Thursday, August 12, 2010

Touring the Brickyard

The fun didn't end after the Honda Indy 200 in Mid-Ohio. On our drive back on Monday, dad and I stopped at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a grounds tour. It was definitely the whipped cream on top of a great racing weekend. I suggest you take the tour if you ever have the chance - it's amazing.

Our tour guide was very friendly and knowledgeable. He said he could tell right away that my dad and I were huge race fans and that it wasn't our first time at Indy. I guess it was our Indy apparel and my dad's IMS credit card that gave us away.

The tour started out on the bus that takes you around the track starting just before the backstretch. The bus speakers began with the "drivers, start your engines" call, live from race day. That alone is enough to get you excited.

It's a learning experience
Being driven on the track is a pretty cool sight. You see things from a different view and try to learn a lot as you try to remember loads of information the guide throws at you. For instance, did you know there's a golf course within the speedway? Or that there were hot air balloon races at Indy way back in the day?

We also heard the stories behind the Brickyard traditions like why the winners drink milk, the kissing of the bricks and the fence climbing. It's hard to take it all in at once, but it's awesome just to be there too.

At the start/finish line, or the yard of bricks, we were able to step out of the bus and onto the speedway. Despite it being an extremely hot day (especially on the asphalt), standing on the track was incredible. We stood on the bricks, took photos and looked around in awe of where we were.

Media Center!
From there we went around to some of the different buildings along the grandstands that face the main straightaway. Among the rooms we ventured to: a hospitality suite, the broadcast booth and... the Media Center!

For anyone who knows me, I'm sure you'll understand why the media center was such a big deal for me. While the rest of the group was standing and listening to the guide, I was walking around with wide eyes like a kid in a candy store, or in this case, a huge race fan/journalist wannabe hoping to someday be able to work in the media room.

The big room was filled with long tables, chairs and televisions for hundreds of media personnel to be in attendance covering some of the biggest events in auto racing. I was a pretty happy camper to have the opportunity to see where the sports journalism magic happens.

Gasoline Alley and a little Jim Nabors
We also went out to see the podium where past winners have stood. And although we didn't get to tour the garage areas in Gasoline Alley on foot, we rode past them in the tour bus. Plenty of photo ops all around.

The tour concluded with the bus bringing us back to the entrance to the museum, with the sounds of Gomer Pyle... I mean Jim Nabors, singing the end of "Back Home Again in Indiana." It was a slightly corny conclusion that still made me smile.

Dad and I then did a walk-through of the museum, since I hadn't been there since I was a youngster. It's a pretty weird walk down memory lane. And to see some of the older cars and their designs, it's a wonder how far cars have come in terms of style and safety.

After a pretty-much mandatory trip to the gift shop, we were on our way. Indianapolis Motor Speedway is amazing. I had an absolute blast.

Turn four, to the main straightaway

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mid-Ohio - Day two

Sunday is race day, and that's always exciting. The big event of the day at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was the Honda Indy 200. Before the IndyCars got on track though, the support series Firestone Indy Lights ran 100 miles.

On a warm, sunny day, it was perfect for being at the race track. We took another spin through the paddock in the morning. This time we walked along the balcony of the garage areas so we could look down below at the cars being prepped for the race. It was a new perspective of looking at the cars. I think you can actually see more this way, so it's pretty neat.

We had some time to kill before the Indy Lights race, so we headed into the infield along the big hill around turn four. It's probably the most popular spot for race fans to set up their lawn chairs and coolers to take in the on-track action. After making a purchase at the IZOD IndyCar souvenir tent, we grabbed a bite to eat along the hillside.

Our grandstand seats for the race gave us a great view of lots of spots on the track. There's the main straightaway going into a prime passing zone in turn four. The sharp elevation changes in the track as they cruise down the hill also make the track interesting.

Firestone Indy Lights - start

Watching the Lights race was a good way for us to get acclimated with the cars on the part of the track we hadn't seen before. Martin Plowman for Andretti Autosport was the pole-sitter (with a track record) and the race winner. There was not a whole lot of action with the Lights race, but it was a good warm-up for the IndyCars.

Green, green, green!
A lot of festivities take place before the big race, including the introduction of the drivers as they parade around the track in sports cars. Before you know it, the drivers are warming up their tires on the pace laps.

The wave of the green flag was pretty exciting, and the only miscue was Tony Kanaan taking a little detour through the gravel on his way out of turn four. That's not bad for a first lap where a field of antsy drivers can get themselves into trouble before the race really begins.

IZOD IndyCar Series - start

Being right down by turn four gave us a great vantage point for some passing. It's a perfect spot, and we saw a lot of action throughout the race. Justin Wilson tried to make a pass on the inside of E.J. Viso, but it didn't work out and the two tangled themselves out of the race about 20 or so laps in. On the restart, Takuma Sato came in to the corner too hot and ended up meeting the tires to see his strong race come to a halt.

Watching Marco and the leaders
I was also
keeping a close eye on Marco Andretti (who started ninth) all day long. First, he had a good battle going on with Wilson for position, and then he was trailing Simona de Silvestro for most of the race. It looked like Marco was going to make a move on the inside of her a few times as they came down the straightaway, but he wasn't able to pull the trigger.

Will Power, Alex Tagliani and Dario Franchitti each took turns at the front, with Tag seeing an off-pit-strategy gamble pay off so he was able to lead the most laps. Franchitti essentially won the race in the pits, after he came out ahead of Power on the first stop. The pits were tight as it was, as there were 27 cars in the field.

The race really seemed to fly by. Maybe part of it was because spectators had no idea what lap the race was on. The large, electronic scoreboard in the middle of the infield was great for identifying drivers, car numbers, placement and lap times, but it lacked lap numbers. This made it a little difficult to keep tabs on the race progress.

Duno shocks everyone
Probably the biggest surprise was Milka Duno. She is an extremely slow driver and was recently put on probation for failing to keep pace with the leaders during races. Because of her knack for getting lapped and being in the way of other drivers, she usually gets pulled in to the pits just a few laps into the race. And that's after she usually doesn't even attempt to qualify.

But in Mid-Ohio, she actually finished the entire race, even if she was a few laps down. That's not to say she didn't get in the way a few times. She also was pulled into the pits when she was getting too close to the leaders. But she finished and did not hold last place. It's a head-scratcher, I know.

One of the funnier moments was when she was finally passed after a few laps by first-time racer Francesco Dracone. He passed her right in front of our grandstand, earning somewhat of a Bronx cheer.

Franchitti finally wins at Mid-Ohio
The podium winners were Franchitti, Power and Helio Castroneves - the standard representatives of the "elite 5" (drivers from Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing). Tagliani finished fourth, de Silvestro eighth and Marco
ended the day where he started - in ninth. I was disappointed that Marco couldn't come up with a pass all day, and seemed to lack aggressiveness.

I had a blast at Mid-Ohio for my first visit. I really hope I have the opportunity to go back again to the beautiful track. Until Road America gets put back on the IndyCar schedule, I think Mid-Ohio will be my strong favorite of places to take in a race.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mid-Ohio - Day one

I was pretty excited when my dad brought up the idea of a trip to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course the first weekend in August for the IZOD IndyCar Series race, and also the American Le Mans Series. It's a bit of a drive (we split up over two days each way), but it is certainly well worth it.

Mid-Ohio is a 2.25-mile, natural terrain road course. It is a similar venue to Road America in Wisconsin where my family made annual visits for many years, until the race got dropped from the open-wheel schedule. I love RA, and so I thought I would also love Mid-Ohio. I was right.

It was definitely a little weird when we drove through the main gate at the course. Instead of the very familiar Road America, this was an entirely new track for my dad and me. It would have been nice to have Friday at the track as well so we could have done a little more scouting of the different areas of the track, but we made up a lot of ground on Saturday.

One of the benefits of our Super Tickets was having access to walk in the paddock/pits area. That was the first order of business. Walking the paddock is always fun because you can see the cars up close, mechanics fine-tuning engines and possibly running into some of the drivers themselves.

No sooner had we entered the area of transporters, trailers and garages did we have our first driver sighting: Scott Dixon whizzed by on his scooter. We saw quite a few drivers before the weekend was over: Simona de Silvestro, Justin Wilson, Will Power and Ryan Briscoe. We also saw Versus IndyCar broadcaster and team owner Robbie Buhl, as well as IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard.

Of course, Murphy's Law made sure we didn't run into Marco Andretti, since that would have been awesome because I write about him. In fact, we didn't see any of the Andretti Autosport drivers. It was also no surprise to see the biggest crowd of fans hovered around Danica Patrick's transporter. She is the most popular driver in the series, after all (or so I keep reading anyway).

We found a good spot along the fence (a section without debris fencing) to watch the IndyCar qualifying and take some photos. We were right off the exit from pit road, so the cars were going slow enough for me and dad to get some good shots.

The qualifying sessions were pretty fun to watch. If you've never seen these cars in person, be aware that television does not do them justice. TV also flattens out the landscape. The other interesting thing about this track are the drastic elevation changes.

The ALMS race was later Saturday afternoon, and we used some of this time to roam the track. Unlike RA which is four miles, Mid-Ohio allows spectators access to essentially walk around most parts of the track. We made our way around through the crowds of people set up with their lawn chairs, mostly on one of the most popular hills, and kept following the track around until the main straightaway.

We watched a good chunk of the race from a small grandstand in the carousel part of the race course. Then if was off to find a Fazoli's for dinner, since the chain isn't in my backyard anymore. As long as I'm on the subject, we also hit up Bob Evans and Steak 'n Shake twice, Waffle House and Krispy Kreme on the trip. Food is half the fun of a vacation, right?