IMS Front Straight

Wednesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the most quiet I’ve ever seen the famed Brickyard. Indy 500 Pit Stop Practice was scheduled for 9am-12 noon, but not that I could see. No running engines were allowed. Most of the yellow shirts had some well-earned time off, as was the case with IMS and VICS staff, all the vendors, and just about everybody. Just the hard-core media playing catchup.

Well, the Mayor of Hinchtown has tweeted that “barring unforseen circumstances, I will not be racing in the Indy 500 this year. The decision was made to stop pursuing options to get us in the race.

James Hinchcliffe

There really aren’t words to describe how missing this race feels. At the end of the day we simply did not get the job done. No excuses. This is our reality and we will face it head on, we will use it as motivation and we will come back stronger. We have a great team, incredible partners and the best fans, all who have been so supportive through this. I’m sorry we can’t be on track for you Sunday, but we will be pushing hard for the wins in Detroit. I wish all 33 drivers a fast and safe race. I’ll be watching and cheering on my SPM teammates. See you in Detroit.”

Monday after the last final practice before Carb Day, the 33 Indy 500 drivers plus James Hinchcliffe went far and wide across the country to promote the Indy 500, upcoming VICS races, and to hit major media markets.

Four drivers are native Californians (JR Hildebrand, Kyle Kaiser, Charlie Kimball,and Alexander Rossi.) but only one made it to the West Coast. Hildebrand now lives and Denver, and there he went with Stefan Wilson. Kaiser, who now lives in Indianapolis, and two other Rookies – Matheus Leist and Zachary Claman De Mello- went to Fort Wayne IN. Kimball, who splits his time between Indianapolis and the family California avocado ranch which was torched in the recent wild fires, went to St. Louis.

Alex meet and greet

Alex podium

Alex with kid

Alex Rossi photographs by Austin Bradshaw.

The 2016 Indy 500 winner, Rossi of Grass Valley and now living in Indianapolis, went to Portland to promote the 2018 Indy 500 and the return of Verizon IndyCar Series to Portland International Raceway – The Grand Prix of Portland. He started his visit to The City of Roses Monday night when he gave a talk to and met with the public at the World of Speed Museum in Wilsonville. He was very impressed with the quality of questions he got that night. Tuesday Rossi went on a whirlwind tour of various radio and TV talk shows, before and after visiting PIR. At the city Parks & Recreation race track, which he had never seen before, Rossi met with and/or was interviewed by race fans, and gave track rides to the media and others in a Honda Civic Type-R provided by a GP of Portland race sponsor, Bob Lanphere’s Beaverton Honda.

Here’s a link to one of Rossi’s TV interviews: http://katu.com/amnw/am-northwest-special-guests/indy-500-winner-alexander-rossi.

Randy Gruenig. Photo by Pablo Matamoros
Randy Gruenig. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Ever wonder how IndyCar knows to throw a caution for debris. Who can see a tiny bolt on the speedway? Well, that’s why there are the IndyCar Observers. This is an invitational crew of long-time, experienced veteran corner/track workers. Some of them have been doing this for 35 years. They are stationed around the course in pairs with two landlines and big binoculars. One of them is Randy Gruenig of Arizona. They are always vigilant, constantly scanning the course for any change in track conditions including/especially moisture, unusual driver or car situations, any of which are reported to Race Control. They are on station up to an hour before the track is hot, ensuring all is OK to start. During practice and qualifying, that can be for a very long day. The pairs rotate between Primary and Backup positions to allow for respite.

For the Grand Prix of Indianapolis road course race, the Observers are USAC Corner Marshals with a full set of flags in addition to their landlines. They communicate with the drivers via the flags and with Race Control via the landline.

Another function of the Observers is to be an Escort for the IndyCars once they have had their qualifying run. The Observer crew of 35 is split in half for qualifying, with half on station and the other half in Pit Lane as Escorts. Once the driver pulls into the designated box in Pit Lane, the Observer/Escort stands by while the first IndyCar technical exams are done, such as tire checks. The Observer then stays with the car until it is back in Gasoline Alley at the Fuel Dump, where the IndyCar Scrutineers take over. Then the Observer goes back to Pit Lane and escorts another car. Half the 35-person crew works the Corners as Observers during qualifying and half work as Escorts.

Observer Randy Gruenig Observers . Observer Randy Gruenig at #60

The race car at the Fuel Dump has all its fuel drained, and a sample taken for testing. The car then proceeds to Tech for its scrutineering – first in the bay by the Tech Truck, and then in the Tech Garage where further weights and measures are taken. Then the car goes to its garage, where it can no longer have work done before the next/final practice, a la Parc Ferme. This system must work because not often, if ever, does one hear of a car failing the Scrutineering process or violating the Parc Ferme standards.

Thursday at the track, the schedule starts to pickup. The Indy Lights cars practice and qualify for their Freedom 100 race on Friday, there are historic cars on track, pit stop practice, and Indy 500 Media opportunities for the world-wide press.

Pagoda Plaza