NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon came out of retirement to substitute for Dale Earnhardt Jr (out injured) producing 3 interesting bits of trivia:
1. There has only been once race since 1979 without an Earnhardt or a Gordon competing.
2. Gordon is the only driver to have competed in all 23 NASCAR races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
3. If Earnhardt Jr’s absence continues, Jeff Gordon could start his 800th race, a NASCAR record and a stunning achievement in any form of motorsport.
Alfredo Rosselli’s original 1922 plans for the Monza Grand Prix circuit included two superspeedway ovals that could be linked together in order to create one massive 14km figure-of-eight layout. However, environmentalists were concerned at the number of trees that would be ripped out during construction, so a compromise was reached where only one oval was constructed and a road course was built using some of the pathways that already existed through the parkland.
Had those original plans gone ahead, the Italian Grand Prix would’ve become synonymous with superspeedway oval racing and the Formula One World Championship might’ve looked notably different when it officially kicked off in 1950. The German and British Grands Prix were held on oval circuits at different points prior to 1950, and the Indianapolis 500 counted towards the World Championship until 1961, so Formula One already came close to incorporating ovals into the calendar. A popular superspeedway at Monza might’ve been enough to tip the scales.
The Indianapolis 500 has an incredible history covering 99 races since 1911. With so many years worth of statistics, it’s amazing to see how the last 5 races compare to all the others. When you look at various Indianapolis records and rank all races from 1 to 99, it seems we’re currently enjoying the most exciting and competitive era of Indy 500 history.
Helio Castroneves made headlines today for his massive crash during practice for the Indianapolis 500, but he came within inches of an equally spectacular accident at Indy in 2007. Watch the video below and keep an eye out for the pitwall.
So it might be a crazy idea that’s never going to happen, but a Formula One Grand Prix on the Indianapolis oval could be hugely beneficial for the sport and give fans a chance to embrace some extra variety.
GROWTH IN THE USA
The USA is the world largest consumer market with plenty of untapped commercial potential for Formula One. Bernie Ecclestone has long wanted a second race in the states and has recently toyed with ideas in New Jersey, Las Vegas, and Long Beach. With plans for a second race stalling, perhaps Formula One would be better off going back to Indianapolis, the spiritual home of US motorsport, and doing something distinctly American. Why not an F1 oval race?
Not only would a Grand Prix on the Indy oval instantly give Formula One a larger footprint in the USA, it would also generate extra hype in a crucial market and would attract new fans to the sport. The USA is the home of oval racing, and Indianapolis is the most famous superspeedway of them all, so it would be the perfect place to build something new to help grow the sport stateside. The current US Grand Prix organisers in Texas would surely prefer that to competition from another road course.
Some fans will argue that Formula One cars don’t belong on oval circuits, and whilst that might be a valid point, it hasn’t always been the case. Grand Prix cars used to race on ovals in the pre-war days and some of the venues, such as Brooklands and Avus, were immensely popular. Other more recent circuits like Reims or the original pre-chicane Hockenheim weren’t that far off being ovals anyway so fast and simple circuits have always featured in F1 history.
Additionally, purists could seek comfort in the fact that a race at Indianapolis would be a nice historical throwback to the 1950s when the Indy 500 counted towards the World Championship.
EXCITING FOR FANS
Even if some F1 fans can’t bring themselves to watch an oval Grand Prix, one race out of twenty isn’t going to ruin the whole sport for them. For the rest of us it introduces an exciting element of variety. It would be fascinating to see how drivers and teams adapted to the technical demands of an oval. Strategy and racecraft would be completely different and it would certainly shake up the pecking order. It’s hard to imagine Mercedes pulling away from a tight pack of slipstreaming drivers.
It’s an experiment that might not work but at least it’d be a huge talking point and would be way better for F1 than another dull street circuit. In the era of generic Tilkedrome racetracks and Mercedes domination, wouldn’t some extra variety be great?