NEWS FEATURE

Indianapolis prepares for F1

It is only a few months since Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony George announced that the world's most famous racing circuit would host a Grand Prix in 2000. Now he has a date - September 24, 2000 - and work is well-advanced on the 2.61 mile road circuit which will be used by the Grand Prix cars. It is a huge - and very expensive - job but George and his 300 employees are intent not only to put on the biggest Grand Prix in history, and to do it better than anyone else has ever managed.

The residents of Indiana are nicknamed Hoosiers and they are proud of their reputation for hospitality, homespun wisdom and honesty. The city is often nicknamed "the crossroads of America" and they reckon that half the population of the United States lives within a day's drive of Indianapolis. They have high hopes that they will easily fill the grandstands when the F1 circus comes to town.

Indianapolis has long used sport to promote the city but probably the most remarkable thing about the F1 project is that none of the money is coming from government or state authorities. George is paying for the work himself. He is not saying how much it is all costing - but the track designer Kevin Forbes admits that the work is costing "tens of millions". It is certainly impressive. The new eight-storey control tower now dominates the skyline , towering above the speedway's vast grandstands - with around 300,000 seats, Indianapolis is the world's largest seating facility.

Getting a Grand Prix has been an idea that George has been pursuing since the early 1990s. In 1992 when the Speedway was rebuilding the golf course - now known as the Brickyard Crossing - George and Forbes designed a layout which would allow for the future construction of an infield circuit. That design has not really changed at all since then and Forbes is confident that it will provide at least one exciting overtaking opportunity for the F1 drivers - as they brake from 187mph for the 90-degree first corner of the road circuit. As the F1 cars will run in the opposite direction to the Indycars Turn 1 of the road circuit is actually Turn 4 of the oval.

The track will then curl through a series of difficult corners before a quick right-hander on to Hulman Boulevard, the road that runs down the centre of the Speedway. This straight ends with a tight left-hander where more overtaking might be possible. It is followed by a further series of twists and turns before the track curls to the right and runs back onto the oval. The cars will be accelerating from here right through the banked Turn 1 and onto the 1000 metre main straight, down which the F1 cars will be flat out.

The foundations and a first layers of tarmac are already down in the 224 acre infield area. Further drainage work will soon be completed and the final layers of tarmac should be laid by October this year. All the other necessary work, including the construction of the barriers, laying of cables and so on will be finished in April 2000 and George hopes that the first F1 cars will test at the track after the Brazilian Grand Prix next year.

The actual circuit is only a small part of the work going on at IMS. The control tower is well underway. This will house an impressive race control and timing centre and a new podium. In addition construction will begin shortly on the new F1 garage and Paddock Club facility. This will include a total of 37 garages - 36 for the teams and one for the FIA scrutineers. On top of the garages will be 12 VIP suites, each one being divisible into three sections. The buildings have been designed for multiple usage as the garages will not be used for the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 events. To ensure that tradition is maintained the oval races will use exactly the same pitlane as today. The F1 pitlane will be between the existing pitwall and the new garages but when the oval races are on this area will disappear under temporary grandstands, the F1 garages becoming shops and merchandising outlets for the spectators.

The third major building project is a completely new four storey media centre which will house 500 pressmen with views both towards the start-finish line and onto the infield.

The Indycar and NASCAR teams will continue to use their existing garages in the Gasoline Alley area behind the new pit buildings.

There will also be a vast Spectator Plaza area behind the new control where the fans will be able to buy F1 merchandise.

George and his team are confident that they can easily get a crowd of 175,000. They expect that the majority of the fans will come from Indianapolis - a city of 1.5m . The city has a strong tradition of supporting local events and the only drawback with the agreed date is that it falls onto a weekend when the Olympic Games in Sydney will be in full swing. The time difference should mean that all the Olympic events will be over before the race begins, avoiding a clash of TV timetabling.

If , as George and his team hope, the race is a success there are plans for the track to be changed to take the circuit close to the grandstands in Turn 3, which would considerably add to the potential crowd capacity - bringing it up to around 250,000 people.

...which would be really something for a F1 Grand Prix.

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