The Indy500 - Dramatic, fantastically bizarre and special

More sport

THERE are four golf holes within the inner oval of the Indianapolis Speedway where the Indy500 is held. One can take a walk there and stand and peer over the fence, spying golfers as they tee off from the greens, practice their short game or strive to putt for par.

It’s quite a distance to trounce over unkept and undulating ground from the modern media centre that casts its shadow across the fable brickyard road. Best, if you are so inclined, to take a golf cart to cut down on what can easily be a 20 minute walk.

Tell a friend
Alexander Rossi and his team kiss the yard of bricks after winning the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. Photo: Michael Madrid-USA Today SportsAn aerial view of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Photo: Jason Reed/ReutersFernando Alonso waits in line during qualifying for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500. Photo: Thomas J. Russo-USA Today Sports

It makes for a weird scene, especially during the build-up to the Indy500. Then you can see drivers clinging to the track’s embankment, taking one of two corners at high speed, while in the foreground, golfers stay limber with a practice swing or two, then stepping up to the tee, let loose in either comical fashion or with a more elegant approach.

The Americans love the Indy500. They come out to the event in their minibus, Winnebago, trailer, truck-car droves. Up to 300 000 in fact, for the Speedway can accommodate spectators somewhere in that region.

To put it all into perspective, that’s three FNB Stadiums packed to the rafters. They begin arriving a month before the race to watch the practice laps and they steadily build towards the qualifying weekend, until a massive swell of spectators invade the racetrack during race week.

They are quintessentially Americana - and every stereotype you can think of - from rednecks to the more sophisticated New Yorkers, from cowboy, brim-hat tipping Texans to Hollywood celebs minor and major. It’s an odd mix within a region of the US that is considered the Bible-belt.

On race day, tension and excitement hangs palpable in the cauldron. The formalities of the week are over and so jam-packed into the Speedway terrace, this morass of humanity waits patiently for the formation lap, the flying lap and the running start. But first the national anthem, sung solemnly by a guest of the event, and F16 fighter jets blasting by overhead. During the anthem, a pin can be heard dropped as this nations pays its respect to the stars and stripes. It’s all rather dramatic, fantastically bizarre and special.

For the next three hours, the spectators take in the Indy500 - a race of about 800km around a 4.5km oval that is always turning left. Since the hysteria of Danicka Patrick’s days of thunder - that’s also when Thomas Schechter, son of South African F1 champion Jody participated in the event, the race hasn’t really captured the imagination in SA.

That has changed recently when former double Formula One champion Fernando Alonso - seemingly gatvol of his Honda-powered McLaren - declared he would be participating in the event. Alonso explained that he wished to complete the Triple Crown - that is winning the Monaco GP, the Indy500 and Le Mans 24 - even ditching the first mentioned this weekend, the crown-jewel of the F1 calendar, to tackle this monstrosity.

Media day (part 2). #indy500 #honda #mclaren #neversurrender #wearekimoa

A post shared by Fernando Alonso (@fernandoalo_oficial) on

Only one man has ever achieved the feat, however - Graham Hill, father of F1 world champion Damon, completing the hat-trick of victories in the late 1970s.

One Juan Pablo Montoya, a Monaco GP winner, and a regular in the IndyCar series and who also has Triple Crown ambitions, after leaving F1 in the Noughties, won the event finally in 2015. Only La Mans stands in his way now.

Even so, Alonso has arguably spades more talent than Montoya. The double world champion also has a competitive car at this year’s event that placed him in the fifth row of the grid in seventh for race day on Sunday. So can Alonso win the Indy500?

It is possible but many would agree improbable. At last year’s race, however, a rookie Alexander Rossi stunned the grid and IndyCar to win the race.

It will be fascinating, therefore, to watch Alonso’s charge and Sunday promises to be an awesome day for motorsport lovers who can enjoy the spectacle of the Monaco GP, and the dual between Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes playing out there, and then switch over to the Indy to watch Alonso. If anyone can make history, it is the 35-year old Spanish matador.

Catch the Monaco GP from 2pm and the Indy500 from 5.30pm, both on SS2 on Sunday.

The Star

Like us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter

Tell a friend