italy this weekend so he couldn’t go. Monza, maybe? [laughter].

“He’s a big fan. I called him the night before I came down to Indianapolis, I didn’t want him surprised. I said, ‘I’m going down to sign the Indy deal, can you give me some help later on?’ I said, ‘I’m going to go sign it now and we’ll see what happens. His comment back to me was ‘can I go with you?’ – he was that excited. I said, ‘Probably not this time, I hate to tell a governor no. For the New York governor to go down to Indy to make the announcement with Jay Frye and I, I thought that was pretty cool.”

MST: Is it too early to start thinking of other series on this weekend next year? Of course we’ve had Indy Lights and a regional Ferrari Club of America here this weekend.

MP: “It’s a mesh. It’s been going on. I haven’t met with INDYCAR yet. Obviously we have the Indy Lights, we know Indy Lights is coming back next year. I’ve met with Dan and Jay and talked about the [Pro] Mazda and the USF2000s. So we know we want them there, so we’re going to figure out how to make it happen. We haven’t solidified it yet, but we’ll make it happen.

MST: Six years since the last race, what’s the personal and track excitement level of adding this classic venue back?

MP: “Take the company aspect away from this, from a personal point of view, I’m with you 100 percent. Having the schedule locked up, being a huge IndyCar fan since I was a little kid, a CART fan, having started my career with Roger Penske at California Speedway, it was all about open-wheel for me. It’s awesome. That’s personal. The schedule is awesome. I love Gateway. I love Road America. George is probably one of the best promoters in the country. To see this, now I know I can pick my schedule, I can know where I can go see IndyCar races. I’m excited.”

Indy 500 qualifying: Today’s schedule, TV times, how the 33-car field is set

Indy 500 qualifying schedule
Doug Mathews/IndyCar
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The 33-car field of the 104th Indianapolis 500 will be set through the two-day Indy 500 qualifying schedule Saturday and Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Today’s session will determine the nine cars that will compete for the pole position and starting positions 10-30.

On Sunday, the pole position then will be determined in a Fast Nine Shootout (the top nine qualifiers also received NTT IndyCar Series points).

All on-track activity will be on NBC Sports Gold’s IndyCar pass (click here for streaming Saturday and here for Sunday), and Indy 500 qualifying will be on NBC from 3-5 p.m. ET Saturday and Indy 500 pole qualifying from 1-3 p.m. ET on NBC.

Last year, Simon Pagenaud captured the pole position on the way to winning last year’s Indy 500.

Qualifying speeds at Indianapolis Motor Speedway are determined by a four-lap average around the 2.5-mile track.

Here is the Indy 500 qualifying schedule and how to watch on TV:

Saturday, Aug. 15

5:30 a.m. – Garage opens

6 a.m. – Tech inspection

8:30-9:30 a.m. – Indianapolis 500 practice (NBC Sports Gold)

11 a.m.-5 p.m. – Indianapolis 500 qualifying (NBC Sports Gold; NBC coverage from 3-5 p.m.; NBCSN 5-6 p.m.)

7:30 p.m. – Garage closes

Sunday, Aug. 16

8 a.m. – Garage opens

9 a.m. — Tech inspection

11-11:30 a.m. – Indianapolis 500 practice (NBC Sports Gold)

1:15-2:15 p.m. – Fast Nine pole qualifying (NBC begins at 1 p.m., NBC Sports Gold)

3:30-6 p.m. – Indianapolis 500 practice (NBCSN, NBC Sports Gold)