INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indianapolis Motor Speedway is giving open-wheel racing a boost this May.
On Tuesday, track officials said they would add days of on-track activity to this year’s schedule before running the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 10 and holding the biggest event of the IndyCar season, the Indianapolis 500, as scheduled May 25. It’s Indy’s answer to speed week.
“That’s really the first time I’ve heard that term,” speedway president Doug Boles said shortly after Roger Penske used the term during a news conference. “For us, it’s the beginning of May and this is the way we’re going to elevate the month of May, with a brand new event that tells the story of what our drivers do for half the year _ run on ovals.”
Clearly, help is needed.
The series has been dealing with dwindling attendance, sagging television ratings and now the loss of its title sponsor. It’s biggest American drawing card, Danica Patrick, left for NASCAR after the 2012 season.
Not surprisingly, the speedway is trying to provide the jump start.
Last week, the board of directors at Hulman & Co., the parent company of the IndyCar Series, overwhelmingly voted in favor of breaking with tradition and holding a second May race at Indianapolis. Tuesday’s ceremony at the track unveiled details of what will be changing, including a major overhaul of the track’s road course.
The new 14-turn, 2.434-mile course will be run the opposite direction of the 500 on a newly resurfaced track that will be wider, have longer straightaways and three new passing zones. Drivers believe the combination will make it the fastest road course on the series’ schedule and will make for entertaining racing. The plan also calls for taller, bigger mounds _ and more of them _ around the infield to give fans better viewpoints. The race also will be televised live by ABC and will not be blacked out in Indianapolis as has traditionally been the case with the 500.
Organizers expect 22 to 26 cars to start the race, which will last approximately 80 laps. Hulman and Co. CEO Mark Miles is searching for a title sponsor.
“I don’t see why it wouldn’t work,” reigning 500 champion Tony Kanaan said. “When I ran Grand-Am here (in July), there were a few places to pass and I think there will be three more places to pass here this time.”
A second road course configuration also could be added for the MotoGP race that is usually run in August. The motorcycle riders have often complained about a slick, bumpy surface that is not good for racing. Boles said MotoGP officials were included in the redesign, which will make the race more conducive to what motorcycle riders want.
MotoGP already has agreed to come back in 2014 and negotiations are underway to keep them here long-term. When asked if a new contract with MotoGP had been reached, given that it will cost $5 million to complete the entire project, Miles said, “there will be by the time we invest.”
Track officials hope to finish the resurfacing by Dec. 1, in time to addi curbing and a signature chicane to the course and, hopefully, hold testing in the spring.
Miles said the family-owned company would ask the Indiana Motorsports Commission to pay for the project out of the $100 million improvement fund approved earlier this year by the state government. And the versatility could put more races on Indy’s future schedules.
“We could bring even more people out here with the addition of other sports-car racing, whether it’s a big event or a vintage event,” Miles said.