The Indianapolis 500 is an annual spectacle held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indianapolis, Indiana. The Indy 500 was started in 1911 and held it’s 100th running of the event in 2016.
The Speedway is a 2.5 mile oval where the drivers put in 200 laps covering a total distance of 500 miles. The first race in 1911 was won by Ray Harroun who received a prize of $25,000. The prize money was increased in the years to follow, but this amount in itself was quite significant at the time. The race was limited to 33 entries after allowing 40 entries in its first year. It was mandatory to have an on-board mechanic to check the oil level and alert the driver of traffic around him.
The Indy 500 has been held around Memorial day ever since it began. The Speedway hosts more than 300,000 spectators every year on Memorial day weekend. And yes, the Monaco Grand Prix is also held on the Sunday before Memorial day. Hence, the events would often clash.
The event had attracted many European Manufacturers like Fiat and Peugeot to race at Indianapolis who dominated the first few years. It was not held in 1917 and 1918 due to the First World War. Post-war, the native American teams started to dominate again. The race was again stopped for 3 years during the Second World War from 1942 to 1945. The Indy 500 started gaining popularity after the 2nd World War.
The Race was even part of the Formula 1 Championship from 1950 to 1960. But it was after the race was removed from the Championship in 1960 that the European manufacturers made their return to Indy.
In 1963, Colin Chapman entered the Indy 500 with driver Jim Clark in a rear engined Lotus, who finished 2nd. Jim Clark went on to win the Indy 500 in 1965 followed by another Brit in Graham Hill in 1966. Both these drivers are legends in Formula 1.
The Triple Crown of Motorsport consists of 3 iconic races. The Grand Prix of Monaco, The 24 hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500. Graham Hill is the only driver to have won all three races. Juan Pablo Montoya has won the Indy 500 twice, in 2000 and in 2015. He also won the Monaco Grand Prix in 2003.
The Indianapolis 500 is currently a part of the Indy Car Series started in 1996. It is a pretty restricted formula with only 2 Engine suppliers(Honda and Chevrolet) and a sole chassis supplier in Dallara. Former F1 driver, Alexander Rossi is the defending champion, having won the race last year in it’s 100th running and will also be Fernando Alonso’s teammate at the Indy 500 this year.
It is exciting to see a Formula 1 driver try out different categories of Motorsport in the same season. Alonso most probably will have a practice day on track for himself. The car will be very different to drive and Alonso will have to adapt quickly. Here’s how some of the IndyCar drivers reacted to the news that Alonso would be taking part in the Indianapolis 500.
With such history and some great finishes, the Indianapolis 500 is definitely one of the biggest racing spectacles in the world, and definitely the biggest in the USA. Some of the world’s finest have graced the oval. Alonso is one of the fastest drivers in the world and it would be interesting to see how he fares against the veterans of IndyCar.