It looks like a big gamble but when you consider most of the 240,000 permanent seats at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway have been empty for the past 18 years on Pole Day, how much can it hurt?
That appears to be the IMS logic and that's what we'll find out next May as the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” kicks off with something that would be hard for original track savior Tony Hulman to fathom.
As the IndyCar paddock has expected for most of 2013, on Thursday the Indianapolis Motor Speedway board of directors approved the decision to hold a race on the IMS road course. The formal press conference will be held next Tuesday to reveal changes to the track and the date – expected to be on Saturday, May 10.
The plan, as Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles put in place with IMS CEO Doug Boles, involves opening next year's month of May with a road course event that would kick off the Indy 500 event and lead directly into consecutive weeks of practice, qualifying and the 98th running of the “500.”
"This event will bring even more energy and action to the Month of May for fans and create another showcase for the diversity and excitement of the Speedway and the IndyCar Series," said Miles in Thursday's announcement of the race. "The new road race will further enhance the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the premier motorsports destination in the world and direct an even brighter spotlight on the Indianapolis 500."
With the input of Graham Rahal and Ryan Briscoe, who tested the IMS road course earlier this month, at least three major changes will be made to the existing road course that should enhance passing.
"I drove around in the pace car with Graham and Ryan, got their opinions and they made some good suggestions," said Derrick Walker, IndyCar's president of competition. "Our objectives were to make it more appealing to the fans and not spend $30 million. We asked, ‘Can we save it and make it worth saving?' and I think we succeeded."
Without going into detail, Walker said the plan is to eliminate some of the slow, boring corners and replace them with at least one fast chicane and a couple of 90-degree corners that should make for passing zones.
The thought of holding an Indy car race on anything other than the 2.5-mile IMS oval has received mixed reaction from fans – especially Indy 500 traditionalists – and those within the paddock.
Of the benefits it could present, the majority of IndyCar teams are based in Indy and will save on travel, and provided Miles can swing a TV deal with ABC/ESPN, the chance to bring awareness to the 500 with a road course race earlier in the month would also improve the event's limited reach.
“It's a risk, but we're going to go race where the series says we're going to race,” said Barracuda Racing BHA team owner Bryan Herta. “I hope it pans out the way Mark Miles intends. We're all rooting for the IndyCar Series and hope it's a success.”