The inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis: IMS gets it right…and wrong

The inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis: IMS gets it right…and wrong
May 12, 2014, 5:52 PM

Mark Wilkinson looks back on the Grand Prix of Indy and comes to the conclusion that they did a lot of things right, but also did a lot of things wrong.

The sports public, for whatever reason, not only wants perfection but refuses to accept those events and individuals who fall short.  Yep, we are a demanding and fickle lot.  We will forgive frailty in a person, but we do not forgive the same things with a corporation or governing body. 

Recently, our Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people, so if it were up to them, we would likely be compelled to extend our forgiveness to the likes of IMS and IndyCar for the shortcomings of the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  So in a sense of fair play, let’s take a look at both the good and the bad of what transpired at IMS this past weekend.



Photo by: Bret Kelley

Starting off the month of May with an event created a buzz around the facility, the city, and the racing community.  That’s a little better than a practice day at the track where teams might do a shake-down run or two.  Traditionalists complain that this changes everything.  My response is yes, it does.  And it was well past time to do so.  The action for the month of May had become ponderous.  The tradition of oval racing only does not entertain the public.  Action does.

The marketing staff at IMS pushed very hard locally to promote the $25 general admission ticket with 12 and under kids free.  Great idea!  Imagine a sporting event that welcomes families.  Hook them now; keep them forever.  Maybe they upgrade to the grandstands in the future.

The upgraded spectator mounds provided excellent sight lines with up-close viewing.  I had a chance to check out all the mounds on Friday.  The Turn 1 mound provided a good look at the cars heading for the braking zone into Turn 1 at the start of the race, but of course that was a null point.  The best view at the north end of the track was the Turn 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 mound.  A fan could theoretically stand at the top and rotate to watch the action in all those corners.  More on that later in the 'Wrong' section.  The Turns 7, 8, and 9 mounds were excellent, too.  Lots of close-up action.  The only & 'bleah'; mound was for Turns 10 and 11.  It was just cars accelerating.

Other than the one on Turns 10 and 11, the spectator mounds were full for the race.  These general admission mounds were the ones that were marketed to the local public.  What?  Professional level marketing actually works?  Stunning.  And that’s a big win.

The upgraded food service was, well, an upgrade.  It’s also smart business by IMS, who has contracted with Levy Restaurants for concessions.  That’s one less worry for the boys and girls in the blue glass office building on the corner of 16th and Georgetown.  Even better, they still get their money.  The downside for the fans is that prices went up.  The age of penny candy at the mom and pop grocery store is long gone.  IMS is finally accepting that a professional sports franchise must charge professional prices.  It’s smart business but also a passing of a certain age.  Bittersweet.

The cars are the right ones for this series.  The fact that everyone walked away from the crash at the start of the race once again affirms that the DW12 is robust.  While watching the ABC broadcast later, Eddie Cheever defended the DW12 by saying that the car had to be designed to protect drivers from high-speed oval crashes.  I believe he was restating that form follows function.  And both Sebastian Saavedra and Mikhail Aleshin are uninjured examples of why form should follow function.  Good car.

The race was on ABC.  Hooray for national networks!

IMS had seven races and knockout qualifying in two days.  Seven races!


The continuing issues with cars not rolling off the line on standing starts is which one of the following military acronyms: SNAFU, BOHICA or FUBAR?¹ The answer, assuming you know the meanings or checked out the footnote, is SNAFU if you are a long-suffering fan, BOHICA if you are one of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers, and FUBAR if something is not done soon to iron out the wrinkles. 

Sebastian Saavedra, whose pole sitting car stopped, intimated that it was an electronics issue, not a human failure.  Ed Carpenter clearly stated he wasn’t a fan when interviewed on ABC.  I’m assuming the mayor of Indianapolis and an assortment of important people with great credentials who were showered with debris have issues, also.  Bullets were dodged....this time.

Who were those people dressed in business casual standing in the pits at the start?  It does not look dangerous when the cars are standing still, but by the time Mikhail Aleshin arrived at Saavedra’s stalled car the magic of math and physics took over.  Isaac Newton had that figured out in his First Law of Motion. 

He said an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an external force.  Saavedra’s car was the external force but parts of Aleshin’s car stayed in motion until they started hitting people.  That’s why catch fences spoil our view of the race.  Bullets were dodged....again.

To be alliterative, IMS had a Bronze Badge Blow-up.  The Bronze Badge at IMS is really a good deal.  For $125 (up $25 this year), it gives the bearer garage access and admission for  most days in May.  Cool.  For the Grand Prix, someone had the idea to allow everyone with the Bronze Badge to go for a grid walk before the race.  Now, to me that means that you can, you know, walk the grid of cars before the race. 

Helio Castroneves, Team Penske Chevrolet
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske Chevrolet

Photo by: Jay Alley

A very large number of patrons attempted to take advantage of this offer.  After a long wait, they were allowed to walk along the pits, not the grid where the cars were parked.  They were told the policy had been changed.  One patron with whom I spoke said the line was so long he would not have been able to return to his seat in time for the race.  Another was livid and said he bought the badge just for the grid walk.  I would quote him, but leaving out the expletives would change the character of the comment.  Suffice to say he felt cheated. 

What happened?  My guess is more people took advantage of the offer than expected, and the staff was unprepared for the number.  The old saying that fits is that they attempted to change horses in midstream.  Patrons don’t like the rules to be made up on the spot.

The view on the mound for Turns 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 was wonderful until a food vendor erected a tent that included two tall vinyl spires that destroyed the view of the chicane at Turns 5 and 6.  The mound was built for the view.  Duh.

The very first Grand Prix of Indianapolis was a mixed bag of successes and failures.  I’m sure the details of what went wrong, both big and small, will be the topic of a postmortem Monday morning that will include the passing of a few bucks, a covering of some posteriors, and a couple of & 'harrumphs' - That’s okay.  At least they will be talking about changes for next year’s race.  And it’s nice to know there will be a race next year.

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