Penultimate challenge at legendary Indianapolis

Penultimate challenge at legendary Indianapolis

When Indianapolis was included on the 2000 Formula One calendar, it became the oldest circuit to host a Grand Prix. Monza formerly held the distinction, being built in 1922, but Indy predates the Italian track by thirteen years, to 1909. Only ...

When Indianapolis was included on the 2000 Formula One calendar, it became the oldest circuit to host a Grand Prix. Monza formerly held the distinction, being built in 1922, but Indy predates the Italian track by thirteen years, to 1909. Only Brooklands in the UK is older, built in 1907, but it never hosted a championship race. Before Indianapolis, the US Grand Prix had a wandering existence and was held at no less than eight different locations.

The Brickyard.
Photo by Ferrari Media Center.
In 1959 the event was held at Sebring, Florida and the following year Riverside, California was the host. Watkins Glen, New York, held the most US GPs, twenty races between 1961 and 1980. Long Beach, California held eight races between 1976 and 1983 and Detroit seven events between1982 and 1988. Las Vegas had two races, in '81 and '82, Dallas was host in 1984 and Phoenix from 1989 to 1991.

Just Northwest of Indianapolis, the 2.5 mile Motor Speedway was built in record time; eight months from the signing of the deal to the first motorcycle race on the track in August 1909. The first car race was also held in August. The surface soon became unstable with use and it was decided to pave the whole track with bricks, hence the famous Brickyard. Visibly, all that remains today is the Yard of Bricks at the start/finish line.

Racing continued sporadically at Indianapolis until May 1911, when a 500 mile race was featured. It was won by Ray Harroun in a Marmom Wasp and the event was the birth of the Indy 500. The race became world famous and competitors came from all over the globe but come World War One, Indianapolis served as a landing strip.

Racing resumed in 1919 but in the early Thirties, the circuit claimed many lives and finally major changes were made to sections of the track. It was resurfaced with tarmac in 1935 apart from the start/finish straight, but that followed suit in 1961, leaving only the Yard of Bricks. However, once again war intruded and Indianapolis fell into disrepair until 1945. The following redevelopments over the years included such facilities as new grandstands, control tower, museum and many other improvements.

The US GP may have wandered around before coming to Indianapolis in 2000 but the circuit was in fact part of Formula One at the start of the Championship in 1950. From that year until 1960, the Indy 500 was included in the series, even though it was not raced in F1 cars. Troy Ruttman became the youngest ever winner of the Indy 500 in 1952, at the age of 22.

In its long history there have been far too many famous names that won the US GP to mention them all. Mario Andretti -- although Italian born -- is the only American to have won the event (1977, Long Beach), and he (1978) and Phil Hill (1961) the two Americans who have been F1 World Champions. Andretti and Jimmy Murphy are the Americans who have won both the Indy 500 and one or more F1 Grands Prix, although Murphy's win at the French GP in 1921 was pre-FIA championship. Since Indianapolis became the home of the US GP in 2000, Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen and Rubens Barrichello have been winners.

The Bombardier Pagoda.
Photo by Brousseau Photo.
The long start/finish straight after the banking at Indianapolis is the longest straight on the F1 calendar: 22 seconds at full throttle. Combined with the tight, twisty infield, it means downforce is medium to low and the straight puts emphasis on aerodynamic efficiency. Engine reliability is always a factor but at Indianapolis it's a key area, as the combination of the long full throttle period followed by the infield turns is hard work. Turn one is a favoured overtaking spot if there's slipstreaming to be had down the straight.

The fast part of the circuit generates a lot of heat and the banking increases the vertical load, so the strain on tyres is heavy. Also, the surface on the banking tends to be abrasive and the infield is smoother. The medium to soft range of compound is likely for compromise between these two sections of the track.

Last year, Indianapolis was the scene of another dubious Ferrari one-two finish. Pole man Michael Schumacher led the whole race from Rubens Barrichello until the last few metres. Apparently letting his teammate close up for a formation finish, Michael braked a bit too much and Barrichello shot over the line to take the win by 100th of a second.

The two Williams drivers caused the team some dismay when they battled early in the race, with the result that they touched and Ralf Schumacher lost his rear wing. Montoya dropped down the field but eventually came home fourth. David Coulthard completed the podium, the McLaren starting and finishing third. Renault's Jarno Trulli and BAR's Jacques Villeneuve filled the last two points positions, fifth and sixth respectively.

Michael Schumacher could claim his sixth title at Indianapolis this weekend. However, that would depend on him winning the race and main championship challenger Montoya finishing lower than fifth. It's possible but seems unlikely -- but there's really no point trying to predict what might happen and there's too many permutations of results to ponder. For the sake of an exciting end to the season, it would be nice to see the fight go all the way to Suzuka.

Kimi Raikkonen has to win at Indy to keep himself in the frame and for the Constructors' it's pretty much a straight fight between Ferrari and Williams. The circuit usually suits Williams but that doesn't necessarily mean much. All in all, Indianapolis promises to be a fairly tense weekend.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jarno Trulli , Ralf Schumacher , Michael Schumacher , Rubens Barrichello , David Coulthard , Mika Hakkinen , Jacques Villeneuve , Kimi Raikkonen , Phil Hill , Mario Andretti , Jimmy Murphy
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Williams