Monday, May 16, 2011

Lessons Learned: Indy 500 Opening Weekend

It was a soggy time of it for the Indy 500's Opening Day and Weekend, but we still got to see a bit of on-track action on Saturday before the rains came. Here's some lessons learned and observations from this weekend's experience:

-Ed Carpenter's got this place figured out like few drivers do. This could be an important year in the development of Sarah Fisher's team. Of course, the question we're all asking, if Ed can keep up the speed for Pole Day, does that #57 entry come into clearer focus?

-While we're talking about having a knack for Indy, what about Panther Racing? They looked solid early, and JR Hildebrand seemed more at home than I've seen him at any point this season. Buddy Rice also looked comfortable right out of the gate, good enough for 16th-fastest on a rain-shortened day. This team is going to be so much fun to watch the rest of this month.

-The Celebration of Automobiles was amazing, with both production and race cars represented from all eras of 1911-1961.  I'd love to see them do something this big each year; the hundreds of cars on display were nothing short of mind-blowing in some cases.

Too many cool cars to count!
-The Hot Wheels "Fearless at the 500" ramp is still under construction, but doesn't look like it should obstruct any views from the stands. It looks like H Stand through North Vista are all going to have a great view of the proceedings.

-A lot of teams were shaking down their T-cars on Opening Day. The final count included Dixon, Franchitti, Marco Andretti, Patrick, Hunter-Reay, Conway, Jakes, Hildebrand, de Silvestro, and all 3 Penske cars.

-Drivers like Tony Kanaan and John Andretti still get big cheers from the crowd. Ed Carpenter seems to have a lot of goodwill going for him as well. Of course, AJ Foyt is greeted as a legend should be.

-I went to Day 3 of Qualifying two years ago, and this crowd seemed much better than that one. No, it wasn't 50,000 people, but it was a pretty good-sized crowd for an Opening Day. We'll never get official statistics, but hopefully all the special Centennial events are playing into a healthy month for IMS.

Indy's Favorite.
-The Greatest 33 list came out this weekend. There's too many great drivers out there for me to argue too much about the choices, but it seems like in hearing the feedback, some folks picked their drivers on stats, some on soul. Personally, I believe Eddie Sachs is one of the drivers who has added to love and lore of Indy as much as any other, and I was disappointed to see him left off. There's more to Indy than just the Borg-Warner. The struggle and story in trying to get there is the biggest piece of it all for me.

-The Window World car of John Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay's Sun Drop/DHL car both really show well on the track. The colors absolutely pop on them both. Bruno Junqueira's "Coyote Red" scheme also looks really great out there, in a classic-design sort of way.

-The "cool factor" of the Speedway can't be overestimated. I took my younger daughter for the first time ever, and you could tell she was impressed with all the different cars and just how fast they made it around the track. Indy is just an amazing place, and I treasure every minute I get to spend there. That electric feeling never goes away. They definitely are doing their best to make the Centennial Anniversary even more special, and if there's any way for you to make it to the track for even a single day, do it. You won't be sorry, and you'll have the sort of memory that'll stick with you forever.

Ultimately, it's too early to glean many long-lasting insights about what the on-track action we've seen thus far. Nevertheless, an interesting opening weekend promises that much, much more is in store for us for the Centennial Anniversary Indy 500.

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