IMS races from oval to road course

IMS OVAL-TO-ROAD COURSE CONVERSION IN 2004 IS RACE AGAINST TIME 'Turnaround' keeps IMS crews focused, on the go INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, June 10, 2004 - When Indianapolis Motor Speedway employees learned of the new date for the 2004 Formula One...

'Turnaround' keeps IMS crews focused, on the go

INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, June 10, 2004 - When Indianapolis Motor Speedway employees learned of the new date for the 2004 Formula One United States Grand Prix, it was clear that there would be two races in June at the track: the USGP and a race against time.

Welcome to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Photo by IMS LLC.

The three-event schedule at IMS since 2000 saw a major change when Formula One announced it was pairing its two North American events - the Canadian Grand Prix and United States Grand Prix - on consecutive weekends in mid-June. Formula One visits Montreal on June 11-13 and Indianapolis on June 18-20. From 2000-2003, the USGP took place in late September at Indy.

Instead of having the traditional three weeks of Indianapolis 500 activity followed by a relatively calm two months to prepare for the Brickyard 400, which takes place in early August, IMS crews now have 14 days - from May 31 to June 14 - to prepare the Speedway for Formula One's fifth visit to the Speedway.

That truth particularly affects the IMS Facilities department, the men and women responsible for not only maintaining the historic, state-of-the-art facility year-round but also converting it from its historic 2.5-mile oval configuration, used for the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race and the Brickyard 400, to a 2.605-mile road course for the USGP.

IMS crews and an army of contractors - under the direction of IMS Senior Vice President of Operations Mel Harder - are in the middle of the "Turnaround," as the Facilities department calls it. The Turnaround is the conversion of the Speedway from oval to a road course and completing myriad other tasks to prepare for Formula One's fifth visit to the Speedway for the 2004 USGP, scheduled for June 18-20.

In 2003, the Speedway had 53 days to prepare the facility for the United States Grand Prix following the Brickyard 400. So how on earth can it be done in 14 days?

"It's kind of tough," said Kevin Forbes, IMS director of engineering and construction, who created the timeline for the "Turnaround" project. "Keep in mind, for the longest time the evening of the (Indianapolis) 500 kind of represented our chance to relax. You kick your feet back and enjoy the victory of another successful '500' event."

The summer of 2004 is a stark contrast, as Speedway crews were scheduled to start preparing for the USGP at 6 p.m. on Indy 500 Race Day - approximately four hours after the checkered flag should have waved on the race. But Mother Nature had other plans, as thunderstorms swept across the Midwest that day and delayed the finish of the rain-shortened "500" by approximately four hours.

"If not for the storms, we would have already been back out on the circuit as soon as the Victory Ceremonies were over," Forbes said.

While the task of maintaining the Speedway is a year-round process, preparing the facility for the United States Grand Prix represents the greatest challenge of the year for the Speedway's Facilities personnel.

This is due to a seemingly mile-long list of tasks that range from moving 130 8-ton concrete barriers to create the USGP pit lane and close certain roads on the infield of the circuit, to installing fencing around Formula One's posh "Paddock Club," to minute details such as placing proper menu signage in the Media Center.

There are also 60 6-ton barriers and 60 4-ton concrete barriers, used in various locations on the circuit, to move. In total, there are 3,280,000 pounds of concrete barriers to move.

Also new for 2004 are two temporary infield grandstands that must be built from the ground up. The grandstands each sit on primary roads in the infield, so they must be removed quickly after the event.

Consider these further tasks:

*At the outset of road-course preparation, crews must remove the temporary walls and catch fencing on the inside of the oval's Turn 2 and Turn 4, where the road course enters and exits the oval portion of the track, respectively. Heavy machinery is required to move the walls as each section weighs 16,000 pounds.

*Tire barriers are installed along the road course Turn 12, where it enters the IMS oval, and signboards and safety barriers are installed at the road course Turn 1. There are 43,933 tires used to construct the tire barriers at various spots around the 2.605-mile circuit, and approximately 10,000 of those tires are moved during the "Turnaround."

*Several roads in the infield must be closed with concrete barriers and tire barriers to create the infield backstretch of the road course, and 13-foot tall catch fencing must be erected.

*The Speedway's oval-track flag stand is removed, and the overhead gantry that holds the Formula One starting lights 20 feet over the track surface is erected at the start/finish line.

*More than 1,000 feet of catch fencing must be removed from along the inside of the oval pit lane, while another 1,000 feet of fencing must be added along the outside of the Formula One pit lane.

*The striping on the road course is different than the oval because the traffic is moving in a different direction, so crews have to black out the striping on the oval and install new striping that would indicate the alignment of the road course.

*The starting grid for the Formula One cars must be repainted.

*More than 2,000 feet of fencing is put in place to close off the Paddock Club, television compound and other secure areas.

*All of the pit-side Gasoline Alley garages and suites, and the Legends Row building - located directly behind the garages - must be emptied so Formula One teams can move in their equipment. Indy Racing League teams must quickly vacate the "A" garage building in the traditional IMS garage area so the garages can be thoroughly cleaned. What were the garages for teams such as A.J. Foyt Racing and Robby Gordon Racing during the 2004 Indianapolis 500 will be hospitality space for Formula One teams, with first-class cuisine on the menu.

*Temporary signage, specified by Formula One to keep the paddock in similar form to all other events around the world, must be erected.

The best way to describe the Speedway following the Indy 500, thanks to the jobs listed above and literally dozens more too numerous to mention, is that it is very controlled and well-planned chaos. IMS crews and contractors do not have the time to focus on one project at a time, so in the weeks leading up to the USGP, the entire Speedway facility is awash in construction activities.

"It all happens simultaneously," said Forbes.

The Speedway crews and contractors have proven that they are more than up to the task. As of midday Friday, June 4, the road course was essentially in place, with only a few sections of white lines and tire barriers yet to be put in place.

Forbes admits that IMS officials had an aggressive plan in place for the Turnaround, simply because they knew that they had only 14 days to complete a task that was previously conducted over a period of more than seven weeks. By the end of the first week of the Turnaround, crews were already three to four days ahead of the established schedule.

Approximately 100 people - 50 IMS staff and 50 contractors - are on the grounds working 10-hour days to complete the Turnaround. The dedicated group of individuals will log between 12,000 and 17,000 man-hours of work depending on weather and other factors, Forbes said.

While most Speedway employees are feeling the strain of back-to-back-to-back events that are among the largest sporting events in the world, Forbes sees a silver lining.

"When this is over and we get through the Brickyard, we get the rest of the summer," Forbes said. "Before it was one in May, one in August and one in late September, and you really think at that point you have no summer. Now a lot of us will have the rest of August and all of September, which is still pretty nice weather, to catch our breath."


Tickets: Tickets for the United States Grand Prix can be purchased online at, or by calling the IMS ticket office at (317) 492-6700 or (800) 822-INDY outside the Indianapolis area. Parking and camping information also can be obtained through the ticket office.


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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers A.J. Foyt