‘Month of May’ has arrived at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

INDYCAR Photo
INDYCAR Photo
2 Comments

INDIANAPOLIS – The “Month of May” has arrived in the state capital of Indiana and to motorsports fans around the world, it’s the most spectacular time of the year.

For more than 100 years, the “Month of May” has had special meaning, especially to those who prefer horsepower over horse racing, lead changes over home runs and pit stops over shots on goal. Although the state of Indiana’s favorite game is basketball, especially during the “Hoosier Hysteria” of its annual state high school basketball tournament, its favorite sporting event is the Indianapolis 500.

What started with Ray Harroun winning the first Indy 500 in 1911 has continued for well over a century, and it’s time to get ready for the 103rd Running.

NBC Sports will be there every step of the way, beginning with Saturday’s sixth IndyCar Grand Prix (3 pm ET on NBC) on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course. Saturday’s 85-lap, 207.315-mile race race will be the first time NBC Sports has covered an NTT IndyCar Series race at IMS.

But for those fans who want to get immersed in all of the action from IMS’ legendary 2.5-mile oval, NBC Sports Gold’s “INDYCAR Pass” will present 60+ hours of INDYCAR practice, qualifying, and full-event replays this month, as well as Indy Lights races – all surrounding Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix and the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500 Presented by Gainbridge on May 26. The price for “INDYCAR Pass” has been reduced this month only to $39.99, a $15 discount. Click here to purchase now.

“INDYCAR Pass” live streaming coverage begins with INDYCAR Grand Prix practice and qualifying sessions on Fri., May 10, at 9:10 a.m. ET, exclusively for subscribers.

Later this month, “INDYCAR Pass” will live stream Indy 500 practices and qualifying, most of it exclusively, beginning with a seven-hour practice session on Tues., May 14, at 11 a.m. ET. In all, “INDYCAR Pass” will exclusively live stream 29.5 hours of Indy 500 practice coverage between May 14-18.

In conjunction with NBCSN, “INDYCAR Pass” will also provide coverage of Indy 500 Carb Day, the IPL 500 Festival Parade, and the Indy 500 Victory Banquet.

The IndyCar Grand Prix is a relatively new event, intended to showcase the diversity of the current Indy car and the series’ talented collection of drivers. Prior to 2014, “Opening Day” at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway consisted of the Rookie Orientation Program (ROP) and a few hours of practice for the veterans entered in the lineup.

INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles recalled walking about the grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and thought he could do better than continue the old format that featured cars only on the oval.

“I remember walking about, seeing a nice antique car show in the Brickyard Plaza, hearing Indy cars on the track and seeing about 5,000 people,” Miles recalled. “I thought it would be better to come up with the road course race to show the skill of our drivers and jump-start the Month of May in a special way.”

The result was the IndyCar Grand Prix, which allows fans to see a different style of racing at IMS. The original road course hosted the United States Grand Prix Formula One event from 2000-2007. It was modified to provide better racing action for the Indy cars.

The Grand Prix draws about 50,000 spectators – 10 times the size of the crowd that normally turned out for Opening Day in recent years. The best seats are in the infield and not the massive grandstands, with the spectator mounds being a popular viewing area for the fans that come out to watch the IndyCar Grand Prix.

It’s more of a “local crowd” that comes out for the IndyCar Grand Prix compared to the Indianapolis 500, when crowds of more than 300,000 spectators come from around the world to witness one of the greatest sporting events on Earth.

Before the Indy 500, though, it’s the IndyCar Grand Prix on NBC. Qualifying is 4:30 p.m. ET Friday on NBCSN. The race broadcast is 3 p.m. ET Saturday, May 11 on NBC. Leigh Diffey will be the play-by-play announcer for NBC’s telecast of the INDYCAR Grand Prix alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. Marty Snider, Kevin Lee, Kelli Stavast and Robin Miller are the pit reporters.

Team Penske’s Will Power is the defending IndyCar Grand Prix winner and has won the event three times in its five previous runnings. Simon Pagenaud won the inaugural road course contest in 2014 when he was at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and won again in 2016 for his current Team Penske.

The track will be shut down on Sunday so teams and fans can celebrate Mother’s Day, with the Gasoline Alley garages reopening on Monday so teams can change the race cars from road course configuration to oval setup.

Practice for the Indianapolis 500 begins next Tuesday and runs through the rest of the week featuring “Fast Friday.” That’s when each car gets extra turbocharger boost and the speeds increase.

Qualifications for the Indianapolis 500 are set for Saturday, May 18, when the “Fast Nine” and the teams that will compete in the “Last Row Shootout” are determined. Positions 10-30 will be locked into the race Saturday based on their four-lap average speeds.

NBC will televise the “Last Row Shootout” on Sunday, May 19 beginning at 12 noon, followed by the run for the pole in the “Fast Nine.” The pole winner will be determined by 2:45 p.m. ET, weather permitting.

NBCSN takes over at 3 p.m. with three hours of practice for the full Indy 500 field of 33 cars.

Two more hours of practice at set for Monday, May 20, with “Carb Day” set for Friday, May 24.

NBC will telecast the Indianapolis 500 for the first time in history on Sunday, May 26. NBCSN will have a two-hour pre-race show from 9-11 a.m. ET, with NBC taking over at 11 a.m.

The “Month of May” brings Indianapolis out of its long winter slumber and speeds it into the hot summer months on a grand scale. The city is alive with parties, charity functions and other events that make the city the “Motorsports Capital of the World.”

Many of NBC’s signature programs will also play a role. The Today Show will be televising live from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 23. Kelly Clarkson will be singing the National Anthem. The winner from last year’s ‘The Voice’ will be singing God Bless America. Matt & Akbar from American Ninja Warrior will have dignitary positions.

At the IndyCar Grand Prix, Justin Hartley from “This Is Us” will be the honorary starter.

Between now and the checkered flag, there will be plenty of storylines and NBCSports.com will have those covered, as we count down to The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

With throaty roar, NASCAR Next Gen Camaro is taking Le Mans by storm on global stage

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
2 Comments

LE MANS, France — The V8 engine of the NASCAR Chevrolet Camaro has a distinct growl that cannot go unnoticed even among the most elite sports cars in the world at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

When the Hendrick Motorsports crew fired up the car inside Garage 56, NASCAR chairman Jim France broke into a huge grin and gave a thumbs up.

“The only guy who didn’t cover his ears,” laughed seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

GARAGE 56 SPECS: Full comparison of NASCAR Cup car to Le Mans car

BUTTON’S BIG MOVE: Hendrick drone tour was NASCAR entryway for F1 champion

France has been waiting since 1962 – the year his father, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., brought him to his first 24 Hours of Le Mans – to hear the roar of a stock car at the most prestigious endurance race in the world.

A path finally opened when NASCAR developed its Next Gen car, which debuted last year. France worked out a deal to enter a car in a specialized “Innovative Car” class designed to showcase technology and development. The effort would be part of NASCAR’s 75th celebration and it comes as Le Mans marks its 100th.

Once he had the approval, France persuaded Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear – NASCAR’s winningest team, manufacturer and tire supplier – to build a car capable of running the twice-around-the-clock race.

The race doesn’t start until Saturday, but NASCAR’s arrival has already been wildly embraced and France could not be more thrilled.

“Dad’s vision, to be able to follow it, it took awhile to follow it up, and my goal was to outdo what he accomplished,” France told The Associated Press. “I just hope we don’t fall on our ass.”

The car is in a class of its own and not racing anyone else in the 62-car field. But the lineup of 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller, 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button and Johnson has been fast enough; Rockenfeller put down a qualifying lap that was faster than every car in the GTE AM class by a full three seconds.

The Hendrick Motorsports crew won its class in the pit stop competition and finished fifth overall as the only team using a manual jack against teams exclusively using air jacks. Rick Hendrick said he could not be prouder of the showing his organization has made even before race day.

“When we said we’re gonna do it, I said, ‘Look, we can’t do this half-assed. I want to be as sharp as anybody out there,” Hendrick told AP. “I don’t want to be any less than any other team here. And just to see the reaction from the crowd, people are so excited about this car. My granddaughter has been sending me all these TikTok things that fans are making about NASCAR being at Le Mans.”

This isn’t NASCAR’s first attempt to run Le Mans. The late France Sr. brokered a deal in 1976, as America celebrated its bicentennial, to bring two cars to compete in the Grand International class and NASCAR selected the teams. Herschel McGriff and his son, Doug, drove a Wedge-powered, Olympia Beer-sponsored Dodge Charger, and Junie Donlavey piloted a Ford Torino shared by Richard Brooks and Dick Hutcherson.

Neither car came close to finishing the race. McGriff, now 95 and inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in January, is in Le Mans as France’s guest, clad head-to-toe in the noticeable Garage 56 uniforms.

“I threw a lot of hints that I would like to come. And I’ve been treated as royalty,” McGriff said. “This is unbelievable to me. I recognize nothing but I’m anxious to see everything. I’ve been watching and seeing pictures and I can certainly see the fans love their NASCAR.”

The goal is to finish the full race Sunday and, just maybe, beat cars from other classes. Should they pull off the feat, the driver trio wants its own podium celebration.

“I think people will talk about this car for a long, long time,” said Rockenfeller, who along with sports car driver Jordan Taylor did much of the development alongside crew chief Chad Knaus and Greg Ives, a former crew chief who stepped into a projects role at Hendrick this year.

“When we started with the Cup car, we felt already there was so much potential,” Rockenfeller said. “And then we tweaked it. And we go faster, and faster, at Le Mans on the SIM. But you never know until you hit the real track, and to be actually faster than the SIM. Everybody in the paddock, all the drivers, they come up and they are, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’ and they were impressed by the pit stops. We’ve overachieved, almost, and now of course the goal is to run for 24 hours.”

The car completed a full 24-hour test at Sebring, Florida, earlier this year, Knaus said, and is capable of finishing the race. Button believes NASCAR will leave a lasting impression no matter what happens.

“If you haven’t seen this car live yet, it’s an absolute beast,” Button said. “When you see and hear it go by, it just puts a massive smile on your face.”

For Hendrick, the effort is the first in his newfound embrace of racing outside NASCAR, the stock car series founded long ago in the American South. Aside from the Le Mans project, he will own the Indy car that Kyle Larson drives for Arrow McLaren in next year’s Indianapolis 500 and it will be sponsored by his automotive company.

“If you’d have told me I’d be racing at Le Mans and Indianapolis within the same year, I’d never have believed you,” Hendrick told AP. “But we’re doing both and we’re going to do it right.”

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Fans gather around the NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that is the Garage 56 entry for the 100th 24 Hours of Le Mans at the Circuit de la Sarthe (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

General Motors is celebrating the achievement with a 2024 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Garage 56 Edition and only 56 will be available to collectors later this year.

“Even though Chevrolet has been racing since its inception in 1911, we’ve never done anything quite like Garage 56,” said GM President Mark Reuss. “A NASCAR stock car running at Le Mans is something fans doubted they would see again.”

The race hasn’t even started yet, but Hendrick has enjoyed it so much that he doesn’t want the project to end.

“It’s like a shame to go through all this and do all this, and then Sunday it’s done,” Hendrick said. “It’s just really special to be here.”