Few race tracks in the world are as bound to tradition as is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But the traditions are changing as IMS seeks to broaden its market appeal and boost awareness of its major attraction, the Indianapolis 500.
To that end, for the first time in the more than 100-year history of the Speedway, Indycars raced the " wrong way" down its front straightaway this weekend, during the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
Formula One and sports cars have raced on the 14-turn road race course, which combines an infield section and several sections of the famed oval track, but not Indycars.
The course has been modified extensively from its F1 days, when it was criticized as being 'Mickey Mouse', with too many excessively slow and tight corners. In contrast, the new layout won widespread praise from drivers for its flowing character.
Simon Pagenaud was the victor in the 82-lap race, which proved hugely exciting for the large 3ck off the Month of May extravaganza leading up to the 500.
Sebastian Saavedra was the surprise pole sitter following a dramatic qualifying day that alternated between wet and dry conditions. British rookie, Jack Hawksworth, who demonstrated a mastery of the wet qualified second.
Saavedra stalled on the standing start to the race, however, initiating a chain reaction crash, and when it finally settled down under green flag conditions, it was Hawksworth up front and, apart from a brief period around the first pit stops, pulling away from the field in the dry. He lost the lead on the second round of stops, however, when the field bunched up under a yellow flag.
More yellows and different pit strategies resulted in seven more leaders, with Pagenaud taking over the top spot with just five laps to go as then leader Oriol Servia had to stop for a splash of fuel.
Series point leader Ryan Hunter Reay was runner-up, less than a second back, followed by Helio Castroneves, Sebastian Bourdais and Charlie Kimball. Hawksworth who fell back in the pit shuffles after leading the most laps in the race worked his way back to seventh with a daring last-lap pass on Power.
Canadian, James Hinchcliffe suffered a concussion during the race when he was hit in the helmet by a piece of debris. He was later released from hospital but it is unclear yet when he will be released to drive. In the meantime, E.J. Viso is driving his car in practice for the 500.
If there was any doubts that the revised track and the new race would be successful they were quelled by the enthusiasm of the crowds, the teams and drivers, as the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis was arguably the most exciting race of the season so far anwash most certainly the start of a new tradition.
The 98th running of the Indianaplis 500 takes place on May 25, 2014.