Hitting the Apex: The Indianapolis 500

After weeks of anticipation, The 108th running of the Indianapolis 500 is finally here! ATRL’s Eline Luna takes a look at the Indy 500 this weekend at IMS.

Eline Luna

May 24, 2024

Often referred to as ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’, the Indy 500 is the biggest race of the IndyCar season. Here’s your 2024 Month of May recap as we race to the checkered flag at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

Qualifying

Qualifying this past weekend was spectacular as 34 drivers fought for 33 spots. Rookie Nolan Siegel of Dale Coyne Racing crashed during Friday practice and has been on the back foot ever since. Siegel was last following Saturday’s qualifying session which means he moved to last-chance qualifying together with Andretti’s Marcus Ericsson who crashed during practice on Friday. Also in last-chance qualifying were his teammate Katherine Legge and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal who was bumped out last year. 

Siegel tried his best but wasn’t able to improve enough to place himself among the 33 drivers starting the Indy 500 this year. In his last attempt to make it to the grid, he crashed on his second lap marking his second crash of the week.

Nolan Siegel during Indy 500 Qualifying Day 2 (James Black | IMS Photo)

Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay crashed on his first qualifying attempt during the qualifying session on Saturday. His team rebuilt the car quickly and with mere minutes on the clock, VeeKay managed to qualify himself for the Fast 12.

The Fast 12 on Sunday saw AJ Foyt’s Santino Ferruci, McLaren’s Kyle Larson & Alexander Rossi & Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Scott McLaughlin advance to the fast 6. McLaughlin ended up with pole position, the fastest one in Indy 500 history, followed by his two teammates making it a Team Penske front-row sweep.

This marked only the second front-row sweep by a team in Indy 500 history, the previous one also coming from Team Penske in 1988 with Rick Mears on the pole, Danny Sullivan starting second and Al Unser third.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway

At over 100 years old, IMS is one of the oldest purpose-built racing tracks in the USA. It’s often referred to as ‘The Racing Capital of the World’. With over 250,000 permanent seats, it is the world’s largest sports seating facility. It also hosts the largest single-day sporting event in the world, the Indy 500.

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden after winning the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 (Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment)

 

IMS was the first track to be called a speedway and the second purpose-built banked oval in the world. Originally the racing surface consisted of crushed stone sprayed with tar. However this was quickly changed to 3.2 million paving bricks, covering the original surface. This is also why the track is sometimes referred to as ‘The Brickyard’.

Kissing the bricks

In 1939 the track was resurfaced again to asphalt, only leaving a 36-inch strip of bricks. This strip of bricks plays an important part in a tradition hailing from 1996. NASCAR driver Dale Jarrett, kissed the bricks after his Brickyard 400 victory in 1996. His team followed and that created a tradition that winners at IMS have followed since.

Traffic

Navigating a track with only 4 corners may seem like an easy task, but it’s far from that. Keeping momentum throughout the whole lap is super important as a lift at the wrong spot can have big consequences. Perfecting a race set-up is also important, being able to navigate traffic is vital. That’s why a car that handles well in traffic is needed.

The start-finish straight feels completely different to the backstretch as there are grandstands on both sides. Drivers say it creates a tunnel vision which makes it feel even faster going into turn 1. Turn 1 reference points are changing all the time because of the shadows coming from the grandstand Turn 2 has a small bump which might catch some drivers out.

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, Will Power & Scott McLaughlin (Photo via Indianapolis Motor Speedway @IMS on X)

 

The backstretch is important to set up for an overtake, it is heavily influenced by tailwind which makes speeds higher. A driver can set up a pass going into turn 3 and 4, but turn 4 can also be prone to crashes. As drivers stay close to the cars in front which means the car can snap on exit.

Strategy is one of the biggest parts of the race. Teams won’t have to worry about different compounds of tires, as IndyCar only uses one compound on ovals. Stopping out of sequence when it’s green, usually doesn’t have much of an effect as stopping under green at this track means you lose a complete lap. Getting out of traffic won’t work as you’ll be in the exact same spot as before, just a lap down. As always, cautions will play a big part in strategy as well and teams will attempt to time their pit stops with this in mind. Teams will also have an eye on restarts as they are the biggest opportunity to gain places.

The Borg-Warner Trophy

Only one driver will get to claim a spot on the Borg-Warner trophy, a sterling silver cast with likenesses of winners past since 1936. Although the trophy is permanently on display at the IMS museum, the winner will also be presented with “the Baby Borg”, an 18” replica of the trophy for them to take home. 

The Indy 500’s Borg-Warner Trophy (Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment)

 

Drinking Milk

Since Louis Meyer drank a glass of buttermilk while in Victory Lane in 1936, Indy 500 winners have historically drunk a glass of milk to celebrate their victory since 1956. The drivers are now given a choice of skim, 2%, or whole milk, as buttermilk has changed in the last few decades.

The only exception to the tradition of milk in Victory Lane came in 1993 with Emerson Fittipaldi where he drank orange juice to support his Brazilian orange farmers. He later had to rectify his mistake with a sip of milk and apologize to the American Dairy Association and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Past Winners

  • 2023: Josef Newgarden
  • 2022: Marcus Ericsson
  • 2021: Hélio Castroneves
  • 2020: Takuma Sato
  • 2019: Simon Pagenaud

Race Info:

  • Race Length: 500 Miles/200 Laps
  • Turns: 4
  • Track Length: 2.5 Miles (4km)
  • Most Wins: Tied between A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Rick Mears & Hélio Castroneves at 4 wins
  • Lap record: 37.895 sec (237.498 mph/382.182 km/h) (Arie Luyendyk)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eline follows a variety of motorsports from Formula E to IMSA to Nascar to WEC. They hope to study Mechanical Engineering to work in motorsports one day.

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