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Event Coverage: 2017 Indianapolis 500 Presented by PennGrade Oil, Part 1

by David Zipf

 

There is no place like Indy.

You can feel it when you drive up to it for the first time.  The place is huge.  The grandstands seem so tall the first time you drive down 16th Street.  When you first walk up to the gates, those old concrete stands tower above you.  As you walk between them, you can catch a glimpse of the track.  It’s short, fleeting, but on a hot day you can smell the asphalt, the smell of years of ground in racing rubber baking to the surface.  Take a stroll into the infield, and you’ll stare practically to the heavens as you gaze upon the Pagoda tower.  Walk down Gasoline Alley, and even on a silent day, you can hear the sound of wrenches, air guns, and hammers.  This place exudes speed.  The history is real: everywhere you look it surrounds you, whether it’s the grandstands and suites named after famous drivers, or that yard of bricks, a length the extends through the track and across the midway, now filled with names of those who have visited and were touched by this place.  

But, nothing compares to the first time you actually see a car go around the track.

 

It only takes a few seconds, even on the straightaways.  One moment you see the car, blink your eye and it’s gone, diving into the next turn.  38 seconds later it returns, having covered 4 turns, 4 straightaways, and 2.5 miles at 230 miles an hour.  It’s impossible to describe, you just have to see it to believe it.  It’s one thing to see it from the grandstands, but to be in the cockpit of one of these cars is even more amazing.  Ask any driver who has driven at Indy and they say there is nothing like it, especially that first turn.  They say it’s like driving into a hairpin turn in the middle of the city at 60 MPH.  You go in blind, foot to the floor and you don’t lift.  You just hope the corner is still there as you dive for the apex.  Indy isn’t for everyone: Formula 1 world champion Alan Jones once did six laps in an IndyCar, got out and said it was madness.  7-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson refuses to get near an IndyCar, even though he has won the Brickyard 400 four times.  It takes incredible courage, matched with daring, finesse, skill, and reflex, to master Indy.  Even in these days of high downforce and low horsepower, one small mistake can mean paying the ultimate price (or damn close to it).  Just ask James Hinchcliffe or Sebastian Bourdais, two drivers who have cheated death by the slimmest of margins at Indy.

There is no place like Indy.  It’s big, it’s fast, it’s narrow, and the track is like no other on Earth.  Even in this modern, high tech world, winning Indy is one of the toughest tasks in motor racing today.  The cars may be much faster and more reliable, but winning Indy in 2017 is still just as tough as it was in 1911.  

So much happened this year at the Indy 500 that we had to split the coverage into two parts! Stay tuned for Part 2 coming next week!

 

Let’s start our pre-race rundown with Bourdais.  He actually attended Sunday’s pre-race, as he had been released from the hospital on Thursday the 25th.  He has a long road to recovery with a broken pelvis and hip, but the fact that he is already starting that recovery is great news.  Dale Coyne discusses the team strategy with the crew of Ed Jones’ car.  With Bourdais being out, Jones is now the de facto team leader for DCR.  He was 11th quickest in qualifying and with a Honda engine behind him (and on the team of the by far the quickest car in the field), Jones had a great shot of showing some real speed and proving that, as IndyCar’s only full time rookie, he has the mettle to handle the veterans of the sport.
 
Across the aisle, Andretti Autosport was preparing the McLaren sponsored car of Fernando Alonso. McLaren had sent over a few engineers to assist the Andretti team, attempting to give Alonso the best possible shot at a 500 victory in his debut.  McLaren desperately needed a good headline to the day after a double DNF at the Monaco GP, this time due to crashes by both its drivers.  To add salt to the wound, Stoffel Vandoorne was even running in the points when he got pushed into the barriers of St Devote.
 
It is interesting to compare the big team garages to the garage of the smallest.  In the Penske pit, you will see branded gear everywhere, with corner weight scales and colorful, spotless anti-fatigue mats covering the floors.  It’s all perfectly coordinated, just as Roger likes it.  Contrast that to the Lazier Partners Racing team, which just has a couple of old toolboxes and some blocks of wood to set the car on.  Does it matter?  Nope!  Because they were about to start the Indy 500!
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