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Roger Penske unveils record Indy 500 purse, improvements to speedway

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A series of new plans to boost both the Indianapolis 500 and Indianapolis Motor Speedway were unveiled during a press conference at the historic facility Friday afternoon.

The changes are the first to be announced since Roger Penske officially took control of the speedway and NTT IndyCar Series in January.

“This is the Racing Capital of the World,” Penske said. “It is on par with some of the most historic sporting institutions in this nation and across the globe, from Churchill Downs to Augusta National. Today, we’re announcing a meaningful investment in our fan experience that will produce rapid results. It’s part of a long-term plan to ensure the legendary status of the Speedway continues to grow and evolve for generations to come.

“I am very excited about the enhancements to qualifying weekend, the largest-ever ‘500’ purse, new sponsors and the significant investments we are making to the IndyCar Series and to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

The changes include:

A record purse: The event purse for the 104th running of the Indy 500 will be the largest in the history of the event. The purse will grow by $2 million to $15 million, with the winning driver guaranteed a minimum of  $2 million.

Multiple qualifying attempts will return to the Last Row Shootout: The shootout will expand from 60 to 75 minutes. Previous versions of the shootout allowed only one attempt per car. The new format gives teams another opportunity to qualify for the race while preserving the tradition of Bump Day.

“Listening to the fans and looking at the information that flowed to my desk, the fans here, the history here is having a bump day,” Penske said. “I think that that will take place at this year’s Indy 500.”

A boost in turbocharger power: The 45 horsepower increase will allow for higher speeds during Indy 500 qualifying.

Expanded television coverage of qualifying: NBC will cover both Saturday and Sunday of qualifications weekend, with total network exposure increasing over 2019. Full weekend broadcast details will be unveiled at a later date.

New Sponsors: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and NTT IndyCar Series will add six new major sponsors in 2020: Pennzoil, Verizon, Snap-on Tools, DEX Imaging, Road & Track magazine, and Global Medical Response.

Technology Upgrades: Over 30 new large-screen video boards will be installed on the grounds of the speedway, including 24 along the paddock seating. All seven of the large infield big screen monitors will also include additions to display the race running order.

Another new addition is the IMS Media Wall. This video board will be 100 feet wide and 20 feet tall and will be displayed at the base of the Pagoda facing the Pagoda Plazza. The wall will display data-driven race insights from NTT for fans.

Additionally, Verizon will expand it’s 5G Ultra Wideband network to make IMS the first motorsports facility with commerical 5G service.

Infrastructure improvements: The 110-year-old facility will receive several upgrades to improve the fan experience. Pedestrian traffic on Georgetown Road will be widened by two lanes to allow easier ingress and egress.

The winning drivers and teams of the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400 will also be elevated to the same level as the victory podium after each race. This will give fans a better vantage point for pictures.

Additionally, more than 125 restrooms will be renovated inside the facility and over three miles of fencing will be installed.

Beautification upgrades:  Night light signage will be installed over gates 1 and 2, while over 50 concession stands will receive fresh paint. More picnic tables and racing flags will also be installed throughout the grounds.

All aspects of the fan aspect improvements are underway and will be completed before the IMS gates open for the month of May on May 8. The 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 will take place on Sunday, 24 and will air live on NBC.

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Robert Wickens shares more positive strides toward recovery in new video

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Robert Wickens has made massive steps since sustaining a spinal cord injury in an Aug. 19, 2018 crash at Pocono Raceway.

Since the accident, Wickens publicly has shared his recovery, often uploading videos of his physical rehabilitation on Twitter.

In his most recent update on Wednesday, Wickens shared a video of him walking on a treadmill. Fellow NTT IndyCar Series competitor Tony Kannan, who competes in triathlons during his spare time, also was visible running on the treadmill behind Wickens.

“When I am @TonyKannan [sic] age, I hope to run as fast as him…” Wickens tweeted. “Today was a good day!”

Wickens, who will turn 31 on March 13, first made his return to the IndyCar paddock in last year’s season opener in St. Petersburg. Since then, he’s made a return to the driver’s seat, piloting a specialized Acura NSX prior to the start of last year’s IndyCar race in his hometown of Toronto.

In September, Wickens fulfilled a vow to his wife Karli, by standing with her during their wedding. The new husband and wife also danced together during their reception.

Should Wickens fully recover to resume racing, Arrow McLaren SP co-owner Sam Schmidt has stated that the team’s No. 6 entry will be available for him to drive. Wickens continues to remain as a “driver coach and consultant” for the team.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter