The weather, thirty-degree temperatures and spitting snow flurries, belied the springtime season as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway feted the media during its annual Media Days at the legendary Brickyard on Wednesday (April 4th). This year the buzz remains centered on the new rules changes that have brought an all-ethanol fuel and a new Honda racing engine with more torque for the road courses, the celebration of AJ Foyt.s fiftieth year of racing at the Speedway, and the never-ending drama of who is doing what on and off-track that always attends the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
The 100 percent fuel-grade ethanol that will be used for the first time in the famous five hundred mile race continues to draw interest from racers and fans alike. The increased mileage (over three miles per gallon) from the corn-based power source mandated a reduction in size of the onboard fuel tanks on the Dallara racecars (to twenty-two gallons capacity) in order that tire wear during each racing stint and pit-stop frequency during the race would remain unchanged from previous years.
"In oval-track mileage, they get 3.1 to 3.3 (miles per gallon) on ethanol compared to 1.8 to 2.0 on methanol a few years ago," said Brian Barnhart, the Indy Racing League's head of competition and chief Indy 500 race controller. "With the smaller fuel cell (22 gallons instead of 30), it may take longer for the tire changers than the fueler," to complete their pit-stop duties, thereby creating another competitive challenge for teams to manage.
It.s A.J. Foyt's 50th year at Indy as a driver or owner, and the celebration will begin with a special on-track tribute to the four-time Indy 500 champion. This year plucky young Englishman Darren Manning drives for SuperTex, who has also added step-son Larry Foyt to the management team so AJ can focus fully on what AJ does best: making racecars go fast.
"With A.J., it.s all about who can communicate with him," Manning said, smiling. "Even though we both speak English (pause) well, I still say I speak English properly."
Always-the-bridesmaid at the Brickyard, Michael Andretti has teamed up with Motorola and Jim Beam (with an assist from Bryant) to contend once again for that elusive Borg-Warner he longs to put on the mantle in Nazareth, PA. After placing third, and building on his infamous most laps led for an Indy 500 non-winner record in 2006 Michael has his sights set on finally conquering his own Everest.
This year he returns with son Marco Andretti, veterans Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti, and (of course) newcomer Danica Patrick who switched from Rahal Letterman Racing to the Andretti Green Racing team at the end of the 2006 season.
"After everything that happened last year, I had a lot of fun doing the 500," he said. "Running five cars affected the team in a positive way. I think we're coming up with a better team than last year, and we will be even more competitive."
All-in-all the 91st running of the Indianapolis 500 promises to be equally as exciting as last year.s stupendous climax that saw Sam Hornish execute the only last-lap pass for the lead in race history to steal the checkered flag from Marco Andretti in the last two hundred yards of the two hundredth lap of the day.
"A lot was said about Danica two years ago," said Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Joie Chitwood, "but we had 27 lead changes in that (2005) race, and 22 were on the race track, not in the pits. Last year (2006) we added another new record: the 500 had never had a lead change on the last lap, and we had one in the last 200 yards. I'm not sure what the 91st Indianapolis holds for us, but it.s up to us to set the stage."